Legendary Artist of the New Left : Frank Cieciorka Dead at 69

Iconic image of the New Left: Woodcut by Frank Cieciorka.

My year in Mississippi was certainly one the most profound experiences in my life and helped shape my political consciousness to this day. I’m saddened that this country hasn’t done more to eliminate poverty and racism in the intervening forty years.

Frank Cieciorka

Noted watercolorist and graphic artist, Frank Cieciorka organized during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, was art director at The Movement and created the emblematic version of the left’s iconic clenched fist image.

November 25, 2008

A great movement artist and friend of the Freedom Archives, Frank Cieciorka, has died. He will be missed­ –his work goes marching on!

Frank Cieciorka, a nationally recognized watercolor painter, political artist, activist, and author who created many of the iconic images of the 1960s, including the clenched fist and the black panther, died on November 24, 2008 at his home in Alderpoint, California. The cause was emphysema.

Born April 26, 1939, Frank grew up in the upstate New York factory town of Johnson City where his father worked at a grocery store. Frank began work at the age of 14 as a bowling alley pin-boy and then on the assembly line at the local shoe factory. Recognized since childhood for his artistic talent, he enrolled in the fine arts program at San Jose State College in 1957, where he became an anti-war activist, protesting military interventions in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

On graduating in 1964, Frank volunteered for Freedom Summer in Mississippi and later was hired as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He helped organize African-Americans to register to vote and assisted in organizing the racially integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the all-white official Democratic Party. Frank also wrote and illustrated Negroes in American History­A Freedom Primer, taught in Freedom Schools throughout the south. The book is still used as a resource text.

Frank continued his political activism in San Francisco, where he became artistic director of The Movement, a national newspaper of community, anti-war, and civil rights organizing. His art also appeared in many other publications, posters, and underground papers, including The Realist. Among the powerful images he created for The Movement were full-size front-page portraits of Nat Turner and John Brown. His political artistry there and at People’s Press inspired a generation of activist artists.

At the end of the Sixties, tired of city life, Frank became an avid backpacker. In 1972 he purchased a half-acre plot in rural Alderpoint, where he designed and built his own home and studio, and turned to watercolor painting. His works celebrate the southern Humboldt County countryside, the beauty of the female figure in natural settings, and ordinary people doing what they do.

He is survived by his wife, the painter Karen Horn, with whom he enjoyed over 25 years of love and artistic dialogue. He is also survived by his step-daughter, Zena Goldman Hunt and her family, and by his brother, James Cieciorka, and his wife, Jean. Family and friends rejoice in having shared Frank’s life: a testimony to political and artistic passion.

The Freedom Archives.

Also see Frank Cieciorka, Designer for the Left, Is Dead at 69 by Steven Heller / New York Times / November 27, 2008

And A brief history of the “clenched fist” image.

Thanks to Col. Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Legendary Artist of the New Left : Frank Cieciorka Dead at 69

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m sure a lot of you remember that Frank Cieciorka’s raised fist design was ripped off and used in the Waller Creek standoff with Frank Erwin. For those of you that don’t, as I remember it, the University was widening the street next to the stadium, a little downstream from where the Alumni Center is now, and taking out a lot of old oaks along the creek. People protested, and some folks climbed up and tree-sat for days while Regent Frank Erwin threatened to take them down personally (there were photos of him behind the controls of a bulldozer…).

    Ultimately a compromise was struck and The People were granted a piece of creek bank to plant new trees on, resulting in days of frantic and anarchic planting of anything anybody brought in… I don’t know what the status of that plantation is now. Anyway, in the midst of the standoff, somebody over on the West Mall was printing t-shirts as fast as they could go, using a stencil made from the Cieciorka fist, clutching a green branch. I ran across the street to the Co-op to get a t-shirt and they were sold out… I’ve still got the sweatshirt I had printed.

    Nick Hopkins

  2. austinmuse says:

    For some of us, Frank’s powerful image marked the passage from flower child to activist. I recall the Waller Creek incident well and still have photos — taken by another Nick, who now does them for a living in Mendocino.

  3. And we all remember the ‘fist’ when the black Olympic athletes chose to ‘raise it’, and how the world reacted to that one as well……..

    To me, it only means power to the people which is what we are supposed to believe in, when we’re ‘taught’ in school about the rights of the citizens in this country.

    I didn’t know he’d died; he died 2 days before my 67th birthday….goodness, just 2 years older than I am.

    An outstanding artist; soul spirit who helped encourage us to ‘go forward’.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How much would you say the value of this poster is? All i find is that it is in museums. Thanks so much!

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