Five Women Artists – Bonnie MacLean

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read this final piece in the series to learn about artist Bonnie MacLean.

Bonnie MacLean – early years

Bonnie MacLean poster

Bonnie MacLean; The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967; offset lithograph; 21 ¼ x 14 in. Publisher: Bill Graham Presents, San Francisco

Bonnie MacLean was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She attended Penn State University, graduating with a degree in French in 1961.

After college, MacLean moved to New York City. While there, she started taking drawing classes at the Pratt Institute in the evenings. Then, in 1963, MacLean moved to San Francisco. It’s there that her art career would get its start.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, MacLean started an office job at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. There, she met her future husband Bill Graham, who would go on to become a noted concert promoter. When Graham left to work for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, MacLean went with him.

There, the couple worked together to promote concerts, often at the Fillmore Auditorium. According to a Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, MacLean initially handled administrative tasks such as obtaining permits. At the time, posters with “psychedelic” lettering were used to promote some of the concerts.

One of the primary poster designers was Wes Wilson. When Wilson and Graham had a falling out in 1967, Bonnie MacLean stepped in to design posters.

Her work

MacLean designed more than 30 posters for the Fillmore. She quickly developed her own style, incorporating gothic elements and drawing faces and figures.

The New York Times describes her work at the time as standing “with the best of psychedelic poster art.”

“If she is sometimes left off the list of pioneering poster artists from that moment in time, it is in part because that world was dominated by men and in part, as she acknowledged, because her output and tenure were limited,” the article states.

MacLean designed posters until 1971.

The Whatcom Museum has a selection of MacLean’s poster prints in our collection. Among them are The Who, Loading Zone, 1967; Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass, 1967; and The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York also has the prints in its collection.

Her work has been shown in multiple venues, including the Whitney and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Later in life, after divorcing Graham and remarrying, MacLean developed a career as a fine art painter focusing on landscapes and nudes.

Bonnie MacLean died on Feb. 4, 2020, at the age of 80.

Sources: Bahr Gallery website, The New York Times, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, The Key

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