In a New Light

Bringing a forgotten artist back into the spotlight


Lost in History

Watercolor in the United States during the mid-1800s was seen as an amateur’s medium, something for female artists who tended to the household and cared for their family. However, a shift in perspective began in 1866 with the establishment of the American Watercolor Society. This rising popularity opened the door for women who had years of experience to create and shine at a professional level.

During this era, Alice Schille — a Columbus native — rose to become one of the most prolific watercolorists in the United States. With an ambitious spirit, Schille traveled the world and painted, while supporting herself through teaching and creating original works. She was well known until the late 1920s, when watercolor took a backseat to Fauvist work. Once again male artists took center stage in the art world and much of Schille’s fame was lost in history.

Schille’s “Mother and Child in a Garden”

Design Shines a New Light

The Columbus Museum of Art and Keny Galleries asked us to create a catalogue that brings Alice Schille rightfully back into the spotlight. We needed to give readers context of the time period and the challenges she faced. And we needed to reflect the strong, adventurous woman Schille was in our design. We needed to celebrate her paintings in a way history never had.

The process began by organizing all the essays, art, cameos (a short, descriptive literary sketch), and complementary figures. The catalogue is not structured chronologically, but rather by Schille’s travels across the world. This arrangement shows the connection between her surroundings and their influence on her work. Each cameo is divided by a postcard from Schille’s personal collection to show the environment she was living in at the time. Fun fact: to attain high resolution images of her postcards, Nonfiction had the privilege of handling these artifacts ourselves!

From there we looked into color, type, and layout. Everything we designed was inspired by Schille’s work. We pulled the catalogue’s colors directly from her paintings. She was well known for using a vibrant salmon hue, and her shadows all take on a deep purple tone. Throughout the book we flooded pages with salmon and used purple type in the headlines. Though the color palette is feminine, the type is bold because Schille pushed passed the bounds of watercolor as a “ladies medium.” The layout has energy. It reflects the movement and spontaneity that Schille works into her pieces as do the type and images, jumping around the page, mimicking her brush strokes.

Schille’s Spotlight

Nonfiction was proud to be at the museum’s well-attended opening for the exhibition. On her 150th birthday, we celebrated Alice the way she has always deserved. That night alone, over 75 copies of the catalogue were sold. We’re grateful to help our community and Schille’s hometown remember her with the honor her artwork merits.

Images from the exhibition opening.

Find out more

Want to know more about this project or find out how we can help you with your project?

— Learn more about the exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art.

— Read the case study.

— Visit the Nonfiction website.

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We’re a strategic brand and design agency. We believe in a world that is less complex—with less noise and more meaning.

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