Leading Ladies

The art licensing company Curtis Publishing has had an interesting evolution. From Curtis' purchase in 1897 of the Saturday Evening Post for $1,000, the company has expanded its focus to broaden its licensing reach.

Throughout its long history in magazine publishing, the Post attracted the top writers and most talented illustrators of the day. The most famous and beloved illustrator was Norman Rockwell, who painted his first Post cover at the age of 22. Rockwell went on to produce countless covers in his 50-year career with the magazine. Many of them have become instantly recognizable iconic images.

While the Saturday Evening Post is still produced as a bi-weekly publication, a big part of Curtis' business is licensing the more than 4,000 cover art images from more than 500 American illustrators in its archive.

Rockwell's images alone have been licensed by hundreds of advertising agencies, manufacturers and promotional companies around the world. "Especially in these uncertain times, there's a resurgence of interest in these images," says Mike Waldner, director of licensing for Curtis. "Times were simpler and easier then, and there's a renewed interest and demand—not only in this country but worldwide—for what we represent."

While Rockwell's cover art will always be the "horse that pulls the cart" at Curtis, according to Waldner, the company's impressive archive has a lot more to offer clients. "One of our hottest categories is a collection called 'Leading Ladies,'" said Waldner. "In the '40s and '50s, the Post ran steamy story lines that were accompanied by illustrations of sultry starlets. We just happened to find these images in our archive and put together this collection. It's been very, very strong for us right now."

Leading Ladies has been licensed by Gibson Greetings for a line of journals at Target and by Evergreen Enterprises for a line of tabletop and entertainment that will launch in June. Fabrice De Villeneuve is doing giclee prints that will debut at Pier 1 Imports in July, and Mead is doing calendars. Maxwell Williams just launched mug sets in the international market.

An increasing demand for kids' artwork sent Curtis back to its archives for more material. The archival search uncovered hundreds of issues of Child Life and Jack and Jill magazines, which were published by the Post since the 1920s and 30s (Jack and Jill is still in publication). The company will introduce the children's artwork at Surtex in a collection that currently includes close to 100 covers.