The Posters of the Grateful Dead Archive

Wes Wilson and the First Posters

Wes Wilson (1937– ) was the first artist to be strongly associated with the San Francisco poster renaissance, and his work marks the genesis of the scene. Working for both the Fillmore and the Avalon, Wilson’s work charts the rapid development of the psychedelic poster, culminating in his trademark flowing typography, an homage to Viennese Secessionist artist Alfred Roller’s famed lettering style.

The Dead played the Avalon thirty times, twenty-four of them for Chet Helms’s Family Dog. Ten posters commemorate those shows, beginning May 19, 1966 through October 13, 1968. Bill Graham booked the Dead eighty-five times, beginning with the second Mime Troupe benefit (although they did not appear on the poster) on December 10, 1965, through the closing of the Fillmore West on July 2, 1971. Forty-one of those appearances were Fillmore shows, forty-four were at the Fillmore West.

Both venues employed dozens of artists. The Family Dog commissioned thirty-five artists for its numbered series of 147 posters, and Graham used twenty-five artists for his numbered series of 287 posters. The Dead appear on ten of the San Francisco Family Dog posters and thirty-three of the Bill Graham series, and they appeared on dozens of other posters in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the sixties as well, a number of which are considered critically significant.