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Gene and Helen Federico collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: CSC-0094

Scope and Contents

This is a large collection of items related to twentieth-century graphic designer Helen Federico. It contains posters, illustrations, articles and papers related to her career. She was the illustrator for A Golden Sturdy Book of ABC, 1969. The collection is still in process. Please contact Cary Graphic Design Archives for more information.


The Gene and Helen Federico collection contains correspondence, sketches, process work, printed materials, book mockups, and published books generated by both Gene and Helen Federico. Material belonging to Gene Federico consists of business correspondence relating to his personal work and firm, Lord Geller Federico Einstein, Inc.; process work and final prints of advertisements, book jackets, and record covers; 35mm slides documenting advertising work; and published articles and magazines highlighting his accomplishments. The portion of the collection pertaining to Helen Federico consists of book publishers' correspondence; sketches and illustrations for advertisements, children's books, cookbooks, and magazines; book mockups and research for her authored books such as A Day in the Life of Very Tiny Toad and Menus Dans La Rue.


  • Creation: 1930-2012


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

Helen Federico (Lesser), 1921-2012 had a long career as a graphic designer, painter and illustrator. She was a talented and directed young artist and studied at Parsons School of Design. She worked for the Abbott Kimball Advertising Co., where she met her future husband, art director Gene Federico. They were married June 26, 1942. Helen worked at I. Miller shoes, assisting Alexey Brodovich, known for introducing modern graphic design to the U.S. Helen was Associate Art Director under Paul Rand at William H. Weintraub Co. She moved to Pound Ridge in 1951, where Helen worked as an independent illustrator, painter and graphic designer. Her clients included MOMA, IBM, Doubleday, Glamour, Fortune. Specializing in gouache and acryllics, she created scores of beautiful paintings. She wrote and illustrated children's books and illustrated cookbooks. --LW


Gene Federico was born on February 6, 1918 in Greenwich Village, New York City. He moved to Coney Island to attend Abraham Lincoln High School, where Gene joined the “Art Squad” lead by Leon Friend. There he was exposed to European advertising and cubism, which he started to utilize in his designs. After graduating, Gene attended the Pratt Institute and took weeknight classes at the Art Student League under Howard Trafton. In 1941, he took a job at Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark, New Jersey until he was drafted during World War II. Gene was stationed in the United States, North Africa, and Europe between April 1941 and November 1945. Even during deployment, he continued to make art. He designed manuals for the army, hosted an enlisted man’s art show, and painted murals for officer’s clubs while in the camouflage unit.

After serving in the military Gene worked for the art director Abbott Kimball, where he met his future wife Helen Lesser. During this time, Gene exhibited his pre- and post-war work in a show titled “The Four Veterans” at the A-D Gallery. As a result of the exhibition, Will Burtin became impressed with Gene and gave him a job as an art associate at Fortune magazine. He soon transitioned to Architectural Forum, which ultimately lead him to freelance work. After a year and a half of freelance, Gene took a job at Grey Advertising at the recommendation of Paul Rand. After three years, Grey’s founders created a new firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), and took Federico with them. At DDB, Federico worked on the Woman’s Day account and concentrated on the Love of Apples booklet. His Woman’s Day ad for 1953 is one of his best known works: an ad featuring a woman riding a bicycle-shaped calligram of the words "go out."

He transitioned to Douglas D. Simon and later on to Benton and Bowles, where he spent seven and a half years. Here he produced the iconic "knotted pencil" for IBM’s new "Stretch" computer. Federico met Dick Lord, who invited Gene to become the art supervisor at Warwick & Legler. Lord and Federico decided to partner up as Lord Federico in 1967. Norman Geller and Arthur Einstein joined to form Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein, Inc. During his time at LGFE, Inc., Federico said his favorite assignment was the contract with Napier Jewelry, which kept the same format and design for 18 years. At this time, he also worked for The New Yorker. He left the agency in 1991 to become a design and advertising consultant.

In 1980, Gene Federico was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. In 1987, Gene was awarded the AIGA Medal and in 1991, awarded the Type Directors Club medal. On September 8, 1999, Gene Federico passed away from prostate cancer.

Helen Federico, the wife of Gene Federico, was also a successful designer and illustrator. Helen Lesser was born on September 15, 1921. She went to college at Parsons School of Design. After school, Helen worked for Abbott Kimball, where she met Gene who was the art director at the time. They married on June 26, 1942 and had two daughters, Gina and Lisa.

Helen also worked with Alexey Brodovich at I. Miller Shoes and as Paul Rand’s assistant art director at William H. Weintraub Company. After working in the corporate sphere, Helen became an independent illustrator, painter, and designer known for her work in gouache and acrylic. She worked with names such as MoMA, IBM, Glamour, Fortune, Doubleday, and Betty Crocker. Helen is also known as an author and illustrator of children’s books and cookbooks. These include Menus dans la rue, A Day in the Life of a Very Tiny Toad, Seasons, The Cat that Climbed up the Matterhorn, Trees, The Golden Happy Book of Counting (1969 & 1975), The Golden Happy Book of Numbers (1963), The Sunshine Book, The Golden Happy Book of ABC (1963 & 1973) and Solskinbogen (1964). Some of her books, such as her Pasta book, reflect her time traveling in Switzerland, Italy and France. The books and magazines Helen designed include Women’s Day, Betty Crocker (1960’s), The New Yorker, Let’s Eat Out, The Lamp magazine, Charm, and Fortune magazine. Other designs included packing design and other design for Cresca, Kaufmann’s, Lindt, Pascal, Pratt’s frozen foods, and Arista Records.

Helen Federico passed away on June 19, 2012.

-- LEA, 12/22/16


21.5 Linear Feet (1 slide binder, 13 letter document boxes, 1 legal document box, 6 flat oversized print boxes, 6 multipurpose boxes, 2 small multipurpose boxes, 2 Paige boxes, 8 pamphlet holders, 1 flat file (drawer))




The Gene & Helen Federico collection contains work and correspondence from both the husband and wife duo of graphic designers, active from the 1950s to the 1990s. While there are distinctions between work that Gene produced, namely under his advertising firm, and independent ventures by Helen, some material may be attributed to both designers. The bulk of the process work, sketches, print ads, illustrations, research and book mockups were created between circa 1950 and circa 2000. The collection is divided into three series, with an overall attempt to distinguish between the work generated by independently by the designers. Series I: Papers contains correspondence and financial papers related to both Gene and Helen Federico. The correspondence concerning Gene Federico involves his work with clients and other obligations, while Helen’s mostly pertain to her communication with publishers regarding her book ventures. Series II: Gene Federico, graphic work features graphic design in the form of advertisements, book jackets, brochures, slides, and process work. Objects in this series are believed to be generated by Gene Federico, though some work may be collaborative with Helen. Series III: Helen Federico, books & graphic work focuses on the work generated by Helen Federico, including packaging design, illustrations for proposed children’s books, manuscripts, and research and mockups for her food and travel books. -- LEA 12/22/16


Collection is organized into three series: I. Papers, 1947 - circa 2000; II. Gene Federico Graphic Work, 1957-1968; III. Helen Federico, books & graphic work, circa 1950 - circa 2000. Collection is organized by creator, then by material type.

Physical Location

Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number(s): 2011:001


Processing Information

Finding aid encoded by Lisa Witt, October 2015. Collection processed, finding aid revised by Lauren Alberque, December 2016.


Gene and Helen Federico collection
Cary Graphic Design Archives
Lisa Witt; Lauren Alberque
25 January 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection Repository

Rochester NY 14623 US
(585) 475-2408