Frank Cieciorka, Designer for the Left, Is Dead at 69
By STEVEN HELLER
Published: November 27, 2008
Frank Cieciorka, a graphic artist, art director and watercolorist
whose woodcut rendering of a clenched-fist salute was a model for the
New Left's most ubiquitous emblem, died on Monday at his home in
Alderpoint, Calif. He was 69.
The cause was emphysema, said his wife, Karen Horn.
In 1959 Mr. Cieciorka (pronounced che-CHOR-ka), then a college
student, was an opponent of American military intervention in the
Dominican Republic and Vietnam and joined the Socialist Party. In
1964 he volunteered as an organizer during the Freedom Summer drive
to register black voters in Mississippi and became a field secretary
for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which initiated
many integration and voting-rights campaigns.
It was "certainly one of the most profound experiences in my life,"
he is quoted as saying on The Rag Blog (theragblog.blogspot.com),
"and helped shape my political consciousness to this day."
Mr. Cieciorka had seen the clenched-fist salute when he participated
in a Socialist rally in San Francisco. When he returned from
Mississippi, "the fist was a natural for the first woodcut in a
series of cheap prints," he noted in an interview with Lincoln
Cushing, a political art archivist and historian. "It wasn't until we
made it into a button and tossed thousands of them into crowds at
rallies and demonstrations that it really became popular," he continued.
He recalled later visiting a "lefty button maker in Berkeley" who
showed him that dozens of organizations had incorporated the woodcut
into their logos or used it in some fashion to promote a social cause
His fist for the 1967 Stop the Draft Week became what Mr. Cushing
considers "the iconic New Left fist very stylized and easy to
reproduce, picked up almost immediately by Students for a Democratic
Society and others."
Another, more detailed woodcut fist (which Mr. Cieciorka titled
"hand") was also often copied, usually without credit to the artist.
Although the Black Panther Party used a bold, streamlined Panther
designed by Emory Douglas as its primary logo, versions of Mr.
Cieciorka's so-called power salute appeared in its publications as well.
Frank Cieciorka was born on April 26, 1939, and grew up in Johnson
City in upstate New York. In 1957 he enrolled in the fine arts
program at San José State College, in California, where his passion
for civil rights was triggered.
In addition to helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party, an alternative to the official Democratic Party, in 1965 he
wrote and illustrated "Negroes in American History: A Freedom
Primer," which was then used in "freedom schools" throughout the
South. The cover shows five hands reaching toward the sky, one of
them a fist. Mr. Cieciorka speculated that this might have been the
first time the fist was used in relation to the civil-rights
movement. He also created posters for labor movements, including the
United Farm Workers, was the art director for The Movement, a
newspaper for activist organizers, and contributed to the Peoples
In the early 1970s he became an avid watercolor painter, with a
special interest in landscapes of his rural California home, in the
countryside of southern Humboldt County.
In addition to his wife, also a watercolorist, Mr. Cieciorka is
survived by a stepdaughter, Zena Goldman Hunt, and a brother, James.
Artist Frank Cieciorka dies in Humboldt County
Seth Rosenfeld, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Frank Cieciorka, a political activist, graphic artist and
watercolorist whose rendering of a raised fist became an indelible
image of Sixties radicalism, died Monday of emphysema at his home in
Humboldt County. He was 69.
Mr. Cieciorka (pronounced che-CHOR-ka) was a Bay Area civil rights
activist in 1965 when he made his first woodcut prints of the fist,
which soon appeared on posters and buttons as a symbol of
Born in 1939, he grew up in Johnson City, in upstate New York, the
son of a grocery store employee. Interested in art since childhood,
he enrolled in the fine arts program at San Jose State College in 1957.
As a freshman he was politically conservative, an Ayn Rand acolyte.
But by 1959 he had become active in the peace movement, opposing U.S.
military intervention in Vietnam.
Events at San Francisco City Hall on May 13, 1960, turned him into a
radical. The day before, he had joined hundreds of Bay Area students
protesting hearings held there by the House Committee on Un-American
Activities. A group of radicals were thrusting their fists into the
air. He felt uncomfortable and moved away.
He skipped the next day's protest - when police turned fire hoses on
the crowd - to study for an art history exam. "That night watching
the news on TV was outraged at seeing my friends washed down the City
Hall steps with fire hoses," he said in a 2006 e-mail to Lincoln
Cushing, a Berkeley-based scholar of social protest graphics.
"The next day I joined the demonstration & this time positioned
myself in the midst of the reds & had my fist in the air. ... From
that time the fist was one of my fave icons & I used it in cartoons &
posters whenever I could."
Mr. Cieciorka became a socialist, and in 1964 joined hundreds of
Northern white college students who went to the South to help blacks
register to vote as part of Mississippi Freedom Summer. He became a
field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
which organized the effort.
In 1966 he produced an image of a black panther, the symbol of the
Lowndes County (Mississippi) Freedom Organization, which was started
by SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael to challenge the segregationist
party. The image appeared in SNCC's newspaper, the Movement.
Later that year, when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black
Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, they received permission
from SNCC to use the panther image in their publications, recalled
Emory Douglas, the San Francisco artist who designed the party's newspaper.
After working in the South, Mr. Cieciorka returned to San Francisco
and was artistic director of the Movement. His work appeared in other
radical publications, including Paul Krass-ner's the Realist. Joe
Blum, editor of the Movement, said, "He was a very serious artist who
because of his politics felt drawn into doing that work."
In 1972, Mr. Cieciorka moved to the Humboldt County community of
Alderpoint, where he built his own home and turned to painting
watercolor landscapes and portraits.
He is survived by his wife, Karen Horn of Alderpoint; his
stepdaughter, Zena Goldman Hunt of Italy; and his brother, James
Cieciorka of San Jose.
E-mail Seth Rosenfeld at email@example.com.