Eppie Lederer © Sally Harcum Maxwell

Eppie Lederer: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Sally Harcum Maxwell

Poquoson, Virginia, USA

Artist Statement

My father taught psychology at the College of William and Mary for many years. Maybe that’s why he was such a fan of Ann Landers; he saw the need for help in getting us all to live together. I undertook to portray Eppie Lederer–the writer behind Ann Landers–with my father in mind.

I began with a foundation, Eppie’s foundation, of newsprint. I was not able to use her actual “Ann Landers” columns because of copyright issues, so I substituted my own words on different, related topics organized in straight columns in newspaper-like fashion. The straight lines of copy are reinforced by the straight lines of quilting in those areas. This is directly contrasted by the more organic and circular forms of the coffee stains, superimposed on the newsprint, as well as the free-motion quilting around her names–both Eppie and Ann.

Another organic form, the bouffant-style hair typical of the 60s, was really fun to create. Eppie Lederer only changed her hairstyle slightly over the years and the dark hair with the sweeping locks gave way to twin white forelocks of her middle age and a more all-over golden hue in her later years. One thing that never changed was the slightly asymmetrical smile with the deep dimples. It’s an open, honest face that mirrors her straightforward advice.

Without a doubt, my interpretation of Eppie Lederer is more a caricature than a realistic portrait of the woman, but if you see this work and leave with the idea that she is an straightforward and caring woman of her era, I will have done my job.

Woman’s Groundbreaking Accomplishment

The daily syndicated advice column of Eppie Lederer, better known by her pen name Ann Landers, was read by approximately 90 million people, making her one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century.


The figure of Eppie Lederer is placed on a pieced background of “articles” about her life, arranged to suggest a newspaper. The articles were written by the artist and printed on fabric designed for the home computer. The head and shoulders are constructed of raw edge applique with thread-painted features and shadows. The entire composition is in black and white, except for the brown coffee spilled over the ground–a direct reference to the quote “wake up and smell the coffee,” a favorite of Ann Landers, and the name of the piece.


Commercial fabric was used in this piece, in addition to the unique fabric printed with information about the life of Eppie Lederer. Commercial inks and dye were used to print the coffee rings and spatters.

Photo courtesy James Maxwell