'The Life and Art of Mary Petty': Fay will be in Fort Smith | Rock Candy

'The Life and Art of Mary Petty': Fay will be in Fort Smith

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Well, so I date myself with this item,* but here's an exhibit I would like to see: "The Life and Art of Mary Petty," at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. It opens Thursday, April 7, with a reception from 5-7 p.m. ($5 nonmembers; members get in free.) 

Mary Petty drew cartoons for the New Yorker magazine featuring the Peabody family and their maid, Fay. Fay was endearing (see above), the perfect counterpoint to the very rich Mrs. Peabody. Petty joined the New Yorker in 1927, when America's richest folks were not bridled by niceties like antitrust laws and industrial rules — sort of the way we are headed today.  

Petty drew for the magazine for 40 years. Here's a bit more information on Petty from the online American National Biography:

According to Thomas Kunkel, the New Yorker's publisher Harold Ross personally gave Petty's cartoons, along with those of Charles Addams, his top grade of "AAA," one "A" more than the cartoons of James Thurber and George Price (Genius in Disguise, 1995, p. 324). ...

The world that Mary Petty created in her cartoons was one of wealth and privilege—the upper-class families occupying the stately Victorian brownstone homes of Manhattan—and her sly pen captured both the grace and the vacuity of the class. Often wry illustrations rather than traditional gag cartoons, many needed no captions, making their point with their expressive line. Her men were effete and rather dim, or else pompous and arrogant; her women were generally complacent or imperious; her settings were stiflingly stuffy and cluttered. Middle-aged women were favorite targets of her satire, but what her New York Times obituary called her "sometimes caustic commentary on the upper class" was usually gentle and even a bit affectionate in its humor.

Petty assigned the name "Peabody" to the aristocratic family that recurred in her cartoons, and to their wistful parlor maid she gave the name "Fay" because, as she is quoted by Domenic Iacono in his exhibition catalog of Petty's cartoon and cover art, "that name seemed the one that most nearly expressed her quality, something rather gossamer and fragile" (p. 2). Fay was a popular character among cartoon lovers; the New Yorker art director Lee Lorenz described Fay warmly as "half sylph and half butterfly" (The Art of the New Yorker, p. 51). Fay is especially remembered in a famous New Yorker cover (24 May 1941) leaning out of an ornate attic window in her elaborate starched uniform sneaking a cigarette.

 The exhibit is from Syracuse University's traveling exhibition program.

* No, I was not around in 1927.


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