Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (born 1940) is an American graphic designer, artist and educator whose work reflects her belief in the importance of feminist principles and user participation in graphic design. In 1990 she became the director of the Yale University Graduate Program in Graphic Design and the first woman to receive tenure at the Yale University School of Art. In 2010 she was named the Caroline M. Street Professor of Graphic Design.
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville
|Born||1940 (age 81–82)|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Awards||2004 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts|
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1959. At Lincoln, she studied under Leon Friend who first exposed her to modern graphic design and the social responsibility of designers.
De Bretteville holds degrees from Barnard College and Yale University and has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the Moore College of Art and California College of the Arts.
In 1971, de Bretteville founded the first design program for women at the California Institute of the Arts, and two years later co-founded the Woman's Building, a public center in Los Angeles dedicated to women's education and culture. In 1973, de Bretteville founded the Women's Graphic Center and co-founded the Feminist Studio Workshop (along with Judy Chicago and Arlene Raven), both based at the Woman's Building.
She designed a necklace of an eye bolt on a chain, meant to represent "strength without a fist" as well as the biological symbol of women; she gave the first of these to Arlene Raven and Judy Chicago when they started the Feminist Studio Workshop in 1972. Since then she has given them to other women with whom she shares a vision of the creation of women's culture. Members of the Feminist Studio Workshop of 1978–79 also made 500 of these necklaces to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Woman's Building in Los Angeles. The feminist art group Sisters of Jam (Mikaela & Moa Krestesen) turned the necklace into a mobile monument; they see the eye bolt "as a symbol for the work already done but also as an encouragement for the work that is not yet completed." Sisters of Jam also did the installation "Hello Sheila", which features an eye bolt on a chain, at the Survival Kit Festival in Umeå in 2014.
De Bretteville has had a lifelong interest in communal forms of art, which she believed were an essential component of the Feminist art movement in the United States. In 1973, she created "Pink," a broadside meant to explore the notions of gender as associated with the color pink, for an American Institute of Graphic Arts exhibition about color. This was the only entry about the color pink. Various women including many in the Feminist Studio Workshop submitted entries exploring their association with the color. De Bretteville arranged the squares of paper to form a “quilt” from which posters were printed and disseminated throughout Los Angeles. She was referred to by the nickname "Pinky" as a result.
De Bretteville has worked extensively in the field of public art creating works embedded within city neighborhoods. One of her best-known pieces is "Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time,” an 82-foot concrete wall with embedded objects in downtown Los Angeles that tells the story of Biddy Mason, a former slave who became a midwife in Los Angeles and lived near the site. In “Path of Stars,” completed in 1994 in a New Haven neighborhood, de Bretteville documented the lives of local citizens—past and present—with 21 granite stars set in the sidewalk.
She is a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences
She has been honored with many awards such as a 2009 “Grandmaster” award from the New York Art Directors Club and several awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, including a ”Design Legend Gold Medal” for 2004, “Best Public Artwork” recognition for 2005 from Americans for the Arts, and several honorary doctorates.