Twenty-five years ago, single mother and frustrated artist Anne Taintor glued the words “intellectuals gone bad” onto a vintage magazine ad showing two glamorous women from the 1950s, launching a career that has led to her being described as “the patron saint of female frustration” and “queen of collage kitsch.”
From her rural New Mexico studio, Taintor, 56, now presides over the multimillion-dollar Anne Taintor Inc. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based enterprise sells greeting cards and 23 other products—all with clever, often irreverent captions that convey Taintor’s interpretation of what those idealized housewives in glossy ads from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s may actually have been thinking.
Her creations juxtapose humorous phrases like “funny … I don’t recall asking your opinion” and “stop me before I volunteer again” against stylized, brightly colored photos that decorate a range of Taintor merchandise, including note cards, office supplies, bags and accessories, bar ware and even air fresheners and lip balm.
Taintor’s products are sold in more than 4,000 stores in 25 countries, but even she’s surprised by the success earned by “looking at cultural expectations with a slightly jaundiced eye.”
“It just never occurred to me that it would resonate with so many women, especially those who, as I did, grew up in the 1950s,” says Taintor, a Maine native who lives in the tiny town of Youngsville, N.M. “I feel like I’m part of this huge community that I would never have experienced any other way.”
A time for Taintorettes
That community includes a handful of women whose perfectly groomed images were mostly featured in product advertisements. Eight of the original models have been located, and Taintor hopes to find more. As part of her company’s 25th anniversary celebration, she’s offering a $100 gift certificate to anyone who helps identify the women she affectionately calls “Taintorettes,” and to the former cover girls, as well.
One Taintorette is Georgia Carroll, a 1940s New York fashion model, Hollywood actress and big-band singer whose flawless complexion and icy blond beauty accompany the caption “an attitude is a terrible thing to waste.”
“It amuses me,” says Carroll, now 90, of the caption. “I think there is a truth to it.” The Chapel Hill, N.C., resident retired from the spotlight in 1946 following her marriage to big-band leader Kay Kyser, star of the popular Kollege of Musical Knowledge radio program.
Making ends meet
Taintor, a Harvard studio arts graduate who bounced around a number of jobs, never considered making collage a business until at age 30 she found herself divorced with a 3-year-old daughter to support. One day, while looking through vintage women’s magazines, she began to wonder about the real women behind the images of ideal domesticity. Soon Taintor was cutting out words to convey their possible thoughts and pasting them onto the photos to create jewelry and magnets.
“When I first started, it was just a way to put food on the table and pay the mortgage,” she says. “I never thought it would be so gratifying in all the ways it is. I really appreciate the relationships it’s created, including the people who e-mail me to thank me for a laugh or for putting their thoughts into words, and with the families of the models I’ve been able to meet.”
Taintor currently uses 140 different captions on her products. As part of her 25th anniversary celebration, she is inviting fans to write their own captions in a monthly contest.
Taintor says some people might find a few of her Taintorisms risqué. “I’m not as afraid as I used to be of offending people because I realize that someone’s going to be offended by almost anything,” she says. “Sometimes it takes something a little shocking to make us examine our attitudes about things.”
Pat Remick is a writer in Portsmouth, N.H.