Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says: Dorothy and Otis Shepard created some of the most recognizable examples of advertising art of the mid-20th century, including wrappers and billboards for Wrigley's Spearmint, Doublemint, and Juicy Fruit gum. But until now, few knew of their work or the story behind it. A new book by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel titled Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream corrects this blind spot in our modern-graphic-design history. We spoke to the authors about their first encounters with the work of the artists (like most of us, they chewed gum as kids) and the circumstances that led them to the Shepards' youngest son, Kirk, who had kept his mom's meticulous records of their lives and work intact
From the contemporary vantage point, it's tempting to look at Otis' work from the 1930s and see only its sense of style. But Shepard was not interested in pushing the aesthetic agenda of Symbolism and Abstraction in advertising art, in setting himself up as the American counterpart to the European modernist designer Joseph Binder, whom the couple had met on their honeymoon in 1929. Like Wrigley, Shep was all about results.
Take a Wrigley's gum wrapper: To differentiate the three major gum brands, Shep limited himself to a few bold colors and a couple of variations in the shape of the arrows on each flavor's wrapper. His billboards were equally straightforward, characterized by their soft airbrush fades and hard linear edges. Sure, it was a style that took its cue from Binder's work, but style was not the point.
"Otis was interested in effectiveness and immediacy," Hathaway says. "He thought that working in symbolic imagery was stronger than trying to be realistic because the resulting picture that lodged in the viewer's mind would be more memorable." In other words, Shep didn't distract his viewers with virtuoso details, regardless of their artistic merit. "He felt the Europeans had figured that out, and that it was the smarter approach. Otis was a pragmatic person when it came to advertising. Everything he did was about being as successful as possible from a commercial standpoint."