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Supergraphics’ Barbara Stauffacher Solomon legacy is ready to be told

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he San Francisco-based artist, graphic and landscape designer, and writer is a woman of great importance, therefore she is the latest in a series of portraits called Hall of Femmes. “We founded the project back in 2009 when we realised that as designers, we had few female role models. We couldn’t find much information about female designers in the history books so to satisfy our own curiosity we began to do research and found designers who had made their marks on design history — credited or uncredited” say Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio of their initiative which includes lectures, exhibitions, interviews, podcasts and the publication of the Hall of Femmes book series, with each book portraying a designer and her work through in-depth interviews and previously unpublished images.

Angela and Samira travelled several times to New York to meet up with a few of the female giants of the design world. They talked to them about work and career opportunities, about mentorship and what it’s like to be a woman in the design world.

These conversations have been transformed into a series of books . The first book, about Ruth Ansel, published in 2010, was followed by seven additional books: Carin Goldberg (2010), Lillian Bassman (2010) and Paula Scher (2011), Tomoko Miho (2013), Janet Froelich (2013), Lella Vignelli, (2013) and Bloggboken (2013, in Swedish). Now it’s the time of Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s story to be told.

Born in 1928, Solomon first worked as a dancer before studying painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute. After the death of her husband in 1956, Solomon moved to Basel, Switzerland to study graphic design at the Basel Art Institute with Armin Hoffman. She later studied Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

Best known for her interior Supergraphics of the 1960s Sea Ranch and her 1991 Ribbon of Light installation at the Embarcadero Promenade in San Francisco, her iconic style of mixing Swiss Modernism and West Coast Pop, pioneered the look of the California Cool - an important moment in graphic design history.

Her works have been exhibited in galleries around the world from Paris to New York, and is currently on permanent exhibition at SFMOMA.

Now in her 80s and still working on her craft, Barbara has turned her attention to a smaller canvas, creating pieces that tell not just one story, but many, and make a single page dance well beyond its borders.

In addition to an impressive portfolio, she boasts a fascinating life story. Ranging from being a teenage flamenco dancer, to marrying a well known film director, to suddenly finding herself a young widow with a child to support. At a crossroad, she moves to Switzerland to study under the influential modernist designer Armin Hofmann, before returning to the U.S and creating influential designs that were bigger and bolder than her Swiss counterparts.

“To this day, the combination of being trained as a ballet dancer, and trained by a Swiss to be a designer: I think that's why I haven't fallen apart!” says Barbara Stauffacher Solomon on her resilience.

“I was a Californian. I went back to San Francisco and I broke all the rules. My designs were bigger and bolder than my Swiss classmate’s solutions had been. Give me a big white wall and I covered it with big red stripes” she added on her iconic style which redefined the culture of graphic design as we know it.  

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