March 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
I. Benjamin Franklin Court
Gentlewomen of the Press
317 Chestnut Street
II. Monotype Factory Building
Women typecasters during war-time
24th and Locust Street
III. Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
What do we know about the history of women in the graphic arts? According to all of the major academic texts on the subject virtually no women worked in the field before the mid-twentieth century. However, despite the impression left by those authors there have been women printers, typesetters, type casters, punch cutters, type drafters and type designers since the 16th century. Women have worked alongside their fathers, husbands and brothers as valuable partners, regularly taking over while men traveled, left to fight in wars, were incarcerated or inebriated. If the absent man was able to return to his press the women were frequently demoted or dismissed.
Just as their own families have marginalized the roles of these women so have modern design historians. In 1920, the eminent type historian Daniel Berkeley Updike, (himself a grandson and great-grandson of the colonial Goddard women printers) wrote of the female worker matter-of-factly and dismissively, “women in the type foundry, like child labor, is nothing new.” In essence, women were there but of they were of no consequence. Fortunately things are changing and women from the present, as well as the past, are getting their due recognition.
Benjamin Franklin Court
Colonial Ladies of Letterpress
Part of the Independence National Historical Park includes a colonial print shop on the former site of Benjamin Franklin’s home. The press now houses a few type cases, a bindery and a large antique printing press used for live demonstrations. On each Saturday of March a short lecture, Gentlewomen of the Press (Women Printers of the 18th Century), highlights some of the women in colonial print shops. My son discovered the free event and he and his girlfriend gamely accompanied me to the presentation.
Finding the press took a bit of persistence. The Franklin Court complex is located inside of a city block with minimal signage to announce its whereabouts. The entrance begins next to the colonial post office and snakes past the construction site that currently covers most of the Franklin museum complex (slated for completion by Fall 2103).
We entered just in time to hear the ranger’s enthusiastic explanation as to why colonial Philadelphia had a high rate of female literacy. The colonial Quakers encouraged women to read for participation in Bible study, a necessity in a religion that required self-learning rather than instruction by church officials. Literacy was certainly an advantage for women in the press shop (although we’ve read of one illiterate woman printer, Dinah Nuthead, who became the tenth woman licensed to print in the colonies in 1696.)
Our presenter surveyed numerous Franklin women and female associates who were active in the printing field, most of whom fit the pattern of marginalization we noted earlier. Benjamin’s wife, Deborah Read (1708-1774), was the manager of the family press during Franklin’s long absences overseas— holding down the fort and helping to expand the business throughout the colonies. Franklin only credited his wife for her financial prowess, “Frugality is…a virtue I could never acquire in myself, but I was lucky enough to find it in a wife, who thereby became a fortune to me.”
It was the female in-laws of Franklin that actually “got inky” at the press. Ann (Smith) Franklin (1696 -1763) the sister-in-law of Benjamin and widow of his brother, became the first woman printer in Newport, Rhode Island at age 39 when she inherited her husband’s press in 1735. She ran the press while raising five children alone, later joined by son James when he completed his apprenticeship with Uncle Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1748. When James died Anne (then age 65) fed the family by continuing the print shop assisted by her son-in-law and her two daughters, who were “correct and quick compositors.”
Franklin was also in a business partnership with Elizabeth Timothy (?–1757), a widow in South Carolina, whose newspaper printing skills were praised by Franklin over those of her late husband. Mrs. Timothy, as a woman, could not be legally recognized in her position and therefore placed the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter, on the paper’s masthead as the official publisher. Using a male child’s name was a common tactic for printing widows and one of the reasons that many women printers names are unrecorded.
The most historically notable woman of the group was Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), daughter of another female printer, Sarah Updike Goddard, and ancestor of the aforementioned Daniel Berkeley Updike. Mary Katherine took over her brother William’s newspaper during his frequent incarcerations for “public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper” and while he fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1777, Congress authorized her to print the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the original signers, but she made her livelihood and reputation at the newspaper. One of her contemporaries, newspaper publisher Isaiah Thomas, considered her,“ an expert and correct compositor, doing good printing besides fine work with copperplates.” Nevertheless, not all was peaceful after the Revolution as brother William returned to the press and summarily dismissed Mary Katherine. She lost her printing business to her brother despite a slew of influential names attached to her letters of petition to the government and five attempted lawsuits. She persevered by selling books, stationery and dry goods.
We saw the press in operation by two different women park guards who competently made their way through the printing as they explained the process. Several woman-centric printed items were on sale. Satisfied in mind but not in stomach, we lunched a few doors away at Fork restaurant.
The Monotype Factory
Women in War Time Prove “We can do it!”
The next stop was 24th and Locust Street, location of the former Monotype Factory. This time Philadelphia-based graphic designer and Hofstra Design professor, Bez Ocko, accompanied us. Although the name Monotype is now associated with digital fonts the term was first used to describe a metal type-casting machine sold in the United States and Great Britain. In 1887 Tolbert Lanston designed the Monotype prototype which required two pieces of equipment, a keyboard and a metal typecaster. The process began with an operator typing the text using a keyboard of 276 keys, the amount required to cover all of a font variants such as italic, bold, etc. Each key strike triggered a number of holes punched along the length of a 4-inch wide paper ribbon. The typecasting machine used the perforated ribbon to dictate the specific order in which individual metal letters were cast from a brass a matrix. (We will include much more about the Monotype in our next posting in late March.)By 1905 the American Lanston Monotype Company moved its manufacturing to Philadelphia, first on Callowhill Street and later to 24th and Locust. The new five-story brick structure housed 200,000 square-feet of matrix making, letter drafting, tooling, assembling, milling, casting, inspection, engineering and training facilities.
Today the only remainders of the Philadelphia Monotype factory are the stone letters over the door and past volumes of the house organ, Monotype: A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency. In those publications one can read how women at Monotype and across the country, normally confined to keyboard input, filled in for men during wartime. The articles praise the women for their important contribution in war time but make it clear that it is only a temporary situation.
From an 1918 edition, “The present shortage of male Monotype operators and runners has opened a new field for the girls and they are making good at it.” From Omaha, Nebraska came the story of how a woman became a Monotype type caster during the man shortage of World War I. “As the weeks rolled by and no suitable candidate for the job appeared it began to look as if our foreman would be compelled to operate the casters himself. About this time a copy of Monotype containing the picture of a young lady operator in New York fell into the hands of a Miss Wells who was working in the bindery. She applied and after considering the matter for some time we decided to give her a chance to show what she could do. She began by watching how the work was done. This she did for several days after which she was taught to take off the galleys, keep the metal pots full, and the temperature of the metal right, to put on the spools of copy and the other incidentals of caster running. She has not attempted to change the molds but hopes to be able to do so in the future. As matters now stand Miss Wells is learning as rapidly as the average young man and is more dependable.”…“In this connection it might be well to consider that all trades are breaking down traditions and find that woman can perform many operations for which they were supposed to be in some way unfitted.”
Despite the women’s suitability for their work the male run trade unions squashed any future prospects. “At the last meeting of the American Publishers Association there rose a request to the International Typographic Union to train women operators for the newspaper, but the proposition did not meet the approval of that body, who considered the newspaper end of the business as too strenuous for the women.” In this case it was the union, not family members or the actual workshop managers that kept women out of the foundry.
4:00 PM The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
December 2, 2012 – April 14, 2013
Our last stop of the day was a joint showing of the work of graphic designer Paula Scher (b. 1948) and her illustrator husband Seymour Chwast (b. 1931). The exhibition was the perfect demonstration, not only of Ms. Scher’s talent, but also of how far women have come in terms of professional and marital equality. The couple was given equal billing and space in the large gallery. Both spouses showed high quality work, but at a distance Sher’s exudes a more powerful energy, a deliberate approach she cultivated in response to the environment where her work is often seen, New York City.
Scher, educated at Tyler School of Art just outside Philadelphia, began her career designing album covers for CBS and Atlantic Records. In 1984, she co-founded Koppel & Scher with fellow Tyler graduate Terry Koppel and it was during that partnership that she designed her intensely controversial Swatch poster. The poster was a near perfect replication of the travel poster designed by Herbert Matter in 1934. Although she obtained the rights from the Matter estate, and it appears that she was clearly referring to Swiss culture, Matter and the dying era of Swiss design, the subsequent critical uproar included accusations of plagiarism or a least a lack of professional integrity. Perhaps part of the controversy was that Scher was a woman appropriating the work of a male icon, (recently deceased) and the perceived lack of reverence was just too provocative.
The exhibition display was big and bright. The space, divided equally in half, featured walls filled to the rafters with their work plus separate but equal media presentations. The east wall, displaying a single A from Scher’s logo for the Type Director’s Club is directly countered by the west wall sporting the organic A Chwast drew for Artone India Ink. Each spouse was given their proper due, a sweet end to a day tinged with female inequality and anonymity.
One can never know if her predecessors had the luxury (or burden) of reflecting on their professional relationships but perhaps they might have had some of the same thoughts as Scher, “If I had not been with him, would I have lived my life exactly this way, or am I with him because I always wanted to do it this way? I don’t know. I ask myself this question all the time.’’ * To see more of her work and hear Ms. Scher in her own words you can view her interview, Paula Scher : The Geography of Design by Nicholas Heller.
Barlow, Marjorie Dana. Notes on Women Printers in Colonial America and The Untied States, 1639-1975, The Hroswitha Club, University Press of Virginia, 1976.
Photo Mary Katherine Goddard: Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library
Monotype Doing Her Bit, While Her Soldier is Serving His Country. Monotype A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency, Published by the Lanston Monotype Company of Philadelphia.
•Volume 5, No 6, March April 1918, p 133.
• Volume 6, No 1, May June 1918.
Tiger, Caroline. Together – never; except in an exhibit of their graphic designs at the Art Museum. The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 1, 2012.
Paula Scher: The Geography of Design (Part 2) Nicholas Heller, August 2009. Youtube.
Written by Nancy Stock-Allen
February 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
Date of Visit: January 2013
I. The Gandhi Museum
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
II. The Sarasvati Mahal Library
Thanjuvar, Tamil Nadu
Link: Library catalog
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Near Maduri, Tamil Nadu
The state of Tamil Nadu (Tamil country), once called Madras, is located on the southeastern coast of India. Inhabited by the Tamil people since 500 BC, it still holds fast to its regional language, Tamil, used along with Hindi (the national language) and English on official signs. The state is home to a rich history of architectural and literary works achieved during the powerful dynasties of the Chera, Chola and Pandya. That heritage, threatened with extinction during a period of European colonization, has thankfully been saved by strong social reformists and conservationists for us to enjoy in the 21st century.
I. The Gandhi Museum / Preserving the Legacy
We retreated from the cacophony of Madurai’s streets for a few hours to tour the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. By coincidence it was January 26th, Republic Day, the annual holiday commemorating the adoption of the Indian Constitution and when we arrived the front garden was full of students making speeches and carrying flags. Once inside the building we were quickly swept up into the story of India’s struggle for independence starting in 1598 when the British East India Trading Company commenced their campaign of colonization. The Englishmen pitted regional Indian rulers against each other, bribed others and bludgeoned the rest to gain control over of a major portion of the country. (Similarly the Portuguese, French, Danes and Dutch injected their own spice trading groups.) Once established the British traders sucked the country’s resources dry by denying Indians the right to manufacture their own goods and forcing them to buy imports from England. Native landowners and peasants alike were highly taxed and that revenue bought Indian commodities to ship back to England. As John Sullivan wrote, “The Englishman flourishes like a sponge, drawing up the riches from the banks of the Ganges and squeezing them on the banks of the Thames.”
The British Parliament was advised to obliterate Indian culture and religion in an infamous report by Lord Macaulay, who suggested the following to his superiors back in England, “… I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.” Missionaries were dispatched to introduce Christianity to India as part of that scheme.
When Queen Victoria assumed the role of Empress of India in 1858 Westernization accelerated. Railroads and the telegraph reduced travel and communication time across the vast continent and English was instituted as the official language (facilitating more contact between India and the Western world). Indians, however, were not convinced that British ways were “good and greater than their own.” To the contrary, Indian scholars began to rediscover their indigenous history and literature spawning an Indian Renaissance, a resurgence of national pride and an urgency to expel the colonists. Many dedicated Indian patriots and martyrs would perish in the pursuit of independence over the next century.
We now know that it was the transcendent personality of Mahatma Gandhi that successfully inspired India’s masses by his new method of action, “satyagraha” (a word Gandhi combined from the Sanskrit for “ truth” and “holding firm”). The title of Mahatma, or “Great Soul” was bestowed by Gandhi’s contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, the author of India’s national anthem. (If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember that Aina Cederblom, from our last post, taught weaving at an experimental school run by Tagore near Kolkata.)
About half of the museum space presents the arc of Gandhi’s personal and public life. We learned that it was in Madurai that Gandhi chose to adopt the dhoti, a simple Indian peasant garment, as a symbol of his solidarity with all classes of his countrymen. He spun the thread for his personal clothing on a spinning wheel, setting an example to urge Indians to resume making their own goods. The exhibit concludes with a small room containing a single profoundly moving artifact—the blood stained dhoti that Gandhi wore on the day of his assassination. The whole experience gave us a deep respect for the combined efforts of Gandhi and his predecessors who helped India regain self-rule in 1947 and preserved the rich cultural heritage of India.
II. The Maharaja Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library / Preserving Literature
Thanjavur, South India
About 200 kilometers north of Madurai is Thanjavur, a cultural mecca that evolved under the patronage of kings who supported religion and the cultural arts of music, dance, art and literature. The city is most known for its stunningly beautiful Brihadisvara Temple built during the Chola dynasty by Raja Raja the Great (985-1016). We visited the enormous temple complex at dusk while the setting sun best emphasized the sculptural facades.
Thanjavur priests and scholars were active writers of religious and scholarly manuscripts, many composed in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism. The nearby royal palace stored much of their work in a library named Sarasvati Mahal during the Nayak period of the 16th century. A later ruler, Raja Serfoji II (1798-1832), enlarged the collection by dispatching pandits (experts in Sanskrit) to buy or copy Sanskrit manuscripts from Northern India and other important Sanskrit centers.
Serfoji, an ardent bibliophile, studied English, French, Italian and Latin under Danish missionary, Reverend C. F. Schwartz. In 1805 he set up a printing press in 1805 in the palace and equipped it with “cast Devanagari type imported from Madras”.  (Devanagari is one of several writing systems used for recording Sanskrit.) Other sources describe the type as stone type. “The Types and Blocks were prepared using soft stone and hard wood.”  The press, known as Navavidyakalanichi, was inaugurated with an edition of Maratha Pachanga (The Almanac) produced on European paper. Serfoji also ordered translations of English story books for educating village children.The royal library eventually passed into public hands upon the death of the last Maratha queen in 1983.
The library is still situated within the royal palace complex in the heart of Thanjavur. We arrived on a Tuesday before the 10 am opening (There are a number of conflicting sources on the opening days and times. Tuesday seems the most reliable). We first viewed the palace art gallery next door which was undergoing extensive renovation—a work in progress that will be far superior after completion. The library however was well worth the visit.
The brightly painted exterior book store hints at what will be for the entire palace complex in the future. Once inside a hallway leads you to junction between a museum on the right and the library archives on the left. The museum very strictly prohibits any photography and the four or so grim-faced guards in charge of the small museum loudly slap the showcases with dust rags, glaring at all visitors to show that they mean business. (The library officials suggested that we scan images to illustrate this piece from The Painted Treasures of the Sarasvati Mahal Library .)
All sorts of books are on view: palm leaf books, manuscripts and printed bound books of diverse subject matter: Vedas (Hindu scriptures), epic poems, purana, (histories of the universe from creation to destruction) philosophy, modi (business registers), jyothisa (astrology), medicine, literature and scientific illustrations. Well-known works including the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata and several versions of the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey) including one known as Valmiki Ramayanam which features all 24,000 verses written in Grantha script so miniature that the letters are impossible to read with naked eye. (A magnifying glass is suspended above for viewing.) Some of the palm books are entirely script while others are illuminated with a single color or elaborate multiple color decorations. Also on display are maps, early Western books and curios such as the smallest and largest palm leaf books.
It is a bit confusing to sort out some of the facts about the collection. According to a library-produced pamphlet for tourists the oldest dated palm leaf manuscript, the Andhrabhagavatam, by Telugu poet Bammera Pothana, is dated 1432 (although Pothana’s lifespan was 1450-1510). Yet a book the library published in 2011 the oldest palm leaf manuscript is the Gadyachintamani written in 1550.
We were most fascinated by the books made from palm leaves, a common book material in ancient India. The process of preparing a palm leaf for writing is labor intensive: the dried leaves are cut to equal lengths, drilled for the string binding, boiled in water, dried again and then buried in sand before a final polish with conch shells. A salaka (metal stylus) was used to inscribe the text into the leaf surface and then washed with a mixture of charcoal and vegetable juice to add contrast to the letters. The finished leaves were smoked over a fire and coated with juices to provide protection from insect damage.
In the 1700′s a plant-based paper was beginning to be manufactured as a substitute for palm leaf material. The paper manuscripts were written using wood, bamboo or quill pens with an ink that was a mixture of lamp soot and extracts of the needle bush (Vachellia farnesiana). The natural preservative for paper was a bath in a turmeric and water solution.
Behind the Scenes Preservation and Transcription
Today the library’s mission includes preservation of the collection, recording it on microfilm as well as transcribing the ancient texts into computers for publication. Anxious to know more we asked to see some of the work behind the scenes. We were grateful for the limited access granted by head librarian, Dr. S. Sudarshan, to see the transcription and preservation processes. We were introduced to one of the Telugu pandits, Mr. D. Ravi, who graciously conducted a short tour of the four manuscript divisions which are divided by language (Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu).
One of the pandits was translating and hand transcribing content from an ancient palm leaf book. She was handwriting the entire text in ball point pen on paper, preparing it for electronic entry in the nearby computer center.
Large wooden cabinets hold the manuscripts along one side of the archives. Although there is no air-conditioning or climate control the storage is relatively stable deep within the thick stone-walled building. As a precaution if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees the palm leaf pages are not handled. (The library computers are pampered with air-conditioning inside a separate glass walled section.) Hopefully environmental control will come for the manuscripts in the future, but for now the collection is preserved using traditional natural methods. Each palm-leaf is routinely cleaned with Citronella, an extract of lemon grass which insures flexibility of the leaves and acts as an insecticide. If the cleaning process lightens the lettering it is refreshed by a wash of black ink and oil. Approximately 60 of the 25,000 palm leaf manuscripts are cleaned each day.
Mr. Ravi opened the first storage cabinet and out flowed the lush odor of the Citronella. Each manuscript is individually wrapped in white linen, tied with a string and identified on the outside. Our guide kindly untied one to demonstrate the flexibility of a preserved leaf that was several hundred years old.
In another section of the building paper books were in various stages of repair. Stabilization of holes and tears in delicate pages is achieved by layering a piece translucent “Japan paper” (we suspect it was rice paper) over the entire page and then trimmed.
A small group of men was binding newly printed books containing the text from an ancient palm leaf book manuscript. We saw similar reprints for sale in the library bookstore and in shops inside temples all over Tamil Nadu.
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Preserving Sanskrit and the ancient Grantha Script
Although India has one national language, Hindi, it also recognizes 22 regional languages out of it hundreds of local tongues. Without any expertise in this area we are reluctant to wade into the topic of Indian languages but what we surmise is that there are two major branches of language development in Tamil Nadu. One is the Sanskrit family—a historical language related to modern Indian languages in much the same way that Greek and Latin connect with western languages. Separately there is the Dravidian family of languages, 85 in number including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam systems that we observed in the Sarasvati Mahal library collection. What muddles the water is the fact that some of the Dravidian languages can be used to write Sanskrit while other can reproduce the full range of sounds in Sanskrit.
Although it is an ancient language, Sanskrit is still used in some instances in the modern world. For example when yoga teachers instruct their students, they frequently use the Sanskrit names for positions, ie: Adho-mukha svanasana is Sanskrit for downward dog. Om, ॐ, is also a Sanskrit word.
A more academic use of Sanskrit is in religious practices, including Hinduism. We were able to observe Sanskrit as a living language while visiting a traditional Vedic school dedicated to educating boys of Brahmin birth to become Hindu priests. While one does not expect boys between the ages of 10 and 18 to be interested in conversing with older adults these fellows were a respectful and inquisitive group. They were enthusiastic in sharing their Sanskrit lesson books using Grantha script, a once common form now replaced in the secular world with Devanagari script. They were a lively group but when it was time for their twice daily chanting and prayer ceremony they scrambled into their places, executed some nostril breathing exercises and then flipped open their books to chant in unison as a cohesive whole.
Be not like the frog in the well. The frog in the well knows nothing bigger or grander than its well. So are all (bigots) narrow-minded persons, they do not see anything bigger than their own wells. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886).
Unless otherwise noted, all images 2013 © designhistory.org.
 The Indian Antiquary, page 194 June 7,1872.
 Srinivasanm G, Treasure Trove in Thanjavur, The Daily Hindu, November 7, 2011.
 Wujastyk, Dominik, Thanjavur Library – A Realm of Knowledge, The Sampradaya Sun-Independnet Vaisnava News, Oct 14, 2012.
December 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
During the 1930’s, Swedish textile artist Aina Cederblom (1896–1986) set out on extensive solo boat journeys, logging distances that leave even today’s jet-engine-enabled traveler in awe. Merely covering distance however was not her goal, as she explained in a 1936 interview: “I want you to understand that there is very little love of adventure in my motor-boat exploits. It is purely for educational purposes.”
Cederblom’s “educational purposes” were anchored in her training as a textile designer at The School of Industrial Arts in Sweden. During her travels she often paused to teach women to weave and, when possible, established weaving centers and schools. Left in her wake were many gainfully employed women with self-sustaining skills who subsequently preserved their own national textile traditions.
The Travel Adventures: 1931–1938
Normally we interview our subjects but in this case we could only speak to those who knew her or read about her in documents (mostly translated from Swedish). What we have gathered from all accounts is that Cederblom was a physically small but constitutionally mighty woman who combined weaving, teaching and humanitarian aid with an itch to travel. She made three major solo journeys across Europe, to the Black Sea to Greenland and the Far East before dedicating her life to humanitarian projects.
Trip 1: Europe 1931-1932
Her first trip in her open motorboat, Rospiggen, was sparsely equipped: “two thin blankets, a pillow stuffed with hay, a thick cloak to sleep in and a raincoat.” The few other items on board included a picnic basket, a gas can and a set of oars. The 34-year old Swede was a bit naïve about the demands of long-distance boating; on her first journey she had no compass or charts, just a road map. Fiercely determined to sail alone as much as possible, she would “hitch-hike” (or freight) her boat as cargo to reach difficult locations and then would then resume her journey aboard the Rospiggen.
Traveling down the Elbe and then the Danube, the first leg of the trip went as far as the Austrian city of Pöchlarn (near Vienna) where Rospiggen would be put up out of ice. Cederblom spent the winter teaching weaving to local women before setting out for the Black Sea. (See Epilogue below). Her course was outlined in a newspaper item (with some small errors) on July 5, 1932 in The Long Island Star: “Stockholm: Piloting a small boat with an outboard motor from Sweden to the Black Sea, Miss Aina Cederblom of this city has arrived in Constanta, Turkey.” (Note: It was likely Constanta, Romania). “She took her craft via the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean through the rivers of Central Europe. She intends to proceed to Istanbul and later to visit the large European and African ports around the Mediterranean.”
The long and arduous trip included some seriously close calls: running out of fuel, engine trouble, unfriendly Hungarian border guards and gunfire on the border between Romania and Bulgaria. (It was a time when passports had to be shown at all borders.) One encounter with severe weather was posted in The New York Times on August 3, 1932: “A remarkable feat of endurance by a Swedish girl of Viking strain, Aina Cederblom, in a tempest on the way from Nice to Calvi. Her small boat Rospiggen shipped water and the engine failed. She rowed 30 hours until the boat was taken in by a steamer thirty miles from Nice.” The rest of the trip was off of the open seas, via the Rhone past Avignon and then a train ride to Strasburg before heading downstream on the Rhine to the North Sea through the Kiel Canal, Gothenburg, Gota Canal and finally back to Stockholm.
Trip 2: Greenland and the American Continent
On her second trip Cederblom planned to “hitch-hike” her new 15-foot Rospiggen II through the islands of the north Atlantic. Starting in Norway she made her way to the Shetland Islands, along the way suffering in strong seas that required she stay awake for 30 hours. She shipped out from the port of Lerwick and again encountered rough seas. Once in the Faeroe Islands she learned of a Danish ban against passengers traveling from the Faeroe Islands to Greenland, so she arranged to sail far out into international waters and then board a Danish fishing boat. Ignoring predictions that she would never see the American continent, Cederblom and her boat were then dropped off near the coast of Greenland equipped with 100 gallons of fuel, water, 30 sea biscuits and a fur coat.
Unfortunately, before she reached the shore her boat became locked inside of an ice floe where the whirlpools from shifting icebergs required her, at one stretch, to row for 24 hours straight to escape being sucked into ice caves. Accompanied by penguins, walrus and seals for 19 days she rationed herself to one biscuit every other day and limited her water intake until she was finally able to break free. “My knees were shaking, I thought of what they told me, that I should ‘never see America’ but I learned that you cannot be afraid and at the same time hear the direction that God gives. I prayed to be shown how to get out of this ice room, finally started my engine and ran it among the small ice, parting it, time and time again until there was finally an opening visible through which to go out.”
She was picked up 2 miles from Greenland’s shore, where upon arrival she “wanted to lay my face against the land, loving even the smallest flower.” The authorities immediately returned the law-breaking sailor to Denmark. After a short stay back at home in Sweden she returned to the Faeroe islands and set up her first weaving school, staying for one year to instruct the island women— providing them a means of income and preserving the local textile tradition.
Trip 3: The Far East (Sri Lanka, India, Tibet, Vietnam, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Bali, Borneo and the Phillipines
By the time she traveled to the Far East, Cederblom was much better prepared. Her Rospiggen III measured 18 feet in length, had steel reinforcements, an Albion motor and large amounts of fuel in copper tanks. On October 17, 1935 the Singapore Free Press reported on Cederblom’s progress: “having rested in Ceylon for 5 weeks Ms. Cederblom is now ready to begin her position as weaving mistress at Dr. Rabindranath Tagore‘s school ”at Santiniketan (near Calcutta) India. (Dr. Tagore had created an “authentic” curriculum that emphasized skills and crafts critical for the lives of students growing up in rural India, including how to weave scarves, belts and rugs, duree making as well as building looms out of bamboo. Tagore’s educational philosophy dovetailed with Cederblom’s background in Educational Sloyd—crafts as an essential element of education.)
The reporter asked her why she spent her nights on the boat. “I wanted to see what a tropical night was like,” she replied, “Besides don’t you think it is thrilling? I was amazed at the spectacle greeting me upon rising this morning. The many fishing smacks, setting out, provided a gorgeous site…”
Having first sailed by steamer to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), she traveled up the coast of India until, running short on time, went ashore in Vizagapatam to finish the trip to Calcutta by train.
After a year of teaching Cederblom traveled to the Himalayas and Madras. A record of her attempts to reach the forbidden Tibetan city of Lhasa is included in Peter Hopkirk’s book, Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet. Hoping to fool the border guards she dressed as a Tibetan and slept in servant’s quarters. She was exposed and escorted out of Tibet to Darjeeling by a doctor whom she tried to persuade to take her to Lhasa as his “cook/companion.” He declined although he described Aina as “perfectly charming.”
There were perils on this trip as well. She was hit by a fishing boat, a river tidal wave, wood-eating beetles and blistering under the tropical sun. It is on this trip (we have heard) that Cederblom had a serious tooth infection that was not properly cured and later corrective surgery left her face permanently disfigured. This does not seem to have deterred her from continuing her rigorous life.
Back in Sweden Cederblom was becoming known from her books, With Outboard Motor Through Europe and A Sea Vagabond on the Atlantic. Her travel exploits were featured in major magazines, international newspapers and newsreel interviews, but her greatest achievements were to come as a humanitarian.
1941-1986 / Humanitarian Projects in Finland and South America
In 1940’s she came to the aid of people in the West Uusimaa archipelago of Finland who were fleeing the Russian occupation after the 1939 Winter War. She helped evacuate the Finns to Tammisaari (Ekenäs), providing the dislocated families with pre-fab homes and supplies that she hauled from Sweden on an old trawler named Brill. She personally sailed the twelve-hour trip from Stockholm to the outer Finnish islands through waters that were partly mined, enduring several engine breaks and oblivious to the two reports that were issued that she was missing. Hailed as a hero in Finland, Aina made five trips during the summer and autumn of 1940 and organized a feeding station for over 500 children in Helsinki during Second World War from 1941-1944.
In the post-war peacetime her focus turned to the needs of the elderly Finns. With a goal of building a retirement home in Porvoo (near Helsinki) she established a weaving center to train women in the hand production of rugs and upholstery fabric. Cederblom then devised a rather unorthodox trade deal in which she packed the woven goods from her Finnish students and hopped a freighter to Argentina. Once there she sold all of the rugs and woven goods, immediately purchased 25 tons of rice from Paraguay (to assure the value of her Argentine pesos in an economically volatile time). The rice was shipped back to sell in Finland to low income families at cheap prices. This successful venture was repeated three times before the Paraguayans demanded American dollars instead of Argentine pesos: and for that purpose she began traveling to the US in 1952 to sell to the American market.
Near the end of her life Cederblom settled in Brazil and established the Escola Artesanal Sueca Brasi, a weaving school and mission in Olinda, in the northeastern part of the country. This time the funds came from her Swedish social security and a $6,000 compensation that she received after being hit by a car during a visit to the US. Using her meager funds and salvaged building parts from buildings demolished in Sweden was still not enough to finish her project, so she turned to the Swedish Lions club for financial aid. The weaving center and school, Escola Artesanal Sueca Brasi Liera, was completed in 1970.
In 1980 her life story was featured on the Swedish Television series Here is Your Life and if you speak Swedish, you will find more about her here. Cederblom died in 1986, known mostly inside her own country where she is remembered in songs, theatrical plays and on streets that carry her name. Someone has also put up a Facebook page about her.
**Epilogue: Lisl’s Remembrance of Aina (This section especially for Liesl’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews)
We first learned of Cederblom during the fall of 2012 from 88-year old Aunt Lisl who wove professionally for 60 years after getting her start with the Swedish weaver. This is how Lisle tells her story:
In 1932 Aina Cederblom arrived in Shiebbs, Austria (outside Vienna) at the home of her friend, Martha Thonet, and spent the winter teaching her hostess how to weave. Others who benefited from Cederbloom’s instruction were Martha’s sister, Hermine, and niece Liesl (Aunt Lisl) who lived on the grounds of the Thonet’s Villa Lehenhof.
For Lisl and her family (name, Roessler) weaving would become more than a pastime, it was a skill that would sustain them before and after the coming war. During the hard economic times of the 1930’s Liesl, her mother and younger sister Friedl, wove fine shirt fabric to sell to tailors in Vienna. In 1945 the Roessler’s fled the invading Russians to the Austrian mountain village of Kitzbühel to regroup and wait for the end of the war. During that period Lisl developed a unique design style, Bauern Baroque (Farmhouse Baroque), integrating traditional Austrian motifs. The women wove enough rugs, placemats and pillowcases to sell door-to-door until a permanent weaving business could be established back in Salzburg when the war ended. Friedl married an American soldier and moved to the US. Lisl, Hermine and youngest sister, Johanna continued on as full-time weavers.
Eventually Lisl also married and moved away, weaving alone in her new location until her daughter, Christl, was old enough to join her. Mother and daughter sold their weaving from a storefront in their village, Golling an der Salzach, and later from their large weaving studio and home built into a nearby hillside. Local women were hired and trained to produce large carpets and smaller woven accessories in one of the few traditional weaving studios that remained in Austria.
Christl traveled to Vienna for rigorous commercial training under the weaving master Heinrich Hetzer. She had her own family of three children who grew up around the looms of the family business but the tradition of weaving will not continue. (The fourth generation have chosen web design, graphic design and management as their paths.) Christl remains the sole active weaver in the family, proprietress of Handweberei Christl Seiwald-Buxbaum in Golling an der Salzach.
The Roessler women saw Aina a few times later in their lives. During the 1950’s Aina visited Freidl in the US, most likely during her selling-rugs-for-rice scheme. Lisl and Christl recall seeing her in Austria but the details of the dates are sketchy. They note that she traveled with a very large steamer-type trunk that contained her clothing and doubled as her place to sleep. (It was probably a necessity since by then she often traveled by slow commercial freighters). There was always plenty of laughing and lively conversation when Cederblom visited. What remains is a warm gratitude to Cederblom for passing along a skill that sustained the family through the decades of hard and happy times.
Swedish Girl’s Lone Voyage, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 17 October, 1935, page 12.
Jesse Ash Arndt, Fearless Enterprise Aids Quiet Swedish Woman’s Program of Helpfulness, The Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 1952.
This Is Your Life on Swedish Television. Lasse Holmqvist, host. Aired Saturday, 25 January, 1980.
Tapti Das-Gupta, Social Thought of Rabindranath Tagore : A Historical Analysis, Abhinav Publications, Jan 1, 1993
Aina Cederblom, Världshavens äventyrerska, Enslinjen, Ekenas Navigationsklubb, r.f, Nr 21, 2010.
This entry written by Nancy Stock-Allen in memory of Deborah Warner (1948-2012), textile artist, beloved professor, colleague and friend.
November 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
I. New Haven, Connecticut
Tom Strong’s Swiss Poster Collection
II. Zurich, Switzerland
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
III. Basel, Switzerland
Jean-Benoit Levy’s studio A•N•D (Trafic Grafic)
Basel School of Art
Swiss Poster Collection: Basel
Background: Switzerland has a long tradition of remarkable poster design (you can read about Swiss poster history here). This post, written by guest contributor, Bez Ocko, focuses on her research for an exhibition of contemporary Swiss posters from collections in the United States and in Switzerland.
I. Tom Strong’s Swiss Poster Collection
When I was an MFA student in the Yale Graphic Design program in the 1980s, I’d heard tales of Tom Strong’s wondrous Swiss poster collection. I also learned that Strong, another graduate of the Yale program (1962) and a partner in Strong Cohen Graphic Design in New Haven, was keen to share his collection. I was finally able to showcase some of Strong’s holdings in “The Swiss Poster: Art of Ten Masters”, an exhibition I curated for the Hofstra University Museum. Link to Hofstra Show, Link to NY Times Review
I began preparing for the exhibition by viewing Strong’s collection in a small third floor attic-type room at his New Haven home. Many new posters have been added since my visit, but in 2001 he already had hundreds that he kept piled neatly in stacks. Our one-by-one look through method necessitated beginning a new stack of posters and transferring each viewed poster from one stack to the other. The posters are of nearly uniform dimensions—conforming to the Swiss Weltformat (world format) of 90.5 x 128 cm (approximately 35.5 x 50.5 inches)—so with care we managed to keep the new stack neat and square.
Strong knows each poster, who designed it, when it was designed, what city and institution it came from. He remembers how each was acquired. If it promoted a cultural event or a literary work, he’s researched it. If it publicizes an orchestra or an opera, he knows the music. He relishes the small detail while embracing the big picture. For Strong, these posters are stories and friends and new horizons.
Strong credits his friend Chris Pullman for infecting him with this passion in the 1960s. “Chris went on a smoking expedition to Switzerland to check out where the fire was coming from…” So begins the saga of Strong’s collection. Alvin Eisenman, founder of the Graphic Design department at Yale, sent Chris to Switzerland with entrée to the likes of Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hoffmann who, in turn, directed him to free poster sources like the Opera, etc. Chris began gathering samples to bring home with him while also scouting for new design faculty for the Yale program. When he returned to New Haven, Pullman gave a couple of posters to Strong. The following year, Strong himself made the trip to Switzerland, beginning a pattern of travel and poster collecting that went on for many years. Though he no longer travels to Switzerland on a regular basis, he still tends to the growing collection.
In addition to collecting Swiss posters, Strong collects HO scale model trains of Swiss and German types, Braun products (radios, shavers, lighters, small home appliances), National Park Service folders (template by Vignelli), posters designed for Yale musical group performances and Otl Aicher’s Olympic and Lufthansa posters. When I visited Strong he was eager to share all of these with me and to tell me exactly what excites him about each collection. As for Swiss posters, he is thrilled that there are many great posters to continually add to the collection. According to Strong, there are usually at least 150 wonderful posters published each year out of a total of 5,000 annual commissions. He loves the scale of these posters, which though large, are not billboards but of human scale in synch with the scale of European walking cities. He also cites the uniformity of their format, enabling interchangeability in mounting exhibitions, and the affordability of acquisition even today.
After viewing Strong’s collection I decided that the exhibition would focus on individual Swiss designers who brought a unique graphic approach to their work. Fortunately Strong’s collection included great pieces by Armin Hofmann, Melchior Imboden, Jean Benoît Lévy, Bruno Monguzzi, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Ralph Schraivogel, Rosemarie Tissi, Niklaus Troxler, Wolfgang Weingart and Cornel Windlin; the ten masters of the exhibition.
I began the research that would result in the final selection of posters for the exhibit and the catalog essays I wrote. The designers who were contacted answered my questions and provided missing biographical information. Jean Benoît Lévy was especially responsive, providing thoughtful and extensive replies, which went even beyond the scope of my inquiries, enough so that I added a separate catalog article, “Can the Swiss Poster find its way in the American Streets?” It brought another perspective and addressed the contrasts between the poster context in the two countries, as well as voicing the frustration of the poster-interested American designer’s lack of public poster venues. At the time Lévy had design studios both in San Francisco and Basel. He was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of my project with his time and materials, plus he contributed several new posters to both the exhibition and my own nascent collection.
A. In Zurich
Museum für Gestaltung: Ralph Schraivogel Posters & Ladislav Sutnar: Design in Action
In the spring of 2004 I was off to Switzerland to continue my poster research. I had been living in Amsterdam at the time and the short trip to Switzerland was convenient; the flight to Zurich was under an hour and a half. Scheduled to give a conference talk on the subject, I was also going to the source to see what else I would uncover. Jean Benoît Lévy had suggested the visit because a Ralph Schraivogel exhibition was opening at the in mid-March at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (The Museum of Design, Zurich). After discovering Schraivogel’s work in Tom Strong’s poster collection, I had become a big fan and even purchased two of his works; one, a stunning exhibit poster for the Henry Van de Velde show with its almost dizzying confluence of vibrating lines, an image of a chair and levitating type and the second, a poster for an exhibition of photography’s precursors displaying Schraivogel’s implausible overlapping and interventions of bold type upon subtler imagery in a graphic space containing alternating colored rays and soft edged lens-like circles enclosing the various elements.
The Ladislav Sutnar: Design in Action exhibit was on display in the main building of the Museum für Gestaltung. It was a thorough, top of the line presentation of his work in the design field. Yet what remains memorable from this show is the surprise of his so-called erotic paintings and prints from the sixties and seventies. Exiting through the gift shop, I picked up a couple of the available exhibition posters on offer. If you are not already there, you can add to your poster collection by ordering these directly from the museum’s on-line store.
The Schraivogel exhibition opening in the poster gallery of the museum was relaxed and elegant in style. A glass bowl packed with yellow and orange tulips sat atop the central exhibition case, which that night also acted as a tabletop for liquid refreshments. The intriguing activity and vibrating intensity of Ralph’s posters surrounded us; two facing walls flush with Weltformat posters hung two-deep and side-by-side. A back wall carried his large posters and smaller posters were hung on the inside of the front windowed wall. Many of the posters were familiar such as those for the Zürich Filmpodium series and the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. (Filmpodium is a non-commercial art house cinema that specializes in retrospectives of film history). Robert Massin, the legendary French designer, gave the introductory speech. His essay is included in the wonderful publication of the Museum’s Schraivogel Poster Collection. Jean Benoît Lévy’s easy sociability helped me feel comfortable among the poster design luminaries at the celebratory dinner held afterwards at a local restaurant.
B. In Basel
Jean Benoit Levy’s Studio A•N•D
Basler Plakatsammlung (Basel Poster Collection)
Basel School of Design
I took an early morning train to Basel, to meet up again with JB and partake in the day of activity that he had arranged. First stop was his design studio called A•N•D (Trafic Graphic), a beautiful two-story space whose walls showcased his elegant posters. I still have postcards of his poster images that he gave me that day. He also showed me the lenticular postcards he was then working on. These word-based messages, published by Chronicle Books in 2004, use a vintage printing technique that transforms one word into another as the cards are angled back and forth. At that time JB was working both in the Basel studio and in San Francisco; since 2006 he is headquartered solely in California. Studio Link
The studio staff was deeply focused on their work and JB had me on a tight schedule, so off I went down the street to visit the Basler Plakatsammlung (Basel Poster Collection) and its then director, Rolf Thalmann. The collection, a repository of over 50,000 Swiss posters dating from 1880, contains posters for services, tourism, public transport, consumer goods, politics, social communication and events. According to Thalmann “The Basel Poster Collection sees its function as that of a mirror and an archive of everyday visual culture in Switzerland.”
Rolf showed me select posters and the vast poster storage. He also agreed to find some specific images for my upcoming talk. [The poster collection is now part of the School fur Gestaltung Basel (Basel School of Design) and is directed by curator Kurt Würmli.]
Another stop was the Basel School of Design, where I was given a tour and visited with several faculty members in their classrooms. The last room was the typography studio, under the direction of the legendary Wolfgang Weingart. Students were setting type on laptop computers and manipulating the output, slicing the text line by line and arranging these as I had done years before when I was a student in graduate school. Weingart was present, round and about in a low-keyed way, but he was not lecturing. Old films from his posters were taped to a glass enclosed office separating two classrooms.
C. Back to Zurich for the Schraivogel Opening
Weingart returned with me to Zurich and the Schraivogel exhibition. A student group was there to view the exhibit and meet Ralph who came prepared to speak about his work and answer questions. Weingart was there to introduce Ralph. Bedecked by backpacked laden students and encircled by Schraiogel’s buzzy works, Weingart began by contrasted the style of hanging of this exhibition to the Armin Hofmann exhibit in the same space earlier this year. Schraivogel’s installation looked to him like a “wallpaper wall” whereas Hoffman’s posters were hung with a conventional amount of space between them. He spoke of Schraivogel’s “interesting visual language,” the work which is related “like a family,” and Ralph’s unique visual style. He mentioned the similarity between Ralph’s working process and his own when he was creating posters —using film, chemicals and repro cameras—how this method, which involves transparency, informs the work.
Schraivogel granted that the hanging was a bit chaotic and agreed about the relatedness of his works. His fascination with poster making corresponded to an initial interest in becoming a painter. A slow worker, he only designs two posters a year—using the time to find new ways to approach design.
Schraivogel learned film montage while working in magazine design and production. Using film “sketches” unwrapped from neat kraft paper packages, he discussed his method of integrating typography and image, explaining his preference for beginning the design with the type (usually the only given from the client). This allows him more freedom with the image. If he begins with the image it can be difficult to make the typography work. He likes to either meld or separate them, but most importantly, the type and image need to interfere with each other in some way.
Schraivogel discussed some difficulties he has encountered. The issues inherent during the scale change from a sketch to the Weltformat size are dealt with by allowing for a certain amount of variance in the final piece. The loss of methods and materials he has used in the past, repro cameras and film positives, compelled his switch to computers. Current printing technology goes straight from the computer to plate making, eliminating film altogether.
We also saw the matrix that he used to create the type for the Shakespeare in Film poster for Filmpodium Zürich. With sketches for his superb John Ford poster, he explained how playing with the orientation of the film positives inspired his use of the type.
I was thoroughly jazzed up by my visits to Ralph’s exhibit and I really wanted to find a way to acquire a few more of his posters before I left Switzerland. With only an hour before I needed to leave for the airport, I made an ambitious dash into the heart of downtown in search of the Filmpodium shop. Luckily the theater had a number of wonderful posters on offer at the time. I narrowly made my flight but left Switzerland with a number of Swiss Weltformat posters including the four fantastic Schraivogel posters I purchased at the eleventh hour.
October 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Date of Visit: Sept 17-October 5 2012
I. Budapest Design Week / 09.28-10.07
1051 Budapest, Erzsébet Square 13.
II. Vienna Design Week / 09.28-10.07
III. Vienna International Airport
Ars Electronica Futurelab
We were in Budapest to research the career of Lajos Kassák (that essay is coming in November). Unbeknownst to us we arrived on the first day of Design Week Budapest. Despite our original mission there was no use ignoring the Design Week posters and flyers scattered throughout the city—our resistance crumbled and we were lured to the periphery of these activities. The same thing happened the following week in Vienna. It should be made clear that because we were in these cities for other reasons, we could only experience a small part of these events, and our report is just a slice of the full cake.
The 2012 Budapest Design Week was curated by Rita Mária Halasi, who themed the “Slow Design” event as a return to making things with care, less mass-produced, as well as considering the full-life cycle of a material product. From what we could see the focus was mostly industrial design with just a smattering of other design disciplines in minor roles.
A repurposed bus terminal, now a Design Terminal, was the central location, hosting the main event exhibition and disseminating information about the over 100 programs happening over the next ten days throughout the city. On the Terminal’s ground floor was an exhibition of about 80 selected products from 12 countries. The items were divided up into categories dealing with environmentally responsible themes, ie; recycling, reusing, low impact, design it yourself, eEco-design, (G)localism, inclusive design, low tech, downcycling/upcycling, plus a whole category dedicated to urban bicycle culture.
The designs ranged from the really useful to the somewhat questionable. Irish designer, Jane ní Dhulchaointigh, is responsible for Sugru, a colorful silicon epoxy that could repair and extend the life of just about anything. It was a clear conceptual and commercial winner of the exhibit. Zita Majoros, a Yugoslavian-Hungarian graphic designer showed recycled clothing that was converted into fashionable duds adorned with attractive silk-screen prints.
There were some items that were slightly implausible, such as a Walking-Chair Studios’s lampshade, named Sister Blister, made of used pharmaceutical blister packs. (It was pretty unattractive and decidedly un-dustable!) Our personal favorite entry was a ‘tree stump’ seat submitted by Ubico Studio, Israel…it made us laugh out loud with the irony of wood pieces reassembled into a stump stool similar to what you would find naturally in the forest.You can see the entire exhibition catalog at this on line link.
On the second floor we found an exhibition by the invited guest artists of Fiskars Village, a small community situated about 100 km south-west of Helsinki, Finland. The self-sustainable artist colony of 120 artists and designers was established after the famous scissor manufacturer moved away and left numerous unused buildings in its wake. The work was seriously sleek and organic in form.
There was also a Fiskar’s Pop-up Café that featured Finnish food, with one item peculiarly named, Smoked Roach Mousse with Potato Crêpes. We saved our appetites for stuffed cabbages and homemade beer at the Great Hall Market.
Farther afield we dropped into a few locations that were participating in Design Week. The shop, Rododendron, had a seriously tempting selection of jewelry and design chachkas. The shop that most paralleled the spirit of Design Week was PRINTA, a silkscreen studio that recycled clothing into new fashions they decorated with trendy silkscreen printing.
Unfortunately this was the extent of our participation but Budapest Design Week’s press release claims a yearly attendance of over 60,000 so it is highly probable there is more complete coverage on other blogs out there.
II. 2012 Design Week Vienna: A City Full of Design
It was evident that the organizers of Vienna Design Week had a lot more money and resources to expend on staging and advertising their event, so much so that we felt crushed under the amount of information to wade through in brochures, posters, web site. The dizzying number of events made it difficult to narrow down to just a few during our four days in town—especially with the competition of the citywide 150 Years of Gustav Klimt extravaganza in full swing at almost every important museum venue.
After initial befuddlement we were informed that, unlike in Budapest, there was no central Vienna Design Week location inside of Vienna proper (but rather at a location outside of the city). Later we read that the event structure was a social network revolving around design which made more sense. However the glass walled, Kunsthalle near the Kaiserplatz functioned as an information point with tons of brochures and helpful Austrian art students who spoke perfect English. The lectures that were scheduled at that downtown location were mostly in German so, being pathetically monolingual, our dilemma as to whether to attend or not was solved.
The Vienna Design Week was so large that it took two directors, Tulga Beyerle and Lilli Hollein, who put together an event covering more diverse media, with a more experimental vibe than in Budapest. Although the two events had different themes and form, they were similar in that women made up about one half of the presenters. (It’s hard not to remark that Ms Hollein resembled American design critic, Debbie Millman, so closely that at first we thought it was she.)
Time constraints reduced our participation to three exhibits, all showing in quartier21 in the Museum Quarter. Graphic Detour – Crossing Borders in European Design, staged by MOTI, the Museum of the Image in the Netherlands, was reportedly the third and final location for this particular exhibition. Curator Erik Kessels described his objectives in the accompanying brochure, “In our time, graphic design as a clearly defined craft is fading. Professional artists reach out to other disciplines such as fashion and architecture, while a growing group of amateurs create their own platforms. This exhibition has brought together eight European graphic artists and eight businesses from the region of North-Brabant in the Netherlands in order to create new work and to provoke a detour beyond the boundaries of their discipline.” (A review of the labels and material made it clear that all identified participants were men.)
Each of the eight designers included a sampling from their portfolio alongside the work they produced in collaboration with a commercial manufacturer. Some of the collaborative pieces were interesting but many teetered on the edge (or fell way over the edge) of what could be considered graphic design. For example the workspace, SundayMorning, presented something that look liked brick-sized blocks of clay slumped onto found objects including an old record player turntable and a ceramic latrine. For us this was the most confounding piece in an exhibit that had more than it’s share of loose connections to graphic design.
Some of the more successful collaborations were by Dutch designer Koen Taselaar who worked with metal fabricator Metaalplan to create a large alphabet sculpture and London-based Tod Hanson’s exciting oversized patterns printed on cloth by Vlisco, a company that designs and produces fashion fabric in West and Central Africa.
Joachim Schmid of Berlin exhibited four of his framed works made from thin strips of shredded magazines. The overall effect was visually rich in detail and made one search for meaning in the shredded words and images. His collaborative entry, a book printed with NPN Printers, was based around Marshall McLuhan and his love-hate relationship with technology. Schmid’s personal and collaborative works were among the most fully developed of the group.
Typo-passage Typography Exhibit
Erwin K. Bauer is the curator of a tiny typographic exhibition in the form of a thematic passageway that enters the Museum Quarter. The outdoor space is used present changing contemporary typographic installations. Overhead a permanent work by Alex Trochut from Barcelona, referenced Frederic Garcia Lorcas’s Pequeno Bals Vienes (1930) and Leonhard Cohen’s song adaptation Take this Waltz (1988). The Vienna related story is translated into a camouflage pattern of spots but at a distance one can discern letters.
The temporary installation was by the Junior Research Fellows, “mind-expanding research group at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts, dedicated to the inner and outer cognition of graphic design… propagating their vision of a “Graphic Design Future Harmony,” aiming to improve the holistic perception of graphic design and its relation to humans…these sensitive mediators dissolve communicative blockades and offer a step-by step road map to an illuminated identity within a design world. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication available 24/7 in nearby vending machine. We missed their talk and procession to the space but did catch their music clip on sound cloud. Be sure to turn up your speakers for this.
Werkzeuge fur die Design Revolution (Tools for the Design Revolution)
A nearby second show, sponsored by the MAK, was a laboratory for environmental design considerations. Mostly it seemed to aim at educating the viewer about the environmental cost of modern life; how much water and resources are required to make a chair, why some products advertised as green are not really green and how much food waste a few neighbors make in a week. The products are displayed inside of wooden shipping crates, very humble, almost amateurish in appearance. To be fair there are videos on-line that show the students designers working hard on how to solve these problems—not so evident to the viewer in the show.
What seemed at odds with the show’s theme was a large format catalog given to me along with a ticket (that no one collected). When I returned both items to the desk as I exited, the ticket seller seemed taken aback that I didn’t want to keep the catalog. I told her to recycle them but she was clearly nonplussed at my action. There was also bit of irony after leaving the show that was located next to a series of shops selling gimicky design trinkets, book stores and kiosks exploding with endless printed brochures (each with a usage life of about an hour).
The show did take me back to my student years at Cranbrook in the late 1970’s where we considered the same issues and read books by environmentalists such as Victor Papanek. (His book was on display in the Design Revolution exhibit).
Sorry to be pessimistic but we’ve observed is that most people will not make fundamental changes unless intensely pressured by circumstances that demand action. Design Revolution is rarely embraced by the comfortable. Our realization was reinforced later in the day when we ran across an outdoor exhibit by Doctors Without Borders / Medecins sans frontieres (not part of Design Week) displaying survival techniques in refuge camps. Space efficient homes furnished with discarded furniture; implements made from available natural materials, ingenious water collecting and purifying devices provided life saving water—all eco-conscious out of necessity not altruism.
We had one last brush with some great typography/video/design in a newly installed permanent project at the Vienna Airport. It was great to come upon this with no advance knowledge— from a distance a wall made of a series of video screens that looks falling snow, but as you got closer you realize that it is letters falling into an undulating mass of text, in many different languages, forming a landscape of soft peaks and valleys. In fact we later learned that each plane takeoff created a hill and each plane landing a valley. The effect was simultaneously calming and restless. Even without any explanation we grasped the feeling of international interchange, changeability and flowing time line. The official description by the creators at Ars Electronica Futurelab is as follows:
At the core of this work is an imaginary space, one at the interface of all the world’s airports. Passengers enter it when they pass through a security checkpoint prior to takeoff, and leave it after touching down at their final destination. This space’s boundaries are constantly shifting in accordance with current air traffic. Within its confines, cultures, languages and nations segue into one another like adjacent time zones.
It creates real-time interpretations of arriving and departing flights. “ZeitRaum” consists of a series of stations that accompany departing passengers on their way to their gates. The airport authority will also be using the installation for half of the available time as an ad medium.
We took some pictures but you can see great videos of the work…it will amaze you even if you are not at the location. It was an inspiring ending to an already inspirational trip.
August 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
On the northern hemisphere it is the unofficial last day of summer, just time for one more postcard from sunny Turkey.
Turkey Part 3: Calligraphic Heavens in Istanbul and Konya
Hagia Sophia, Exhibition: Love of the Prophet in the Language of Calligraphy
The massive Byzantine structure of the Hagia Sophia was erected in 360 as a church, converted to a mosque in 1453 and was finally transformed it into a secular space by Ataturk in 1935. Brilliant decorations delight from both faiths plus we ran across the exhibition, Love of the Prophet in the Language of Calligraphy, which was showing on the ground floor. The 99 pieces came from the collection of Mehmet Çebi. Some of the work was easily 6 feet across or 6 feet high. Hard to show scale here but it is also hard to imagine what sort of writing instrument was used to make these powerful strokes. An explanation of the art from the show brochure states the purpose, “For Muslims who avoid visual representations depicting human beings, especially that of the prophets, the millenary expression within the Islamic tradition allowing for the portrayal of the person of Prophet Muhammad has been the hilya, his pen portrait.”
Shrine of Mevlana Museum/ Mevlana Mah, Konya
It is embarrassing to admit we’d never heard of Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet, before arriving in Konya. His shrine is located inside of a complete compound of buildings dedicated to Sufism, a mystical practice of Islam. We had seen the whirling dervish prayer ceremony in Istanbul but this was infinitely more moving. Combine the plaintive flute music that floated over the space with the darkened lighting, the pilgrims, palms held up, crying before the draped tomb and rich tapestries embroidered with golden calligraphy. It makes an impression.
Part 4: Exploring Lettering Roots in the Ruins
Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, Cappadocia
All text and images ©2012 Designhistory.org
June 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Date of Visit April and May 2012
Part 1: A Conversation with Onur Yazıcıgil in Istanbul
Bankalar Caddesi 11
Part 2: A Conversation with Alessandro Segallini
& Laurie Churchman at Izmir University of Economics
Visual Communication Design
Modern Turkey is built upon a complex overlay of successively changing cultures from as early as 12,000 years BC; Babylonians, Hittites, Lydians, Lycians, Greeks, Romans, Seljuks and Ottomans. Some of them injected their cultures forcibly from outside of Turkey but the most recent and dramatic societal shift came from within via the reforms of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. (1881-1938) Atatürk, the military leader who commanded his troops to victory in the 1919 Turkish War of Independence (“I don’t order you to fight, I order you to die”) was equally as compelling as a peacetime president committed to westernizing his country. Atatürk instituted a secular constitution that separated religion and state in this primarily (98%) Muslim country, initiated women’s voting rights and outlawed wearing of religious clothing ie the fez and the veil.
Another of the westernizing initiatives was the abrupt introduction of the new Turkish (modified Latin) alphabet in 1928 to replace the existing Perso-Arabic script. As then only 10% of the population was literate it was argued that a new and easier alphabet would improve the literacy rate. Numbers written in Arabic were replaced with their Western equivalents and a new set of symbols was added to the Latin alphabet to represent the sounds of the Turkish language. At Atatürk’s insistence the language changeover happened within a scant few months. The language reform was dramatic and successful however it essentially severed the country from much of its long and rich literary and artistic heritage.
Ataturk’s strategies for Turkey have borne out well judging by Turkey’s current political and economic successes. The West sees Turkey as the voice of Muslim moderation while at the same time it is an example of economic prosperity and forward thinking for other Islamic countries. Now a mecca for tourism (thanks to a booming economy, a stable and powerful military and a large number of outstanding antiquities) Turkey’s new prosperity could render greater cultural changes than those of any foreign invader or president.
Part 1: Istanbul / A Conversation with Onur Yazıcıgil
Co-founder ISType Conferences and Workshops in Istanbul
As we descended into Istanbul we were greeted by multitudes of slender minarets projecting high over the cityscape but once on the ground and driving through its outskirts modern Istanbul felt the much the same as any large European city. As we entered the historical Sultanahmet quarter our travel companion was shocked at the dramatic changes since he had last visited the city in the late 1970’s. What had then been dusty and crumbling was now completely refurbished and bustling with enormous crowds of tourists. Long lines queued up outside of the Blue Mosque and Agia Sophia— even in “off-season” late April. It seems that the entire world has discovered Turkey as a tourist destination. Located at the junction between Europe and Asia, Istanbul feels both familiar and exotic. Rose flavored candies, Turkish baths and the call to prayer at all hours of the day and night infuse you the exotic while blue jeans, shopping malls and billboards are blandly familiar. We visited most of the major sites before we took a few hours off to chat with graphic designer Onur Yazıcıgil about his part in the Turkish typography scene. Our meeting took place in Salt Galata, a sleekly modernized bank from the Ottoman period and the site of the upcoming IStype 2012 in June.
Even before meeting Yazıcıgil, a review of his resume reveals a typographic force in the making. His undergraduate work at Bilkent University in Ankara and his graduate degree from Purdue University in the US have given him an excellent education plus the ability to network across continents. This has paid off as he has lined up speakers and sponsors for IStype 2, the second typography conference he is co-chairing with Alessandro Segalini. The event, spawned from a casual conversation between Onur and Alessandro, has found form as a lecture and workshop series delivered by well-known participants (headlined by Ellen Lupton) who will discuss international and Turkish typographic subjects. (See the complete program book designed by Alessandro Segalini here)
The Yazıcıgil family comes from near the city of Konya in the conservative heartland of Turkey however they are not conservative — in fact one of Yazıcıgil’s major peeves is the proclivity of his Turkish clients to resist a new or original type design. His experience with clients in the US who tend to be open to experimentation adds to his charge to pierce the cautious armor of the Turkish market. (Although we only spent three weeks in Turkey our observations were that the overwhelming majority of commercial typography is neutral sans serifs.)
Yazıcıgil’s genetic pool, a father who is a professor of Geological Engineering at the prestigious Middle East Technical University and a mother who teaches textile design, created a child who excelled at mathematics (with a special fondness for the beauty of geometry) as well as design. He is the sort that finds enjoyment in tinkering with programs, such as his experimental Text Invader, essentially a virus he injects into Font Lab to convert certain semantic patterns into vectors during the typesetting process.
In his type design Yazıcıgil stays firmly in the European tradition— his graduate thesis topic was humanistic sans-serifs versus grotesque sans. Duru Sans, his multilingual typeface (designed with four weights, small caps, alternate glyph sets and italics) was first used as the exclusive type face for the 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art in Istanbul during fall 2011. The design is now licensed by Eben Sorkin’s independent Sorkin Type Company, an enterprise which has supplied Google with 60 new “web tuned typefaces.” Duru Sans is now a libre font and one version can be downloaded on the Google Web Fonts directory. Another font, Lokum Sans, was primarily designed for display but also capable of scaling to text size. The name Lokum refers to Turkish Delight, a sweet confection that comes in many flavors—our favorites are pistachio and ginger. Onur’s Turkish contemporaries also tend to the sans serif, such as Mehmet Gozetlik‘s Antrepo and Taner Ardali’s Embrio.
When we asked if any Turkish type designers were exploring the potential of incorporating their rich regional or historical heritage into type design Yazıcıgil reminded us of just how shocking Ataturk’s reformations were on the design psyche of Turkey. The cultural whiplash from the abrupt cessation of 700 years of Ottoman arts is still being felt and he feels that anticipating a “Turkish style” is premature. “In order to develop a particular style such as the Swiss-International, it has to be through structured education. Since the country had shifted to another convention in the writing system, it was required to start over again in building identity–style–attitude–voice–tone. It will take time and if we could be patient, it will be quite rewarding to reflect the richness of the cultural background upon the typographic scene.” Yazıcıgil’s frequent presentation topic, The Lack of Latin Typographic Heritage and Type Design in Turkey, defines how he, a native Turk and a typeface designer, reconciles Turkish type with the international typographic community. He also cites the influence of the internet—predicting that regionalism might lose more and more importance in a connected world. Perhaps our sixty years of age makes us naïve or an anachronism but personally we advocate for preserving any cultural uniqueness that secures the world’s rich visual diversity.
We have no doubts that Yazıcıgil is best qualified to know the right path for the future of Turkish typography but before he can fully commit his attention to that endeavor he has a conference to oversee and then six months of compulsory service in the Turkish army. We sincerely hope that both experiences are as rewarding and peaceful as possible.
Part 2: Izmir University of Economics/
Visual Communication Design
We started our visit to the archaeologically rich region of Anatolia in the city of Izmir—Pearl of the Aegean. The city, one of most secular areas in Turkey, has a lively nightlife along its extensive harbor. We enjoyed its historic market and Hisar Mosque (1529) as well as the sparklingly modern transportation system and upscale restaurants.
On our second day we dropped in to visit the Visual Communications Department at the Izmir University of Economics. We connected with Professor Laurie Churchman, a recent AIGA fellow from Philadelphia, who was in the final weeks of her third year of teaching at the University.
Perched high atop a hill on the site of a former casino the university is, according to its catalog, ranked among the top 2,000 private universities in the world. The department of Visual Communication Design is housed in a newly designed building also home to Architecture, Fashion, Interior and Industrial/Product design. There are about 120 students in the VCD department who, by their third year, select an emphasis in either graphic or multimedia design.
Professor Churchman guided us through series of outdoor spaces where students were blowing off some academic pressure in school sponsored activities—bashing each other in the head with soft cushioned bats and jumping on inflated bouncing platforms to loud rock music. In the state-of-the-art Design building the atmosphere was more serious as students stared into computer screens with that pressured focus that comes at the end of any senior design year. Churchman’s senior Graduation Project class sat patiently through our presentation featuring student work from Professor Dorothy Funderwhite’s Drawing as Design Process class at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. There had also been an earlier video exchange of student presentations between the class and a group of Moore senior graphic design students who were studying branding under their teacher, 2012 Philadelphia AIGA Fellow Rosemary Murphy.
We asked a few questions to take the pulse of the class. 1. How many of you consider yourselves as artists? (1 out of 15) How many consider yourselves both an artist and a designer? (2 of 15) How many define yourselves strictly as a designer? (14 of 15). 2. What do you believe is distinctive about Turkish graphic design compared to the rest of the world? Hesitantly one student offered that since Turkey has such a complex history of cultural changes that it was difficult to point to any one particular thing that is unique in her country. (We had so wanted someone to answer that for us so we did not have to discover it ourselves!) 3. How do you see your employment prospects after your imminent graduation? Their faces remained neutral but their eyes were screaming “Don’t ask that question! We just want to graduate and worry about that later!” Our old teachery instincts kicked in and a pep talk ensued to point out that their prospects were bright—certainly much better their American contemporaries who are facing a much gloomier job market.
Although this group looked and acted much like American students Professor Churchman has experienced a difference between her Turkish students and those in the States. Her students in Izmir approach their creative work with more restraint because the Turkish primary and secondary schools use rote learning rather than the freer exploration and experimentation of their American contemporaries. Some experts on the Turkish educational system point to a societal habituation to rote learning, such as memorizing the Qur’an. For whatever reasons these students come to design with a different set of conceptualization skills.
Another purpose for our visit was to speak with Alessandro Segalini and therefore we left the students grappling with their final design solutions. Later we were able to speak briefly with a few remaining students and glimpse into their design process, similar to American students (perhaps due to their American teacher or the universal tenants of good design process).
Co-founder ISType Conferences and Workshops in Istanbul
We met with Alessandro Segalini in his university office where we discerned that it might be more interesting to chuck our prepared questions and allow him to chronicle his career to date. Born about 60 kilometers outside of Milan in Piacenza, Italy, Segalini admits to a rambunctious youth. His obsession with lettering, especially the proportions of certain letterform combinations, was expressed on the walls of his city via his custom graffiti tag. Despite using a pseudonym of “otye,” his identity was uncovered but it was his parents who paid the price— €1000. He then channeled his youthful energies into the ultimate male dream mix of disk-jockeying at clubs (his handle “Exsor”), skateboarding and forming a band. The group, Kala-Azar (the name refers to Leishmaniasis, a nasty disease spread by the bite of a female sand fly) provided him with a CD cover where he and mastermind Davide Barbieri could coalesce his design and graffiti skills. The critical reviews described Kala-Azar as reminiscent of 80s European groups, i.e. Kraftwerk, incorporating psychedelic and industrial sounds on “a journey through the mists where one finds a cure to evils in hip hop.” Segalini (alias Dj Exsor) is credited for adding “vinyls and scratch” to the sound. You can listen to some of Segalini’s mixes online on SoundCloud.
Segalini enrolled in formal design studies at the Polytechnic of Milan (including a stint in Visual Communication at the University of Art and Design of Helsinki in Finland) and earned his MSc in industrial design. He submitted an extensive collection of design work hardbound into a book, Graphic Anthology, to gain entrance to the program.
He moved to Rome where he was unhappily employed as the in-house typesetter for a publishing house. The schedule pressures plus the lack of appreciation for his expertise led to a dramatic truth-telling session with his boss that ended in immediate unemployment. He started freelancing and assisted artist/designer Vladimir Radunsky on a children’s book, Fire! Fire! Their budding collaboration ended prematurely when Segalini accepted an invitation from Marek Brzozowski to teach at to Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He remained there for only one year but it was there that he met his friend and future ISType partner, Onur Yazıcıgil.
Through all off his transitions and dislocations Segalini labored on his original typeface design, Hemingway, inspired by his favorite novel, The Old Man and the Sea, but without formal training in commercial type design he needed to be versed in the professional end of the art. He learned to be judicious in sharing his original ideas after innocently seeking advice by posting his in-progress sketches for public critique on Typophile’s forum. The type gods protected him in the form of John Downer who telephoned from the States to warn him against the pitfalls of posting unfinished work.
Additionally he learned that there is a huge technical chasm between the creation of a design and the production of a commercial typeface. That chasm was leapt with the help of Steve Jackaman, proprietor of International TypeFounders, creators of the Red Rooster Collection, based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When we learned that Jackaman mentored and hosted the young Italian for a month in his family home we had to call and ask the reason for such generosity. The answer was two fold—first, Segalini had a referral from the late type designer Phil Martin, and secondly the design of Hemingway showed commercial potential. Jackaman “selects type designs and designers based on their potential, perhaps not always immediate, but with an eye to the future.” When Segalini arrived with the genesis of Hemingway, Jackaman realized that major refinements would be necessary for the family’s eight weights as well as a new approach for the uppercase characters. With thirty-years of typographic experience behind him Jackaman has observed that mentoring and advanced technical instruction are what separates commercially viable type designers from those who are merely creative. The majority of the technical work for Hemingway was completed after Segalini left for his new position in Turkey. The face is now available for purchase and was selected for the UK Creative Review Type Annual 2011 in the Display Types category. Red Rooster is currently working with Segalini on a second design, Pacioli Old Style.
After his year in Ankara Segalini moved to Izmir and his current position where he now appears to be putting down roots— recently receiving a university medal for 5 years of successful teaching. In addition to teaching he co-chairs the ISType Conference and maintains a seriously extensive list of links on his website As8.it. The site is definitely worth a visit.
Now married to his Turkish wife, Esen, the father of young daughter
and anticipating the birth of his son in the autumn, and new born son, Segalini must juggle the challenges of designer/educator/parent. How to balance his typographic work with the demands of teaching? What will it be like to raise his children in Turkey? Economically Turkey is in a much better situation than Italy and seems likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Having once been a parent/teacher/designer ourselves we advised him to concentrate on staying put, enjoying his young family and creating more beautiful typography.