Monday, March 14, 2016

Creator: Elizabeth Colwell

Martha Elizabeth Colwell was born in Bronson, Michigan, on May 24, 1881, according to Who Was Who in American Art (1985). Her full name was found in the census records at Art of Today: Chicago 1933 (1932) said she was born near Bronson. The 1880 U.S. Federal Census recorded Colwell’s parents, Elisha and Nancy, and siblings, Frederic, Albert, Fernando, William and Laura. They lived on a farm in Burr Oak, about 6 miles / 9.7 kilometers west of Bronson.

Information regarding Colwell’s childhood and education has not been found. According to the 1940 census, Colwell completed her fourth year of high school, presumably in Michigan.

Apparently after finishing high school, Colwell moved to Chicago to pursue her art training. The American Art Annual, Volume X (1913) said she was a pupil of John Vanderpoel and Bror Julius Olson Nordfeldt, both instructors at the Chicago Art Institute. The Art Institute’s Circular of Instruction of the School of Drawing, Painting, Modelling, Decorative Designing and Architecture, 1902–1903, listed Colwell in the Department of Painting and Drawing’s Life Class for 1901 to 1902.

In 1899 she met Thomas Wood Stevens (1880–1942) who would become an artist, teacher, author, and theater director. Chicago History, Fall and Winter 1982, said: “Early in 1899, Fred Langworthy, Tom Stevens, and Alden Noble, all students at the new Armour Institute at 33rd and Federal streets, began setting up printing equipment and type in the basement of Stevens’s apartment…” Their Blue Sky Press printed limited edition books and a literary journal, The Blue Sky.

Colwell contributed to The Blue Sky. Her poems, “A Picture” and “Returns” appeared in the October and November 1899 issues. A bound volume of the 1899 issues of The Blue Sky can be viewed here. Unfortunately, most of October and all of the November issues are missing. The January 1900 issue published Colwell’s ”Poster Gossip: A Fantasy” (below) which was illustrated by her, Edward Penfield (page 19) and Frank Hasenplug (page 20). The following month saw of her two triolets, “In Church” and “Shy Company,” in print. Most of that issue is missing in the volume. Her “Sonnet” (below) was published in June 1900.

The Bachelor Book
March 1900
Below: The Blue Sky advertisement with names of the contributors

A notable contributor to The Blue Sky was Ralph Fletcher Seymour whose cover design was used and reused on the April, May and June 1900 issues. Seymour was profiled in Caxtonian, May 2011. Seymour was an inspiration to Colwell. There was no mention that he had an assistant or apprentice. Seymour taught decorative illustration at the School of the Art Institute where he was on staff from 1907 to 1918.

Another prominent Chicago lettering artist was Frederic W. Goudy, who taught lettering and ornament at Frank Holme’s School of Illustration. Goudy joined the school October 1, 1899. (A concise chronology of the School of Illustration was published in The Inland Printer, December 1899.) There is the possibility she was a student of Goudy, although in D.J.R. Bruckner’s book, Frederic Goudy (1990), there was no mention of Colwell, Seymour, Stevens or the Blue Sky Press. Colwell’s studying of lettering and ornament around this time fills a gap for part of 1899 and 1900, and would account for her entry into the commercial field in late 1902.

Colwell has not been found in the 1900 census. Her father was recorded in the census which said he was married but lived alone in Prairieville, Michigan. He passed away January 3, 1907. 

As mentioned earlier, Colwell was student at Art Institute. The Catalogue of Students, 1901–1902 section had this address for her, 7343 Langley Avenue. In the Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1902, article, Art Institute Students Publish a Magazine”, Colwell was identified as the associate editor of The Sketch Book, which was to debut February first.

So far, the earliest mention of Colwell, as a commercial artust, was found in Ad Sense, December 1902. James Howard Kehler operated an advertising company. (Two photographs of his office are here.) He ran a full-page advertisement about his new company, The Varied Industries. At the bottom was Kehler’s name in the middle and flanked by eight associates. On the left were Walter Whitehead (illustrator), Walter F. Holler, S.J. Kennedy (illustrator), and Oscar Lovell Triggs (writer). On the right were Thomas Hyde Warren (manager), M. E. Colwell (yellow highlight), Frederick Fursman (illustrator), and Addison Blakely (lawyer). Below is a screen-shot of a snippet of the advertisement. The text of the Varied Industries advertisement was excerpted in The American Printer, June 1903.

How and when Colwell met Kehler is not known. 

One of Kehler’s clients was the furniture manufacturer, W.K. Cowan & Company. When their relationship began is not known. A Cowan advertisement by Kehler’s agency was reproduced in Advertising Experience, December 1901.

At some point Kehler and Colwell relocated to the Fine Arts Building where Cowan was located.

The American Printer

July 1903
Below: “The Printer’s Imprint”...the cover, title page and decorations designed by M. Elizabeth Colwell...

The American Printer
August 1903
Below: The W.K. Cowan & Co. advertisement, in the upper left-hand corner, handlettered by Colwell

The Burial of Romeo and Juliet
Richard Le Gallienne
Blue Sky Press, 1904
Designed by James Howard Kehler
Lettered by M. Elizabeth Colwell


January 1904
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement handlettered by Colwell

1904 Chicago Business Directory
Artists Category
Miss M. Elizabeth Colwell
203 Michigan Boulevard, 929

The Critic
April 1904
...The Sketch Book was founded about two years ago by Mrs. Will Herrick and Miss Elizabeth Colwell, then students of the Institute....

The House Beautiful
Below: Six W.K. Cowan & Co. advertisements, handlettered by Colwell, published from June to November 1904.

June 1904

July 1904

August 1904

September 1904

October 1904

November 1904

The Sketch Book
October 1904

The New York Dramatic Mirror
October 22, 1904
The debut of The Rose Jar with a cover by Colwell. 

The cover of the first issue of The Rose Jar (above) was reproduced in The Sketch Book, December 1904.

The Sketch Book
November 1904

Above: designs reproduced in The Sketch Book, November 1904

The Furniture Journal

November 25, 1904
Below: At the top of the advertisement, the company banner and address may have been handlettered by Colwell.

The Furniture Journal

December 1904
Below: Unsigned cover by Colwell. The same lettering style was used on a W.K. Cowan & Company announcement card reprinted in The Printing Art, May 1905 (scroll down).

The Book-keeper and Business Man’s Magazine
December 1904
Kehler’s profile of W.K. Cowan included a brochure page (below) handlettered by Colwell, whose name is in the lower right-hand corner.

The Sketch Book
December 1904
Notes on Hand-lettering, Part IV

1905 Chicago City Directory
The Fine Arts Building
203–207 Michigan Boulevard
Elizabeth M. Colwell, 820, Wab[ash] 1063

The Artists Year Book
Colwell, M. Elizabeth, s. m. designing and lettering. Exhibited at Chicago Art Inst.; has hand-lettered and decorated Burial of Romeo and Julietby Richard Le Gallienne, etc. Studio, 820 Fine Arts Bldg., Chicago Ill.
The Sketch Book
March 1905
upper left book plate by Colwell

The Printing Art
May 1905
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement handlettered by Colwell; the lowercase g is identical to the ones on the cover of The Furniture Journal, December 1904; comparison of details of the cover and card.

Detail of the Furniture Journal cover (top) and W.K. Cowan announcement card (bottom).

June 1905 
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement handlettered by Colwell

July 1905
Below: Handlettering by Colwell

The Sketch Book
July 1905
Advertisement for The Artists Year Book with cover lettering by Colwell

August 1905
Below: Handlettering by Colwell

Thomas Wood Stevens
The Inland Printer Company, 1906
Below: three samples by Colwell



1907 Chicago City Directory
The Fine Arts Building
203–207 Michigan Boulevard
Elizabeth M. Colwell, 820, H[arrison] 4448

Colwell was a member of the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts and listed in the annual reports for 1907 and 1908. Will Bradley and Dwiggins were members, too.

March 1907
Below: Teco Portfolio advertisement
...Ten pages of type, on Alpine enamel book paper, in brown on one side only. Head-pieces, initial and tail-pieces drawn by  Elizabeth Colwell....

March 1907
Below: W.K. Cowan & Co. advertisement handlettered by Colwell

February 1908
Below: “Modern Hand-lettered Books”

July 26, 1908
“Remarkable Wood Cuts by Chicago Women”
Miss Colwell Expert at Printing

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago
July 1908
Water Color Exhibition Sales
The birch tree (Color Print), Elizabeth Colwell...10.00
Sparrows (Color Print), 6 replicas, Elizabeth Colwell...12.00

1909 Chicago Central Business and Office Building Directory
The Fine Arts Building
203–207 Michigan Boulevard
Colwell Elizabeth M artist H5849 1020
Cowan W K & Co furniture H2076 203 Michigan av
Kehler-Crosby Chicago Advertising H3604 637
Seymour Ralph F pub H5484 1010

Catalogue of the Twenty-first Annual Exhibition of Water-Colors,
Pastels and Miniatures by American Artists
The Art Institute of Chicago
May 11 to June 13, 1909
February 1909
Below: Advertisements handlettered by Colwell

June 1909
Below: Advertisements handlettered by Colwell

October 1909
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisements handlettered by Colwell

comment by F.J. Trezise:

...Hand-lettering is coming more and more into use in the designing of advertisements. This not only applies to magazine advertisements, but to those used in the daily papers. In fact, some firms have nearly all their advertisements lettered instead of set in type. The lettering has, of course, an individuality which makes it conspicuous among the more commonplace typework, especially where decorative design appropriate to the subject is used in conjunction with the lettering. In Fig. 3 is shown an advertisement of this character—one which is thoroughly appropriate in lettering and decoration, and which would “stand out” prominently on any page. This combining of appropriate decoration with hand-lettering is easily possible to the printer who studies the latter, as it is but a step from lettering to the drawing of simple appropriate decorative designs...

comment by F.J. Trezise:

…One should not overlook the value of white space in the designing of advertisements. Where the advertiser pays a high rate for space he naturally feels that he can ill afford to “waste” any of it by leaving it white. This, however, is often a mistake. Where an advertisement contains little reading matter and is surrounded by other advertisements, one will gain much more prominence for it by reducing the size of the lettering a trifle and leaving a generous margin of white to separate it from the other advertisements and “bring it out.” An illustration of this is shown in Figs. 7 and 8. Fig. 7 shows a hand-lettered advertisement taken from a daily paper. Although there were but few words in the advertisement, a large letter has been used and the space entirely filled, the lines running close to the edges, and the advertisement being surrounded by other display advertisements, the whole effect is rather confusing. Fig. 8 shows the same advertisement with the lettering reduced a trifle and set in the space with liberal margins. This cuts it off more completely from the other display on the page, and it is more readily grasped by the eye. A plainer line would have been more readible, and, for that reason, we think better advertising. An exceptionally free-italic letter, such as the one here used, is too much akin to the script form to make an easily read line in all capitals.
The International Studio
November 1909
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement with headlines handlettered by Colwell

Frederic Fairchild Sherman, 1909
Written and handlettered by Elizabeth Colwell

1910 Chicago Central Business and Office Building Directory
The Fine Arts Building
203–207 Michigan Boulevard
Elizabeth M. Colwell, 1025, H[arrison] 5849
M.E. Colwell, 1025, H[arrison] 5849

American Art Annual
Volume VII, 1909–1910
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1020 Fine Arts Bldg., Chicago, Ill. (W.A.A.)

McClure’s Magazine
January 1910
Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement with headline handlettered by Colwell

Below: W.K. Cowan & Company advertisement with headline handlettered by Colwell

(enumerated April 18, 1910, Chicago, Illinois)
Elizabeth Colwell lived at 1373 East 57th Street. Her occupation was designer at a studio. Musician Beatrice Butler was a roommate.

Catalogue of the Ninth Annual Exhibition of Original Designs for Decorations and Examples of Art Crafts Having Distinct Artistic Merit
The Art Institute of Chicago
December 6–23, 1910
January 1911

Special Exhibition Catalogue
1912, Number 6
The City Art Museum of St. Louis
Volume X, 1913
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1373 East 57th St, Chicago, Ill.I., Etcher, C.—Born in Michigan, May 24, 1881. Pupil of Vanderpoel and Olson-Nordfeldt in Chicago.
Thomas Wood Stevens
Chicago Society of Etchers, 1913
Elizabeth Colwell....1373 E. 57th St., Chicago

The Graphic Arts
March 1913
“The Work of Elizabeth Colwell”

“An Exhibition of Contemporary American Etchings”...intimately decorative tree compositions by Elizabeth Colwell...
Catalogue of an Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists
Art Institute of Chicago
March 1, 1914

The Graphic Arts

September 1914
Advertisement for “The Artists Series”

The Print Collector’s Quarterly
November 1914
On the Making of Wood-block Prints advertisement

Muskegon Chronicle
May 8, 1915
“Interesting Exhibition of Etchings Open to Public at Art Gallery Tomorrow”A most interesting exhibition is now being shown in the north and west galleries of Hackley Art gallery. This is the collection of 131 etchings sent out to all of the principal galleries of the country by the Chicago Society of Etchers. A great many of the prominent etchers of the country are represented in the collection....…Elizabeth Colwell has some portrait sketches of old men.
The New York Times
August 1, 1915
“Awards at the Panama-Pacific Exposition”
Bronze medals went to...M. Elizabeth Colwell

The Dream City: Its Art in Story and Symbolism
Rose Virginia Stewart Berry
W.N. Brunt, 1915

Bronze Medals — Clifford T. Adams, George C Aid, Antonio Barone, Benjamin Brown, M. Elizabeth Colwell...
The American Institute of Graphic Arts
November 3rd to 13th, 1915
Elizabeth Colwell
48 Three Elms by Lake
49 Birch Tree
50 Lake in Winter
51 Old Willows
52 Cornwall Coast
53 Valley in Wales

American Art Annual
Volume XII, 1915
Who’s Who in Art
(scroll to page 347)
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1373 East 57th St, Chicago, Ill.I. Etcher, C—Born in Michigan, May 24, 1881. Pupil of Vanderpoel and Olson-Nordfeldt in Chicago. Member: Chicago SE; N.Y. SE. Award: Hon. P.-P. Exp., San F. 1915.
The American Printer
November 20, 1915
“Wood Engraving Not a Lost Accomplishment”

Catalogue of an Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1915
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1373 East 57th St.

January 1916

March 1916

American Art Annual
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1373 East 57th St, Chicago, Ill. B.S.A.C.

American Type Founders
Colwell Handletter and Colwell Handletter Italic specimen sheets

Thomas Wood Stevens
Prang Company, 1916
Below: Alphabet by Colwell

Springfield Republican
March 2, 1916
“Water-Color Show”Annual Exhibition of the American SocietyAt the National Arts club in New York is the 49th annual exhibition of the American water-color society, which has been called a winter academy in spirit and character....…and a group of bathers in water by Elizabeth Colwell gives a welcome touch of intensity and depth of color in the midst of much that is insipid.
Catalogue of the Fourteenth Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition, and the Fifteenth Annual Exhibition of Miniatures
November 5 to December 10, 1916
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Elizabeth Colwell.
696 A Woman at the Window (Etching).

American Art Annual
Colwell, Elizabeth, 1373 East 57th St, Chicago, Ill.I. Etcher, C—Born in Michigan, May 24, 1881. Pupil of Vanderpoel and Olson-Nordfeldt in Chicago. Member: Chicago SE; N.Y. SE. Award: Hon. P.-P. Exp., San F. 1915.
November 1918
“Some American Woodcuts Designed and Executed by Elizabeth Colwell”

Bulletin of the Chicago Art Institute

May 1919
Chicago Society of Etchers

El Palacio

Journal of the Museum of New Mexico, the School of American Research, the Archaeological Society of New Mexico and Santa Fe Society of the Archaeological Institute
June 14, 1919

(enumerated July 14, 1920, Chicago, Illinois)
Miss Martha E. Colwell was an artist who resided and worked at 1373 East 57th Street. Her mother, Nancy J. Keller, who remarried in 1911, lived with her.

December 1920
...The dean of the American wood block artists is Arthur W. Dow, now an instructor at Columbia University, who began work in this medium twenty-five years ago. The prints of John J.A. Murphy, Winold Reiss, William Zorach, Hall Thorpe, R. Ruzicka, Gustave Baumann, Horace Brodsky, Tod Lindenmuth, Paul Rohland and Harry Townsend are well known. The women have done just as good work as the men, and among them are Margaret Patterson, Ethel Mars, Maud Squire, Bertha Lum, Juliette S. Nichols, Edna Bois Hopkins, Daphne Dunbar, Eleanor Schorer, Marguerite Zorach, Elizabeth Colwell, Mildred Fritz, Eliza D. Gardiner, Ada Gilmore, Florence Iyrins,  Ilonka Karasz, Mildred McMillen, Flora Schoenfeld and Elizabeth Schuff Taylor.

Art & Decoration
August 1921
“A Revival of Interest in the Wood-cut”

November 1921
“Wood-block Printing To-day”

Printing Type Specimens: Standard and Modern Types
Graphic Arts Company, 1924
Colwell Handlettering, pages 86-87
This derives its name from the distinctive lettering of Elizabeth Colwell, Chicago, for display and handletter pages in which she has been particularly successful.Without being eccentric, it has an individuality expressive of the designer’s facility in lettering.It is a useful type in many forms of announcement and display printing. The smaller sizes of the lower case make an extended line, but they give quality to pamphlets and book pages. These types also harmonize well with pen-and-ink illustrations which are an outline or a medium weight of line.
An Anthology of Verse from Masses-Liberator
Genevieve Taggard
Boni & Liveright, 1925
“I Wonder” by Colwell

Chicago Tribune

November 29, 1925
Part 9, page 7, column 4: The Chicago Woman’s Aid is holding an exhibition of paintings and pastels by Elizabeth Colwell in the clubrooms, 717 Kimball building. 

Hyde Park Herald

(Chicago, Illinois)
April 16, 1926
“Art Exhibition at the Windermere”There will be an exhibition of paintings and sculpturing by the artists of the 57th st. Colony at the Windermere-East from april 15 to May 1. The artists exhibiting are Emil Armin, Roffe Beman, Alice Bidwell, Charles BieselFred Biesel, Elizabeth Colwell, Rose Grossman, Beatrice Levy, George Rich, Felix Russman, Walter Sargent, Frances Strain, and Eve Watson Schutz. The exhibition is open to the public.
Hyde Park Herald
April 23, 1926
“Fine Art Exhibition by Hyde Park Artists”An attractive exhibition of oils and water colors is being made by Hotel Windermere-East, and art critics and art lovers have been greatly interested in the display.The exhibiting artists are: Emil Armin, Fred Biesel, Frances Strain, Eva Watson Schuetze, Elizabeth Colwell, Beatrice Levy, Walter Sargent, George Rich, Roffe Beman, Alice Bidwell, Charles Biesel, Rose Crossman, and Felix Russman....All the artists exhibiting are members of the Hyde Park colony.
Rockford Daily Republic
January 15, 1927
Vigilantes Ban Nudes at ExhibitMarshall Field galleries...…Mr. Biesel had no desire to suffer for other people’s art. He took down six pictures, which portrayed seven nude figures.The paintings removed were: ...Two Nudes, a canvas by Miss Elizabeth Colwell of Chicago....
The Chinese Students’ Monthly
April 1928
“Loneliest Hearts”
The wide world is filled with the sad, shattered parts
Of loves disunited, that cry in the night, 
And search with the wind for loneliest hearts 
In similar plight. 
In tall, rustling grasses their voices are heard, 
They sigh and search vainly among the green leaves.
And just before dark falls, one single bird
For all of them grieves.
The wind’s wail is theirs on every bare height.
They sound in the sea’s reiterant surge.
In the deep, silent hours of a cold, star-lit night
I hear their sad dirge.

Hyde Park Herald

October 19, 1928
“Dr. Clara Sterling Holds Etchers’ Exhibit in Home”More than 100 etchings by Chicago and other artists will be exhibited from Oct. 22 to Nov. 4, at the residence of Dr. Clara Sterling, 1021 E. 62nd st…....Included in the list of exhibiting artists are Beatrice Levy, 5724 Blackstone ave., and Elizabeth Colwell, 1373 E. 57th st.
Hyde Park Herald
November 16, 1928
“Hyde Parkers Are Directors for No-Jury Artist Society” Nov. 25 to Dec. 10 are the dates of the seventh annual exhibition of the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists at 210 N. Michigan ave. Local directors of this society include Macena Barton; C. Biesel; Fred Biesel, 1544 E. 59th st.; Elizabeth Colwell, 1373 E. 57th st.; F. P. Tud Kempf; Beatrice Levy, 5724 Blackstone ave.; Felix Russman; Frances Strain, and Eva Watson Schutze.
Rockford Daily Register-Gazette
February 2, 1929
Chicago Society of Etchers has its annual exhibit in the Chicago institute among the Chicago etchers represented being…Ralph Fletcher Seymour…Elizabeth Colwell...
Journal of the Western Society of Engineers
April 1929
“Art Exhibit in Members’ Room”…exhibition by members of the Chicago Society of Artists. There are thirty-nine paintings and one bronze piece selected by the directors of the artists’ society…Elizabeth Colwell, Nude in Settee — (Dry Point)

(enumerated April 14, 1930, Chicago, Illinois)
Artist Martha E. Colwell resided and produced her art at 1373 East 57th Street. Her mother, Nancy J. Keller, lived with her.

Festival of Religious Art: Religious Art by Artists of Chicago and Environs

March 24 – April 15, 1931
Blue Madonna by Elizabeth Colwell

Art of Today, Chicago 1933
Jacob Zavel Jacobson
L.M. Stein, 1932
article by Colwell

American Women
The Official Who’s Who Among the Women of the Nation, Volume 3
Durward Howes
R. Blank Company, 1935
Colwell, Elizabeth, artist, poet; b. Mich., May 24, 1881; d. Elisha Hadley and Nancy Jane (Friesner) Colwell. Edn. attended Chicago Art Inst. Pres. occ. Artist, Federal Art Project; Painter (oils and water colors); Etcher; Worker in Wood and Linoleum; Poet. Church: Unitarian. Politics: Democrat. Hobby: poetry. Fav. rec. or sport: Golf. Author: Trystam and Ysolde; Songs and Sonnets (both books of verse, limited editions, written and hand-lettered by the author). Designer of Colwell Hand Letter type. Address: 5702 Kimbark Ave., Chicago, Ill.
Who’s Who in American Art
Volume 1
R.R. Bowker, 1935
biographical information


November 16, 1936
“Chicago Artists’ Work Is Shown in a Lively Exhibit Here”...Chicago Society of Artists show, an exhibition of more than a hundred oil canvases circulated by the American Federation of Arts, a national organization for the cultivation of the arts, with headquarters in Washington, D.C…....There are several other figure paintings, too—…Elizabeth Colwell’s “Blue Madonna”...
Lettering: Its History, Principles & Practice
Charles Matlack Price
Art Education, 1937
(caption) A handlettered book page with decorative initial, typical of the work of Elizabeth Colwell, who is also the designer of a type called Colwell Handletter.


(enumerated April 11, 1940, Chicago, Illinois)
Elizabeth Colwell’s occupation was WPA artist doing “easel project at home”. She and her 87-year old mother resided at 5702 Kimbark Avenue. The census said Colwell completed her fourth year of high school and did not attend college.

Hyde Park Herald

December 7, 1944
“Art for the Home Christmas Exhibition”Lenabel F. Pokrass Gallery of Contemporary Fine Arts, 5533 Hyde Park blvd., announces the opening of a special Christmas exhibition of “Art for the Home,”….The exhibition includes oils, watercolors and etchings by 25 outstanding Chicago artists. Exhibiting artists are: …Elizabeth Colwell…
According to the Illinois Death Index at, Colwell’s mother passed away April 27, 1946, in Chicago.

Many sources cite 1954 as the year of Colwell’s passing but none of them state the place of her death. Her obituary or death notice have not been mentioned.

Additional References

Antique, Modern & Swash: A Brief History of Women in Printing
Club of Printing Women of New York, 1955
...Al Hattal of Bookbinding and Book Production stated that in an article published by them, mention was made of a designer, Elizabeth Colwell, who designed Colwell Handletter and Colwell Handletter Italic in 1916. American Type Founders, who manufactured this type face, reports it is no longer cast and is now obsolete.

Arthurian Literature by Women
Alan Lupack and Barabra T. Lupack
Routledge, 2013

Chicago Artists’ Archive
Beverly Kay Brandt
University of Massachusetts Press, 2009
...Bronze medalists included Elizabeth Colwell (1881-1954) for wood engraving...

Design History: An Anthology
Dennis P. Doordan, Editor
MIT Press, 1995

Japonisme Comes to America: The Japanese Impact on the Graphic Arts 1876–1925

Julia Meech, ‎Julia Meech-Pekarik, ‎Gabriel P. Weisberg 
H.N. Abrams in association with the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 1990
Among Nordfeldt’s students was the Michigan-born Elizabeth Colwell (1881–1954/56), who...

The Origins of Graphic Design in America, 1870-1920
Ellen Mazur Thomson
Yale University Press, 1997
...Another Chicagoan, Elizabeth Colwell (b. 1881), designed department store advertisements and illustrated books that featured generous amounts of lettering. Colwell’s Handletter (1916) and Colwell’s Handletter Italic (1916), the two typefaces she designed for the American Type Founders, were based on her own hand lettering.

(Updated November 26, 2020; next post on Monday: Marty Epp)


  1. Hi! I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I'm researching about Elizabeth Colwell. Is there a way to contact you via email? I'm doing a project regarding her handwriting and I was wondering if I can ask you questions. Thank you!

  2. Please ask your questions here in the comment section. Other people may be interested.

  3. Hi, yes I will.
    I'm doing a revival typeface based on her handwriting, not Colwell Handletter typeface(although they are similar I like the uppercase letters' peculiarity in her handwriting alphabets). How did you gather sources for this post? I find it hard to find such detailed images from her book online. Do you own "Sketchbook" and prints of ads with her handwriting?

    1. First I searched her full name. Then I searched her last name plus Chicago; her last name plus lettering; her last name plus…

      When I learned that she contributed to magazines, I searched for those magazines. When I learned of her work for the furniture company, I searched for any reference of that company and that produced a number of ads.

      I also searched her contemporaries. This small group of people usually contributed to the same publishers. You might find something there.

      I don’t own any printed matter. All the images were found online. Check your library for the books and magazines.

      You might try converting jpg files to pdf files. Enlarging the pdf file will remain “sharp”, up to a point, than a jpg.

      This is the link to the bound volume of “The Sketch Book” with Colwell’s hand-lettering series.

    2. Wow thank you so much for the info and tips. Sorry about replying so late but it helps a lot. I wish I was in Chicago to research but I'm not in the states. Still, I will take your advice and look for stuff here as much as I can. Great post and kindness! :)

  4. Hi Alex! This is a really great compilation of Elizabeth's work - I'm very impressed. I am researching for an article on Colwell and wonder if you would approve of my using your post as a source for some references? I am curious if you have ever published a version of this work in an academic journal, or if this research was done purely out of personal interest. Either way, it's very exciting. Cheers!

    1. Thanks. Please feel free to use whatever you like. This post was done for my interest and to share.

  5. This is awesome! I've been researching Colwell on and off for a couple of years now. I wonder if any of the people who made previous comments ended up publishing their work! Also, I wonder if Colwell's papers are kept anywhere. Do you know if she ever married or had children? Who would her papers have gone to, if not? I am trying to determine what Colwell's role was at the Blue Sky. Was she merely a contributor, or did she have any role in editing or designing the issues? Did she support herself by selling art and doing hand-lettered advertisements? How influential was she in the art and design community in early 20th century Chicago? Fascinating stuff! Anyone who wants to discuss this can comment here or email me at

    1. Oh! I am primarily interested in her typeface, Colwell Handletter. What was it used for? Was it popular or not? How many sets of it did ATF sell? I should look into finding some archival sources on ATF's sales...

    2. Oh, also! In regards to: "The following month saw of her two triolets, “In Church” and “Shy Company,” in print. Most of that issue is missing in the volume." The triolets from The Blue Sky can be seen here (and I think the issue is complete):

      And regarding: "A bound volume of the 1899 issues of The Blue Sky can be viewed here. Unfortunately, most of October and all of the November issues are missing." The complete 1899 volume is now available here: October starts here: November starts here:

  6. Who’s Who in American Art, Volume IV, 1947
    Dorothy B. Gilbert, Editor
    American Federation of Arts, 1947

    Elizabeth Colwell
    Painter, Etcher, Craftsman, Writer
    5709 South Harper Avenue, Chicago 37, Illinois

    Born: Bronson, Michigan, May 24, 1881

    Studied: Art Institute of Chicago; with B. T. Olsen, and B. J. O. Nordfeldt

    Work: Los Angeles Museum of Art; National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; University of Illinois.

    Exhibited: Rome, Italy, 1911; Pan-Pacific Exposition, 1915; American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1915; Rouillier Art Gallery, 1916 (one-man); Vanderhoogt Gallery, 1928 (one-man); Library of Congress, 1945; Riverside Museum.

    Designer of typeface “Colwell Hand Letter.”

  7. Hi Alex! I've just finished the second draft of my paper on Colwell. Let me know if you'd like me to email you a copy for your interest! =)

  8. Thanks. You can send it to apaontv (at) aol (dot) com

  9. Hi Alex! This is a really great compilation of Elizabeth's work - I'm very impressed.