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Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations

Identifier: KA-0086-01


Esta Nesbitt (1918-1975), an instructor at Parsons School of Design from 1964 to 1974, created fashion illustrations for Harper's Bazaar, Mademoiselle, and New York Times Magazine. Later in her career, Nesbitt used innovative printing methods as a children's book illustrator, and experimented with Xerography. The collection primarily consists of 271 fashion illustrations, pre-publication layouts, mechanicals, proofs, and tear sheets.


  • 1944 - 1964



22.2 Cubic Feet (2 boxes, 12 oversize boxes, 4 map case drawers, consisting of 271 illustrations in total)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents of Collection

The Esta Nesbitt fashion illustration collection in the New School Archives represents Nesbitt's work predominantly as a fashion illustrator over the course of two decades. The collection includes original fashion illustrations, pre-publication work, clippings, and tear sheets of illustrations Nesbitt executed for Mademoiselle magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Franklin Simon & Co., among others. Nesbitt's original work is rendered in charcoal, ink, pastels, and gouache. Some of the tear sheets (i.e., printed pages of illustrations as they appear in published form) for Mademoiselle bear the stamp of Fritzie Miller Associates. Miller, an agent for commercial illustrators, presumably represented Nesbitt, and these works may have been used in a promotional portfolio.

Many of Nesbitt's illustrations in this collection provide evidence of the various stages of the publication process, frequently displaying lines to revise the underlying illustration, and extensively annotated with printer's instructions regarding print size, scale and color. Many have tissue or acetate overlays for the purposes of color separation or to present alternate positions and styles. Some layouts have cut-out sections of figures affixed to the illustrations, replacing or correcting gestures, facial expressions, and garment patterns. A number of the works here, such as the mechanicals for Macy's and Bamberger's, display extreme stylistic differences from the bulk of Nesbitt's work, suggesting that they may not have been executed by Nesbitt (they are identified in the inventory below).

A very few of the original works here reflect Nesbitt's work outside of fashion illustration, although it is not known whether they were produced for book projects, as fine art, or for other purposes.

Dates without parentheses following titles pertain to the date of creation; those inside parentheses indicate publication date.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact:

Biographical note

Born in New York, Esta Nesbitt (1918-1975) studied at the Traphagen School of Design, Columbia University, and New York University. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Nesbitt led a successful career as a fashion illustrator for leading magazines and newspapers. Her work was often entered in the annual juried competition of the Society of Illustrators, at least once receiving a Certificate of Merit. She held an especially long and creative association with Mademoiselle magazine.

Around 1960, Nesbitt began taking painting and printmaking courses, and studied brush calligraphy at the China Institute of America, one of a number of styles and techniques she experimented with in a burgeoning new career as a children's book illustrator (another was the sugar-lift aquatint print). In the 1960s Nesbitt also became a pioneer in the use of reprographic technology to make fine art. Xerox Corporation sponsored her experimentation, providing access to the latest-model copiers in their showroom and holding an exhibit of her work, "Xerography--Extensions in Art," at their New York headquarters. In the late 1960s, Nesbitt pursued yet another form of aesthetic expression as a performance and conceptual artist in New York City, sometimes incorporating her reprographic prints into these works. (Kelvin Mason, "CCP Acquisitions: Esta Nesbitt--Xerox Art Pioneer." Accessed 19 Sept. 2011. Nesbitt exhibited widely during her lifetime. She died in New York in 1975. Parsons School of Design--where Nesbitt had taught from 1964 to 1975--held an exhibition of her work in October 1977.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 5 series, arranged alphabetically within series: 1. Unidentified; 2. General; 3. Madmoiselle magazine; 4. New York Times magazine; 5. Saks Fifth Avenue

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to Parsons School of Design by Saul Nesbitt, Esta Nesbitt's husand, in 1979; later transferred to the New School Archives.

Related Materials

Collections of Esta Nesbitt's papers and/or her work in book illustration and Xerography, and recordings of her performance and conceptual works are found variously in the permanent collections of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; the Smithsonian Archives of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; among others.

Processing Information

Series and folders titled by commissioning publication and advertising campaign, when identified. Otherwise titled by department store or manufacturer; or by description of garment depicted and/or format.

Guide to the Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
December 7, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • August 28, 2017: Extent and component locations altered after re-housing.