Handsome Work

The Little Picture
Her hand-painted greeting cards support women with humor and style.

Photographer Kelly Povo is looking for a publisher for her new book. But despite the success of her previous books, which all sell at gift shops, no one has given Povo a contract for Gladys On Her Own just yet. Featuring images she shot of her stylized friend in Mexico, the book shares words of support for the newly divorced. It’s been well received by women and also editorial departments, Povo says, and everything goes great until it gets to the marketing department. “It’s all men in the marketing departments,” she says. “They don’t have a clue as to the way women support each other.”

Povo, on the other hand, has built a livelihood by understanding the social safety net women offer to one another. For the past nine years, Povo has been making a successful line of greeting cards. Women, of course, are the main consumers of greeting cards, so Povo is doubly tapped in; she photographs herself and her friends in vintage clothing, accessorized with retro white plastic cat-eye sunglasses and posed in parodies of the high-heeled, stay-at-home wives and moms of the mythic 1950s. With some help from her friend Phyllis Root, a children’s-book author, Povo also composes the greetings. Povo’s postcards convey messages that are sassy and humorous, and often express pride in the power of women.

The “Girls” cards have been so successful that the forty-three-year-old mother of two estimates there are now about 150 different images in the line. Povo has photographed her friends cooking, smoking, drinking, gossiping, driving, and swimming—all while dressed in those wacky clothes and sunglasses. Previously a commercial photographer, she got the idea for the cards after a friend photographed Povo’s own flashback-to the-fifties-style wedding in 1992. In one shot, she had her bridesmaids smoking and reclining atop the back seat of a convertible, while she was a sneering “bad girl” at the driver’s side door, arms akimbo. Povo liked the black-and-white images so much that she meticulously hand-colored the originals with transparent oil paints, made prints, mocked up about twenty as greeting cards, and took them out to a card show in New York. They were a hit.

Since then, Povo has taken her fifties obsession all the way to the Smithsonian Institution, where she’s pored over archival photos in order to keep her accessorizing honest. Povo has used wigs, rooms full of vintage toasters, and even an aquatic car to create the shots she wants. The line has expanded to include a handful of books, licensing deals, and cards for every occasion, including a series for teenagers and, most recently, the divorce series.

Inventing the cards as self-therapy during her recent and difficult divorce, Povo has found both success and humor in a tough situation. The series presents Povo’s girls as empowered by their divorces. One shows a joyous woman seated on a scooter; the greeting inside says, “Heard you found something more exciting to ride.” “It felt good to make money from my divorce,” Povo said recently over a cup of coffee in a bookstore café. “And to help pay for my lawyer!”

With that behind her, Povo is moving on to other things. She’s taking classes in women’s studies, shooting fine-art photographs, and has plans to head to Europe to photograph some of the black Madonnas tucked away in the basements of Catholic churches. But she still stands by her girls. “As an artist, you do what’s in your life,” she says. “I have always felt supportive of women and women’s work and women’s issues.”

Povo hosts her annual Holiday Show Friday, December 5th and Saturday, December 6th at her home, featuring new photos as well as The Girls and other series favorites. More info at www.kellypovo.com, via e-mail at kelly@kellypovo.com, or call 952-898-5608.

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