Sunday, November 14, 2010

Esta Nesbitt

All images by Esta Nesbitt at the Kellen Archives

I learned about Esta Nesbitt (1918 - 1975) while I was collecting material for an exhibition I'm co-curating. She was better known as an artist (her prints and mixed-media works are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum) but I was really excited to see her fashion illustrations from the mid-'60s. Her style - especially in her paintings - can be languid and appealing, but sometimes graphic; occasionally on its way to reminding me of Rene Gruau.

Nesbitt was published in Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar and the New York Times, but you can see her original illustrations, rough drawings and stacks of tear sheets at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Archives, Parsons' amazing collection of student work and documents from over nine decades.


Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich said...


My heart is beating fast as I look at the illustrations by Esta Nesbitt. I am her third daughter, Mara. I've never seen these illustrations and I am so very grateful to view them - many of the original magazines in which they appeared were thrown out after her death.

Not only did she work for Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar and the NY Times, she also illustrated for Vogue and Brides Magazines.

I was a child during the 1950s and 60s, but I remember very well watching her work, the models she used (all beautiful) and I was even the model several times when she needed a flower girl for a piece.

After she left the world of fashion illustration, she taught her techniques to Parson's students. One of her models there was Viva, one of Andy Warhol's superstars. Her teaching sequed into teaching multi-media and she staged the "Walk-Up Tape-On" which led to some of her pieces documenting the event being kept at the Smithsonian Institution.

About the same time, she was asked by Holt, Rinehart and Winston to illustrate several childrens' books.

She went on to "discover" Xerography - art through Xerox machines and was given a grant by Xerox to work with their employees and machines.

Esta's inspirations came from Asian art, philosophy, calligraphy, religions and language. She never stopped studying, even when she was very sick near the end of her life.

I'd be happy to talk more about her with you. Thank you SO MUCH for being interested in her work and putting it up on your blog.

Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich

Jenny said...


This is exciting news! I'm so glad you saw this post, and I'd love to hear more about your mother. If you live in New York, I'm sure the Kellen Archives would be thrilled to have you by to see the work.

I'd love to continue this conversation. Please email me at jennywren4[at]

Speak to you soon.