November 2002

Elaine Wolfe
Pioneered as a Woman in the Business of Art


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Elaine Wolfe never thought she would spend her life running her own business; she was simply thrown into it at a young age with minimal experience. 36 years later, it proved the best thing that could have happened to her career, and her communications business is still going strong.

Wolfe moved to Clarence from Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1946 when her father was transferred with Westinghouse. Her older sister was a talented artist and painter and worked for a while as an elementary school art teacher. “She got me interested in art, but I knew I did not want to be a teacher,” Elaine said. So, she went to the University of Buffalo and it’s affiliate at the time, Albright Art School, for graphic design. She received a BFA in Graphic Design summa cum laude and set out on a new career.

A relative-in-law who worked for National Gypsum Company asked to see her portfolio. “He knew I was graduating from college and job-hunting, and he said he would recommend me to the owner of a small design group, Alan Spitzer, Inc.,” recalls Wolfe. “It was 1961 and at the time advertising agencies didn’t do collateral material. This group specialized in sales promotion. It was a great, great experience.”
The art director that Wolfe worked for eventually branched off on his own and Wolfe followed. The two freelanced together for a year. Then he moved to the Rochester area.

“He said to me, ‘Well, here are a couple of clients, good luck!’” said Wolfe. “I told my husband I would work at it as long as there was work. Fortunately, I’ve been on my own ever since 1966.”

“When I started in the business of advertising, there were only three women in the Art Directors Club. One was a photo retoucher, one was a part-time freelancer, and myself,” said Wolfe. “I was really the first woman graphic designer in the area with a sustained, full-time business. I also had to go out and sell as well as do the artwork. It was a challenge but very satisfying at the same time.”

Wolfe finds the most rewarding experiences have come from working with companies she’s been with from the beginning stages. “You become part of their team because you work with them so closely on many different levels.”

One of Wolfe’s greatest pleasures is having the opportunity to work with The Great American Tool Company, a sharpener and knife manufacturer, founded here in Buffalo. “When they first called me, they were brand new,” said Wolfe. “I have helped them build their identity. Now the company has grown and grown and it’s very gratifying to have contributed, in part, to the success of this fine, young company.”

Elaine now has an associate in Rochester who pulls work from the center of the state while she works on Western New York, but for the most part she has worked on her own from her home office. “When it’s your own business, in your own house, it takes over your life. It’s always there.”

Wolfe and her husband, Peter, met at Clarence Central High School and have been together ever since. He is in the investment and insurance business and has been her champion and helpmate.

“We just had our 45th class reunion and we are the only couple from our class that got married,” she said.

Outside of work, Wolfe has been very involved in the Monday Quarterback Club, an organization of business leaders and serious fans that supports the Buffalo Bills. She was a board member, handles the club communications and served as vice president and the first woman president.

“When I was vice president of the club, it was stadium contract renewal time (for the Bills). We felt that our club should be in the forefront of rallying the business community to support the ‘Keep the Bills’,” Wolfe explained. “We realized then that we had to make a push to get more people in our business community into the club and to partner with the Bills in their marketing efforts. I made that my primary objective as president.”

Elaine is also a member of the Buffalo Bills Blue Coats. “We serve as ambassadors for the Bills in the community, volunteering to participate in charity and civic events that the Bills support, and also work to expand the season ticket holder base which is critical to the success of the franchise.”

“When my business was running full-tilt, I had no time for extras,” said Wolfe. “It was seven days a week, holidays and around the clock sometimes. I often went days without sleep. That was pre-computers when we did everything by hand.”

Now she makes free time, and has enjoyed her recent involvement with fundraising for the new Clarence Town Library that opened last June. She and her husband are also members of Ducks Unlimited, an international wetlands conservation organization that works to preserve wildlife habitat and clean ground water.

For fun Wolfe loves gardening; she has a beautiful yard full of gorgeous flowers. She repeatedly attends Bills games with her husband. The two are also interested in NASCAR racing.

“We love to travel. We’ve traveled the world,” Elaine said. She collects boxes from different places they have visited including Greece, Egypt, Russia, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Japan. Her favorite trips were a photo safari in Africa and two trips to China, 12 years apart.

“Basically, I enjoy adding value whenever I am asked to serve. I am an accomplisher. With graphics you get to the see the end product of your efforts and the impact they make,” said Wolfe.

Elaine Wolfe was a pioneer as a woman in the graphic design business. She has survived in what was a man’s world to be successful at what she enjoys doing. In Wolfe’s opinion, “Staying ‘forever young’ has never been one of my objectives in life, but making everyday count has been. To do so I believe in a combination of maintaining a positive attitude (my husband taught me that), challenging yourself with new things to learn and doing that which makes you feel worthy.”

Erin Collins is a staff associate with Living Prime Time.


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