Remembering Miriam Wosk, First Ms. Cover Artist

We were sad here at Ms. to learn that Miriam Wosk–who created the iconic first cover of the magazine–has died at age 63.

Wosk’s cover depicted a modern version of the Hindu goddess Kali, tears streaming down her face while she uses eight arms to juggle an overabundance of work and household tasks. Meanwhile, a new baby is growing inside her belly. In charming style and vibrant color, this Wosk original illustrated Jane O’Reilly’s much-reprinted story, “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth.”

Several of us on the Ms. staff were lucky to meet Wosk a few years ago when she dropped by the office. We enjoyed being introduced to her more recent artwork–which was gorgeous. To create her colorful and intricate mixed-media images, she used vintage wallpaper, paint, glitter, metallic foils, jewels, beads, sequins, plant material, sea life and other found objects. One reviewer described her work as:

a sort of gothic, hyper-decorative Surrealism that is as invigorating for the imagination as it is for the eye.

Wosk was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vancouver, Canada. By age 4 she decided she was an artist, and by her 20s had moved to New York and become a fashion illustrator for such magazines as Vogue and New York (where Gloria Steinem was a regular contributor, and in whose pages Ms. began as an insert). In the 1980s Wosk went back west, this time to Los Angeles.

Her work appeared in more than a hundred individual and groups shows, but according to Frank Gehry, who designed a house for her in Beverly Hills, she didn’t hustle for sales. He told the The Globe and Mail:

Miriam didn’t need the money and she didn’t compromise. She was independent and very dignified. She was part of the L.A. scene, the L.A. art gang. Her house was incredible and she would have these wonderful dinner parties for the artists. She was satisfied that a few of us knew her work and loved her. She was very generous.

The notion of adapting Hindu mythology’s many-armed deities to represent a person with a multitude of tasks to handle all at once–as embodied in Wosk’s Ms. cover–has been copied by others (including two updates at Ms., one by Wosk herself on the back cover of the December 2001/January 2002 issue), most recently a controversial Newsweek cover of President Obama as the Hindu god Nataraja. But none will ever outdo the Wosk original, which seemed to perfectly capture its moment in feminist time.

“She was a most wonderful woman, and her art expanded minds and hearts,” Gloria Steinem told us recently.

Wosk, who is survived by her son Adam Gunther, made a final trip west after her death: She was buried in Hawaii, according to her wishes.

You can watch Miriam Wosk at work in a short film by Terry Sanders on her website. And here’s the other Ms. cover she created, to honor the magazine’s fifth anniversary in 1977: