CCAD alum Mary Lou Alpert on women in design & why she’s paying it forward

mary lou alpert

A Columbus College of Art & Design grad reflects on her creative and professional pursuits and a surprising Steve Jobs connection.

As a student at Columbus College of Art & Design, Mary Lou Alpert (Advertising & Graphic Design, 1960) worked for Helen Winnemore, the proprietor of Helen Winnemore Craft, a well-known gift shop in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood selling special, one-of-a-kind art and crafts. 

“Helen was a great mentor,” Alpert recalls.

So, in 1991, Alpert and longtime friend Frances Shawn initiated the first Helen Winnemore Scholarship at CCAD to honor Winnemore on her 91st birthday. The scholarship, which supports Fine Arts students at CCAD, grew upon Winnemore’s death in 1996 thanks to a bequest to CCAD.

Alpert herself was supported by a scholarship as a CCAD student, which has motivated her and her husband to pay it forward. Her schooling, she says, was “intense”—and beneficial. 

“I really owe a lot to the mentoring and education I got at CCAD,” Alpert says.

Most recently, Alpert, who was recognized by CCAD in 1993 with an Outstanding Alumni Award, has continued her support for her alma mater by co-sponsoring a Women in Design panel hosted by the college on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. The annual event features professional insight and advice from successful women working in the design world.

Alpert says she is thrilled to see the vision of Joseph Canzani, Columbus College of Art & Design’s first President (and one of her art instructors) realized in the CCAD of today under the leadership of President Melanie Corn and, before her, President Denny Griffith.

Now living in Yorktown, New York, Alpert has maintained an active creative and professional practice over the years, including the design of an apple-themed poster for the New York Botanical Garden that, notably, was included in a portrait of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs.

In addition, Alpert’s sculptures have been exhibited in New York, and she has also worked as Project Director for the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York, as well as serving as a member of the museum's Board of Trustees. In 1989, Alpert established Green Hill Invitationals, an alternative space gallery located in Yorktown, exhibiting ceramics, sculpture, painting, and photography.

Below, Alpert discusses her time at CCAD (including a rigorous class taught by President Canzani), her career, and what the future holds for art and design.

steve jobs
mary lou alpert work

What was your time like at CCAD, and what did you go on to do after graduation?
As a student at CCAD, I was fortunate to have been in Canzani’s intense color concept class. His standards were extremely high, and 
CCAD's curriculum was patterned after Pratt Institute. 

After graduating in 1960, I moved to San Francisco for eight years. I worked in package and graphic design, and I established, with a partner, the firm TWO DESIGN. I relocated to New York in 1967 and became Graphic Design Director for Beech-Nut (later Squibb). Since 1991, I have been associated with the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York.

What advice would you give to current students?
I would like to stress the importance of internships. It’s a must addition to a resume.

What do you think about the future of CCAD?
To me, the future of CCAD is now. Phenomenal progress has occurred at CCAD—multifaceted curriculum expansion, major additions of the physical plant and campus, and an impressive enrollment gain. It’s all a tribute to President Canzani’s vision. Keep doing what you’re doing! 

Can you talk about the changing role of women in art and design?
When I lived in San Francisco and was looking for a job, I went to a company called Schlage Lock. I’d submitted some drawings that I thought would be a good way of displaying their work. The owner said he liked what I’d given him, but he didn’t think the other employees would listen to a young woman as art director. So that was that. 

I also ran into a bit of conflict when I worked for Squibb and Beech-Nut. I would fly out to the printing plants, and a couple of printers would ask me what I was doing there. I was there to supervise the printing of a big run.

I decided to support Women in Design because it’s an opportunity to gain insight from professionals. 

For you, what does it mean to be a healthy creative?
Sometimes when you are uninspired, the act of creating work can bring you out of a slump. Being an artist is a real, lifelong asset. 

There’s a photo of a young Steve Jobs with your art, a poster of apples, hanging in the background. Do you know the backstory of how that came to be?
The poster was sold by the New York Botanical Garden in their gift shop. I don’t know how he acquired it, but the photo of it was in a magazine. Someone gave me a copy; it was wonderful to see. 

Learn more about CCAD's Advertising & Graphic Design program or apply here. 

Photos from top: Mary Lou Alpert, photo by Margaret Fox Photography; left: Samuel Beckett's Library by Mary Lou Alpert, photo by Margaret Fox Photography; Steve Jobs with apple poster Mary Lou Alpert designed and illustrated for the New York Botanical Garden. Photo by Andree Abecassis, featured in October 1989 issue of Inc. magazine.