Just over a week ago graphic artist, art director, watercolorist and political activist, Frank Cieciorka died at his home in Alderpoint, Calif. at the age of 69. The cause of death was emphysema. Since the early 1980s he has gained recognition for his watercolors of Humboldt County landscapes, but it’s his 1960’s woodcut rendering of a clenched-fist that will secure him an indelible place in history.
Born in Johnson City in upstate New York in1939, Cieciorka moved westward to attend San José State College in 1957 to study art. After graduation in 1964 he became a volunteer in Freedom Summer, the civil rights campaign initiated to help African Americans register to vote in Mississippi, the same campaign and summer that saw the Ku Klux Klan kidnap and murder three Freedom Summer volunteers -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Cieciorka would become a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which organized the campaign.
In 1965 Cieciorka returned to San Francisco and created a woodcut print inspired by his experiences in Mississippi; his image, simply entitled Hand, was initially printed as a poster and flyer for the 1967 Stop the Draft Week. The image quickly struck a chord with the civil rights and anti-war movements of the day; shortly thereafter the Students for a Democratic Society incorporated the image as their logo.
In 1966 Cieciorka also created an image of a black panther for the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was started by SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael to challenge the segregationist party in Mississippi. When Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, they received permission from the SNCC to use the panther image, artist Emory Douglas re-designed a bolder, more streamlined image for the Black Panther’s publications.
Cieciorka would go on to create posters for labor movements, including the United Farm Workers and for many radical and underground magazines including Paul Krassner's The Realist.
Frank Cieciorka is survived by his wife, Karen Horn, his stepdaughter, Zena Goldman Hunt and his brother, James Cieciorka.