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A Bazaar start

Professional pursuit

The moment of ruth

Ruth world

Once Upon A Time... R

uth Ansel was born in 1938 in upstate New York. With passion for art and design in her early education, Ruth was destined to become an artist. Throughout her childhood Ruth displayed early signs of her talents through her works. She was determined to make something of herself.

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“I tried to design and create like Picasso.” Ansel

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or a designer that has shaped the field of editorial design, Ruth Ansel’s entry into the field is nothing short of unconventional. Without a formal education in design, Ansel held brief positions at Columbia Records and apprenticed for Erik Nitsche, was briefly, married to Pentagram founder Bob Gill, then traveled across Europe for, as she puts it, “work and adventure,” and finally, got her first position as art director of Harper’s Bazaar in 1961 with the aid of a competent fine arts portfolio. After Harper’s Bazaar, Ansel took on The New York Times Magazine and later Vanity Fair, continually breaking ground in the field of editorial design. Since 1992, Ansel runs her own studio that carries on her tradition of arresting imagery and beautiful typography.

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“Designing a magazine is a little like designing a face. No two faces are alike.�-

Ruth Ansel

This Valentine’s Day ...



or Ruth Ansel, the answer is: more legendary work. In the 1970s, she was art director for The New York Times Magazine. In the 1980s, she was art director for House & Garden, Vanity Fair and Vogue. And those prestigious titles were only part of her creative output during those years. She also created film titles for Louis Malle’s cult film, My Dinner with Andre, and designed celebrated editions of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Beard’s The End of the Game. In the early 1990s, she formed her own design studio. She designed such notable books as Dark Odyssey by Phillip Jones Griffiths, The Sixties by Richard Avedon, Women and The White Oak Dance Project by Annie Leibovitz, and a master monograph for Taschen by Peter Beard. She continued to work closely with Richard Avedon and designed significant portfolios of his work for The New Yorker. Her studio has also designed ad campaigns for Versace, Club Monaco, and Karl Lagerfeld. Current projects include a book for photographer Jerry Schatzberg and an extensive monograph on the life and work of jewelry designer Elsa Peretti.

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LEETA: When did you begin at “Harper’s Bazaar”? 
 RUTH: It was 1961. Carmel Snow had stepped down as editor in chief in 1958, and she’d been replaced by her niece, Nancy White. I applied for a job as an assistant to Marvin Israel, who became my boss and my friend. He was an antagonistic crazy man. Marvin was a big influence. Dick Avedon was a big influence too, and obviously Diana Vreeland, who was the fashion editor. I went straight from some minor jobs out of college smack into the Bazaar art department. I had no knowledge of fashion and little knowledge of photography, but I knew that I loved film.
 LEETA: There was so much happening culturally.
 RUTH: That’s true. Movies were my touchstone. The excitement of the images, the sense of escape, and the new iconography were what moved me. As I got out into the world, the closest thing to movies that I could envision making a living at was magazines. My choice was Harper’s Bazaar because it had great beauty. I knew nothing of Alexey Brodovitch — who had art directed the magazine so brilliantly for twenty-five years before Marvin Israel. And I only knew Dick Avedon because of Funny Face. At the time my heroes were Picasso, Matisse, and the artists who were emerging in the 1960s. I didn’t think of graphic designers or photographers as heroes — I thought, “So what, nice work — but so what?”

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“Always hire people smarter than you.”

RUTH: It’s all about casting, casting, casting — finding the right photographer for the right assignment at the right time. In that sense, a good art director is almost silent. LEETA: Like certain film directors. RUTH: Yes. There are two important facets to the job. First, you have to juggle the major talents who are already on board. And second, you’re always looking for up-and-comers to complement what you already have. At Harper’s Bazaar, for example, I never wanted two Avedons once I had Avedon, or two Hiros once I had Hiro. Bob Richardson was totally different from any other photographer when he appeared in the early ‘60s, so I helped bring him along. LEETA: Israel once said that art direction is like theater. “When it works, it’s like putting on a play — there’s this great feeling of union.” RUTH: He was a great artist himself. He liked the fact that I didn’t come from a graphic design background — that I had a fresh eye. I’ve always respected him for giving me the chance. And there was also Bea Feitler, this mad, wonderful, eccentric, Brazilian girl whom Marvin had taught too. It was just the three of us. LEETA: What a unique opportunity. RUTH: Yeah. I learned it all on the job, I really did, and I was in pretty rigorous company. These people were not kidding around with their level of talent. I had no idea that I was working at the tail end of a great era — that Diana Vreeland was one of the greats of all time, who could never be replaced. I had been touched by the brilliance of all these people.

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book called HALL OF FEMMES about Ruth and her celebrated forty year career has been published in 2010. This book consists of an extensive interview with her including examples of her work in both editorial and advertising design.

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Robert Morris University Graduate School of Design


Almost all of my typography didnt save onto my stupid flash. SOOOO.... Here it is with some typography done.


Almost all of my typography didnt save onto my stupid flash. SOOOO.... Here it is with some typography done.