In this blog series, we shine a light on women trailblazers in the design industry – women who have earned a Wikipedia page (or are likely to very soon). You might not know them by name, but definitely by their work and influence on the design world as a whole.
Maira Kalman is a renowned artist and writer. She was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and moved to NYC when she was a young girl, where she continues to reside. She was married to the famed graphic artist Tibor Kalman for 18 years until his death in 1999. They founded the agency M & Co together and were highly successful, blending illustration, typography and imagery to create iconic art for prestigious institutions, including the National Audubon Society and MOMA, and covers for the acclaimed Interview magazine.
After the birth of their children, Maira took a new, independent path that led her to become a design legend in her own right.
Over the course of her career, she has written and illustrated books for both children and adults that feature her playful take on the world. Her style perfectly captures the whimsical and wise, combining a naive style with a sage’s vision. As a storyteller, which is how she refers to herself, her careful use of language and image work together to capture the eccentric, intelligent way Kalman herself views the world and her appreciation for society, history, and the humorous aspect of life.
She was commissioned to illustrate the iconic design bible “The Elements of Style” in 2005, which promoted this quote from the New York Times – “While The Elements of Style has never lacked fans or dutiful adherents, appreciation for this slim volume has taken a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal.”
Her work is almost always uniquely personal, capturing her point of view on anything from politics to family. Working with her son Alexander, Maira created an exhibition dedicated to the memory of her mother Sara Berman, an early inspiration, which later became a book titled ‘Sara Berman’s Closet’. She has also collaborated on a short firm with her son called “The Most Wonderful Day” which can be seen here on YouTube.
Her wit, charm and intelligence come through most famously in the The New Yorker magazine cover published in December 2001. She collaborated with her partner Rick Meyerowitz, redrawing the New York City map post 9/11 and renaming it ‘New Yorkistan’. The response to the cover was overwhelming, the magazine disappearing from newsstands in two days and becoming the best selling issue in the magazine’s history.
Maira Kalman’s impactful work is a reminder to notice and appreciate life. She inspires audiences to look closer at seemingly common things, to see the importance of the ordinary. She elevates politics and philosophy to higher levels of thought, commanding worthy attention. To learn more about Maira Kalman, visit her website, Instagram, or watch her Ted Talk.