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 Zelda (Jackie) Ormes  (1910 - 1985)

About: Zelda (Jackie) Ormes


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Lived/Active: Illinois/Pennsylvania      Known for: syndicated cartoon, still-life painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Zelda Ormes
1910 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)


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syndicated cartoon, still-life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The "first syndicated female African-American cartoonist, and the cartoonist who did the most toward overcoming the stereotypes found in comic strips before the mid-1960s", (Swann) Zelda Ormes, also known as Jackie, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Her father was an artist and was an influence on her career choice and development of art talent.  Ormes' depiction of black women was that of strong and independent persons and not the usual servant-girl types.  She said:  "I have never liked dreamy little women who can't hold their own." (aalbc)

Her first syndicated job was in 1939 with the Pittsburgh Courier, a black community newspaper, and one of her first assignments was coverage of the Joe Lewis and John Henry Louis heavyweight fight.  She moved on to do cartoons for the Courier, the first featuring Torchy Brown, which was a full-page color feature syndicated to fourteen other black-readership newspapers.  Torchy was a strong minded, intelligent female who stood up to injustices and racism, and she was also feminine and sensuous.  In fact, soldiers used Torchy as a pin-up girl.  "Nowadays, newspapers are full of strong, serious black women ? not just on the comics page, but on the front page as well ? and Torchy Brown is practically forgotten. But in an era of pickaninnies and mammies, she stood as a role model for her younger sisters, showing them they had better options." (Toonopedia)

In 1942, she moved to Chicago to work for the Chicago Defender, but this job did not utilize her art talents.   Then in 1946, she did Patty Jo'n Ginger, and because of the widespread popularity of the comic strip, Patty Jo paper dolls are now collectors' items. These dolls were designed and marketed by Ormes, who was herself a doll collector and a member of the Chicago Chapter of the United Federation of Doll Clubs.  Her doll collection grew to 150.

During her 30-year career, she produced four separate comic strips:  Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, Candy, Torchy Brown Heartbeats and Patty Jo 'N' Ginger.

Ormes was also a painter of floral still lifes.

She suffered severe arthritis towards the end of her life, and died in Chicago on January 2, 1986.

Sources include:

Swann auction catalogue, African-American Fine Art, February 6, 2007

African-American Book Club:

African-American Registry:

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