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.
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.
April 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The Enclaves of Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley
I. Roycrofters Village
South Grove and Main Street
East Aurora, New York
Date of visit: August, 2010
II. The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farm
Morris Plains, New Jersey
Date of visit: March 2012
The Arts and Crafts Movement originated in England largely inspired by two figures— art critic and Gothic enthusiast John Ruskin (1819-1900) and artist/socialist William Morris (1834–1896). Ruskin planted the seeds of the Arts and Crafts anti-industrial sentiment in the second volume of his treatise, The Stones of Venice. He glorified the Gothic craft workers’ individual freedom of expression through direct contact with their product as opposed to the degradation of late 19th century industrial workers who merely fed materials into machines that were programmed to do the making.
William Morris, part of a group of young men enthralled by Ruskin, gathered a community of like-minded individuals to produce handcrafted goods in harmony with nature, ie. hand-printed fabric and wallpaper using organic dyes as well as furniture and stained glass executed from start to finish by the same skilled craftsman. Morris heavily referenced the medieval period in both subject matter and configuration of the master workshops. His output was artistically superb and his products rendered with expert craftsmanship but unfortunately his prices reflected the laborious production methods limiting his clientele to the wealthy elite. This caused considerable consternation for Morris who was a committed Socialist. (You can read a bit more about Morris and the English Arts & Craft on our design history page here.)
In 1891 Morris started the Kelmscott Press, a private press dedicated to excellence in book production encompassing all aspects of book design— paper, typography, illustration, page layout and binding. His books were essentially art objects meant to be appreciated for their form as well as content.
Between 1895 and 1905 over 130 similarly minded organizations sprang up across Britain and many more were established in Europe and across the Atlantic. In the United States each new community reflected the ideals of Ruskin and Morris as seen through the filter of the American founder’s own vision.
Elbert Hubbard, initiator and spiritual leader of the Roycroft Community, established the successful Arts and Crafts center using his considerable entrepreneurial and self-promotional gifts. Although Hubbard’s methods were sometimes seen as crass, it is undeniable that he was the first to introduce the ideals and aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement into the homes of the average American.
An ingenious promoter and advertising copywriter at Larkin Soap Company, by age 36 Hubbard was successful but frustrated. He lucratively cashed out of Larkin and enrolled in Harvard to pursue his dream of becoming a serious author. University life was not a good fit for the strongly opinionated Hubbard, especially after his professors informed him that he would never amount to much as an author. After a short three months in academia he set off to roam about England while writing a collection of short essays, Little Journeys, recounting his visits to the homes of famous individuals. Some of the articles were from first-hand observation and some were “phantom trips.” There is some question as to whether he actually visited William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, but nevertheless he returned to the US with an epiphany—he would set up his own press and self publish just the same as Morris.
The Campus Visit
We arrived in town by car having prearranged a tour guide over the internet, ($10 per person, 2 tours daily, reservations suggested). The parking lot of the Gothic and Tudor style campus was filled, not for campus tours, but for the Sunday brunch being served in the Roycroft Inn across the street. There one can dine in the original eating hall accompanied by a live musical ensemble and surrounded by various Hubbardesque homilies carved into heavy oak panels. We didn’t eat there but it looked inviting.
Head, Heart and Hand Tour
We met our volunteer guide in the large and plentiful gift shop and were given a thorough background on Hubbard and the community. Although by 1910 the community grew to over 400 workers who produced furniture, pottery and metal-work, the press was the origin and anchor of Hubbert’s venture. We proceeded first to a display set up next to the gift shop. Having read that in its day the press had employed over two hundred workers we were surprised by the meagerness of the print area of the tour. A few small presses sat behind a rope, a Pearl taking center stage, but it did not reflect the importance that printing had in the community.
Hubbard established the Roycroft printing shop with printer Harry Taber to publish The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, a mouth-piece for his considerable opinions. The publication grew into a successful enterprise gaining a circulation of 200,000 by 1911. Another monthly project, The Fra, was titled after a name he fancied for himself, Fra Albertus. The name Roycroft was derived from London printers Samuel and Thomas Roycroft (active 1650-1690) but the name was applied to all products of the community, made in what Hubbard referred to as the Roycrofty style.
What Hubbard wanted most was to print books, and like the Kelmscott Press, to make books that were objects of art. With no printing or illustration background himself, Hubbard gathered a talented staff including book illustrator William Denslow, book designer Samuel Warner and most notably Dard Hunter—later to become a preeminent authority on papermaking. Hubbard’s wife, Bertha, and artist William B. Faville beautifully hand illuminated the press’s higher end editions.
In the illuminated books Hubbard worked hard to emulate the style of Morris, including many decorative borders and manuscript type layouts, but the results were often a bit ham-fisted in comparison to Morris. One has to recognize that William Morris was a wealthy well educated aristocrat while Hubbard was a self-made man from humble beginnings. There was certainly a sensitivity and taste gap between the men in a number of areas.
A Message to Garcia.
Hubbard’s folksy no-nonsense writing style was popularly successful especially after his 1899 essay, A Message to Garcia became a mega hit selling over 40 million copies. Hollywood even filmed the silent movie version. The essay—”a preachment” —was hastily written by Hubbard in one hour to fill a blank space in The Philistine. Basically the essay is a parable about what makes a resourceful and loyal employee; a person who follows orders without question. The essay was purchased and distributed in droves by corporate bosses eager to squeeze more productivity out of their workers. Printed pamphlets were mass ordered by both the US and foreign armies—jobbed out to large printers who could handle the volume. You can read the entire essay here.
“It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing—”Carry a message to Garcia!“
Our guide explained the various campus expansions as Hubbard popularity rose to cult status and more and more visitors made the trip to experience the Roycroft world. To accommodate these travelers an inn was built and furnished with simple furniture manufactured in the compound. The furniture and all of the Roycrofty crafts were designed in the American version of the Arts and Crafts— straightforward, sturdy and simple. During periods when the venture was not consistently profitable Hubbard augmented the operating funds from his salaries as a columnist for the Hearst newspapers and popular national appearances.
A meeting place, The Chapel (an old term used by printers for their shop), was constructed for concerts, community gatherings and addresses by Hubbard. Visiting lecturers included luminaries Clarence Darrow, Clara Barton, Thomas Edison, and Carl Sandburg. In 1910 the Powerhouse supplied heat and electricity to the campus. We were not able to see it due to renovations but it will reopen in April 2012.
Beyond the idealistic mission of the Roycroft community lies the reality that there is no such thing as Utopia when humans are involved. While Hubbard certainly dressed the part of the artist— sporting long hair and wearing his signature large floppy bow tie and broad-brimmed hats —he was not formally trained and the work produced under his management was artistically uneven. He was known to appropriate phrases from authors and rework them as his own. He was a polarizing figure : for some he was a true prophet of the Art and Crafts but to others a mere poseur (a sentiment William Morris’s daughter claimed her father held). He left more than a few enemies and victims in his wake. Henry Taber, his embittered partner from the establishment of the Roycroft press complained that both his money and plans were usurped by Hubbard. Hubbard’s first wife Bertha suffered through divorce and scandal resulting from his 15-year affair and illegitimate child with school teacher Alice Moore. Although Bertha was well liked and contributed much to the initial establishment of Roycroft she was cleverly maneuvered out of the community by the new Mrs. Hubbard.
The mutual interests of writing and publishing which initially brought Hubbard and Alice together led to their demise in 1915. They chose to travel to Europe to cover World War I and to attempt to interview the Kaiser despite government warnings that ship passage to Europe was dangerous. Hubbard and Alice boarded the Lusitania and died when the ship was torpedoed off of the coast of England.
Without Hubbard’s leadership the Roycroft, the largest and most successful of its type in the US, the village devolved into financial ruin. The business was sold at auction in 1938 and later went into bankruptcy. The campus laid dormant. In 1986 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark and is in process of total restoration. Currently a group of artisans sell hand crafted goods using the Roycroft trademark.
Our tour was well over an hour, the guide was generous with her time when she recognized our interest was more than a casual outing. We were set free to wander at our leisure but we soon left to follow the siren call of Buffalo wings and beef on weck at the Anchor Bar—not on the menu at the nearby Inn.
II. Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farm
Gustav Stickley, the oldest of several brothers who manufactured furniture, opened his own venture in 1888 with partner Elgin Simons. Like Elbert Hubbard, Stickley traveled abroad but upon return his interest focused upon developing what he termed “New Furniture.” He produced a simple, clean and functional style (also called Mission Style, a term he despised) that is most strongly associated with his name. Stickley, who left school in the sixth grade and was mostly self-taught, built his reputation and career through hard work, self-education and fortunate associations. Unlike Hubbard he was not a relentless self-promoter or a natural marketer but a working craftsman and naturalist.
We arrived at Craftsman Farm (or the 30 acres that remain of it from the original 600) on an unusually warm Sunday in March. Access off of 78 was easy— only a few miles past chain restaurants and shoppingcenterville are well-marked signs for the turn into a drive shared with a housing development. The property is a public park where one can stroll freely around the buildings and grounds.
The present falls away as you walk down a path to a quiet arrangement of modest period bungalows and the 1911 log house made from local stone and wood. Admission to the house and tour tickets are sold in the gift shop and no food is available on the site.
At the start of the tour our guide described Gustav Stickley as the Martha Stewart of his time and indeed the two do have some similarities: a respect for quality, a magazine to promote a tasteful home and a passion for gardening. Mr. Stickley, however, was deeply grounded in the aesthetics and social values the Arts and Crafts movement.
As we entered the home our first stop was an enclosed porch. In the small written introduction we read about Mr. Stickley’s career trajectory. After almost two decades of successful manufacturing of revival furniture Stickley found a desired style change through his acquaintanceship with two individuals, Henry Wilkinson and Irene Sargent.
Mr. Wilkinson was a graduate of Cornell’s architecture department and an admirer of John Ruskin’s neoGothic persuasions. As the first designer hired by Stickley, Wilkinson set the tone for the future Craftsman Furniture Company. The company began to offer their progressive furniture designs finished in a special (and toxic) ammonia-fumed quartersawn white oak and native woods. Much as his contemporary at Roycroft, Stickley blended hand-made processes with machine manufacturing techniques to bring his product within the reach of middle class consumers.
Stickley was deeply influenced by Miss Irene Sargent, an art history and French professor at Syracuse University who lead a local group of Arts and Crafts enthusiasts. A highly intelligent and educated individual, Sargent had studied at the Sorbonne, the University of Rome and under Eliot Norton, a Harvard art history professor who was friends with both John Ruskin and William Morris. Although Stickley’s initial contact with Sargent was to study French for an upcoming trip to Europe, she later introduced him to the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Sargent’s mentorshop and her working relationship with Stickley was intense for several years. In 1901 she wrote the text for Stickley’s first publication Chips from the Workshops of Gustav Stickley for neither pay or name credit. It is quite obvious when reading the text—with references to Greece, the Middle Ages and historic European styles—that it was not the product of an elementary school education. In the same year she became the de-facto author and editor of early editions of Stickley’s magazine The Craftsman, the most important publication from the Arts and Crafts movement. For five years she wrote the lead articles covering topics of interest to the home decorator—furniture, architecture, pottery, textiles, basketry, jewelry, stained glass —in essence creating a home life style magazine. After 1905 Ms. Sargent disassociated herself from further Stickley publications for reasons unknown.
In the January 1904 issue Stickley featured the first official Craftsman Home and after that featured at least one house a month. Subscription holders were entitled to one free building plan per year. Approximately 221 plans were published, resulting in an explosion of Arts and Crafts homes, mostly in suburban areas around cities.
In 1905 the Stickley moved his headquarters to New York City and three years later he began acquiring the land for Craftsman Farm with the dream of building a school of citizenship for young boys. Stickley wanted to blend academics with farming to teach the values of both life and nature. Our guide explained that when the boys’ school concept proved unworkable the Stickley family moved from Syracuse to Parsippany.
On the porch we saw a number of the trademark materials used by Stickley for his furniture and the Craftsman style home designs he published in The Craftsman. He used a joiner’s compass as his logo along with the phrase “to the best of my ability.”
A glass display case held a tea service set used in the Craftsman restaurant on top of the Craftsman building in Manhattan. Starting in 1913 the restaurant served dishes made from the vegetables, meat, eggs and milk produced on the New Jersey property.
No pictures are allowed inside the home but you can see many of the furniture pieces on the Stickley Museum web site and in various decor magazines on-line. The entire home is one big Arts and Crafts Gesamtkunstwerk— from the heavy copper hooded fireplace, rug patterns, textiles, lamps, even the piano. Mottos and slogans are hammered into the fireplace covers. Some of the furniture was inlaid with pewter and colored woods— the work of the gifted but troubled Harvey Ellis. We spied a complete set of Elbert Hubbard’s publications but when asked if Stickley was a fan, our guide informed us that much to the contrary Mr. Stickley did not appreciate the promotional manner Hubbard placed his logo front and center on his work, nor the self-promotional practices of the Roycroft leader. It is unlikely the collection belonged to Stickley.
When both the Craftsman style and national economic bubbles popped in 1915 Stickley was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell Craftsman Farms two years later. He spent the rest of his years living with his daughter in Syracuse, New York. He ceased manufacturing furniture but still experimented with potential wood finishes. The farm was preserved from development by a band of local citizenry who urged the township of Parsippany-Troy Hills to obtain the property through eminent domain. They are working hard to expand the preservation beyond the main house and promote the site as a destination.
The staff was very nice. Our guide was very knowledgable and answered all of our questions. When we realized that we had a problem with our car alarm we had to tie our little dog up at the front door. The lovely lady at the desk pitched in to keep an eye on her for us. Civility circa 1900!
February 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Museo del Libro Antiguo
Portal del Ayuntamiento No 6
La Antigua, Guatemala
Centro Cuturale Espania
La Antigua and Guatemala City
Brad Eller Design
La Antigua, Guatemala
How Printing Traveled from Spain to Guatemala
In 1539, seventy years after German printers introduced their craft to Spain, the Spanish became the first Europeans to export printing to the New World. Their motivations were to produce religious tracts in both Spanish and native languages to evangelize the indigenous population as well as supply the needs of church and university communities in Mexico. To accomplish this goal Spanish civil and religious authorities negotiated with Sevillian printer, Juan Cromberger, to create an overseas branch in Mexico City. Cromberger appointed his employee, Italian-born Giovanni Paoli (Juan Pablos), to set up and manage his New World press. An entire print shop’s inventory including press, type, paper, ink supplies, tools and staff were freighted over the Atlantic Ocean and transported overland into the interior of Mexico. The shop crew included Pablos, his wife Gerónima Gutiérrez (who by terms of the contract worked alongside her husband without a salary), Gil Barbero and Pedro, a black servant.
The difficulty of importing type and paper from Europe coupled with political and religious restrictions on printing dampened the Mexican printer’s design innovation. Typographic advances did eventually begin with the arrival of Antonio de Espinosa (d.1578) in 1551. It is believed Espinosa cut typefaces for Pablos, introducing the Renaissance styles of roman and italic types to replace the press’s Gothic Rotunda forms. Espinosa eventually started his own press where he produced his 16th century masterpiece, Missale Romanum Ordinarium, in 1561.
In 2010 Mexican-based type designer Cristóbal Henestrosa digitized a revival type design, Espinosa Nova, based upon the faces used by the Espinosa press. You can read more about his award-winning design here.
Printing spread very slowly from Mexico City through Latin America. A second Spanish press was established in Lima, Peru in 1581 by Antonio Ricciardi (an Italian who printed in Mexico for 15 years prior). In 1640 the third Spanish press center was based in Puebla, Mexico and it was from that location that a press and printer were procured for initiating the fourth Spanish-American printing press in Guatemala.
Visiting the Museo del Libro Antiguo in Antigua, Guatemala
(Formerly known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala)
The idea of a Guatemalan press was put forth by the Bishop of Guatemala, Payo Enriquez de Rivera, a scholar interested in publishing his theological writings. The bishop charged Father Francisco de Borja (a member of an important printing family) to travel to Puebla, Mexico to obtain both a printing press and a printer for the city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. Father Borja returned with a Lyon style press and printer Jose de Pineda Ibarra (1629-1680). (below left)
Once he was settled into his shop Ibbara set about production of ecclesiastical pieces, the first a sermon by monk Francisco de Quiónez. Because of the vast number (50) of monasteries and nunneries the workshop bustled with work, enough to engage one or two typesetters, two printers and an apprentice for 12 to 16 hours a day. The subject matter included eulogies, sermons, books of hours, regulations, and descriptions of religious festivities.
In 1663 Ibbara produced his most ambitious work, Bishop de Rivera’s 700 page Explicatio Apologetica Nonnullarum Proposititionum a Theologo Quandam Non Dextere Notatarum. The shop typographic style was more Renaissance roman rather than the traditional rotunda gothic. Ibarra also acted as a book binder and book seller until his death in 1679 whereupon his son Antonio took over the press until 1721.
The Museo dei Libro Antiguo is small but earnest institution dedicated to the preservation and display of antique printed books, most notably those produced by Ibarra. It is located in the lovely Spanish colonial city of La Antigua, Guatemala, (formerly Santiago de los Caballeros) a green valley in close proximity to two inactive and one active volcano. Although once the nation’s capital, catastrophic earthquakes and almost total devastation in the 1700′s necessitated that the government move to the more stable location in The Valley of the Shrine, now Guatemala City. Today, La Antigua, despite having been rebuilt a number of times, is still filled the ruins of dozens of churches and cloisters—some worth visiting, some merely facades. The city was designated a cultural treasure by UNESCO in 1979.
La Antigua’s central square is dominated by the arched city hall, Palacio Del Ayuntamiento, a host to municipal offices as well as to the Museo dei Libro Antiguo. Finding the entrance to the museum took a bit of persistence since none of the local tourist offices seemed to know that it existed, let alone where it was located. A YouTube video posted by a tourist provided the key— look for the door numbered 6 under the Palacio’s arched portico.
Admission to the museum costs 35 quetzales (about $5 US) for non-nationals and 5 quetzales (about 80¢) for nationals. Inside the first room we found narratives beginning with Gutenberg’s invention of printing in Germany. Displayed inside of glass showcases are early books from Spain and Spanish colonial presses. A second room concentrates on Ibarra’s printing and the use of lithographic stones and wood cuts for illustration. The prize of the museum is Ibarra’s Explicatio Apologetica (previously shown above). We didn’t recognize the type face used by Ibbara but with the aid of a very helpful librarian in the Centro Cuturale Espania we were introduced to a text on the life of Ibarra. Unfortunately that did not shed light on the face either so we throw an identification challenge out to you at this link.
Sincretismo (the harmonizing of two religious beliefs) in Guatemala refers to the merger of the indigenous Mayan religion with the Catholicism of Spanish colonials. There also seems to be a harmony of visual imagery when we saw the decorative motifs used on books and printed ephemera around the city. The decorative book treatments reminded us of the intensive embroidery we saw on the blouses of the Mayan women. Traditional clothing is still worn in force by Mayans of all ages—especially women.
We were intrigued by how a local letterpress shop, Libros San Cristobal, integrated the native textiles into their book bindings. Other regional materials are used— handmade amate paper (produced from a 1952 recipe), local sheep parchment, and alligator and jade closures. Editor Catherine Docter was out of town at Codex Mexico, a fine book fair/expo. We’ve included a few images from their Facebook page (no web site at the moment).
Brad Eller Design
Initially we discussed the contemporary graphic design scene in Guatemala. As an American who has lived in Guatemala for the past few years, Brad still has the perspective of an outsider yet, because his wife is Guatemalan, understands the mindset of the current culture. He observes a general conservatism that he suspects is due to the aftermath of Guatemala’s period of La Violencia, (1960–1996). During that period over 400 Guatemalan indigenous villages were burned to the ground, more than 600 massacres were committed and more than 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared. Just a little over a decade after a truce was brokered by Norway, Guatemalans are still getting used to (relative) stability and safety and have not had time to develop beyond their artistic traditions.
Back in the wintry US we miss a lot about La Antigua — our daily trip to the vegetable market, the unpredictable puffs from the volcano and the rich mixture of Mayan, Spanish and international culture. Like so many places we’ve seen before, we would like to return again some day. But for now we are laying out our plans for the next excursion.
August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
1. Flint Design
1231 NW Hoyt Street
Portland, Oregon 97209
2. Nike World Headquarters
Action Sports Division
One Bowerman Drive
3. Lloyd Reynolds Exhibition
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery
Reed College Library
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland
While in Oregon we caught up with Professor Margaret Richardson who teaches History of Modern Design at Portland State University. Ms. Richardson, an eloquent speaker and author on art and design since the early 1980′s, has written for publications including Print Magazine, How, and U&lc and wrote Type Graphics (Rockport Publishers), 2000. Professor Richardson generously invited us to join her summer session students on two class trips, Flint Design and the Nike World Headquarters in nearby Beaverton.
Flint Design, owned by Catherine Healy, is located inside a nicely converted industrial building in the Pearl District of Portland. The firm specializes in packaging, servicing a number of local food manufacturers (the well-known Tillamook Creamery, Nancy’s Yogurt) and wine and beer producers, (Kona Brewing and several Willamette wineries). Catherine and her small band of designers offer a complete service flow: research, naming, identity, packaging, branding and marketing.
Catherine showed the extensive project books compiled for each client showcasing the research, inspiration and the logic behind a suggested design solution. Above all else we were most impressed with Catherine’s sophisticated and philosophical discussion of her process — plus her take on the practical aspects of working with clients over long-term relationships. ** Students take note, speaking about your work is not necessarily something you will learn in the classroom but it is one of the most important skills a designer can cultivate. **
[Since the next day was the start of the 4th of July weekend we took in the sights and tastes of Portland—Voodoo donuts, wine and cheese at local wineries, oysters at Pacific Seafood Company in Pacific City on the coast, picnics and walking in Bob Straub State Park, excellent restaurants everywhere. Plus roses in full bloom]
Nike World Headquarters
On the Tuesday after the 4th of July weekend we again joined the class, this time at the epicenter of the sports behemoth, Nike. The 200-acre Nike headquarters is hidden from public view, completely surrounded by a high earthen berm that is backed by dense rows of mature evergreen trees. The implication is clear—random visitors are not invited. One enters an arched gateway identified only by Nike’s red swoosh. The main entrance had a Taj Mahal like approach— centered upon a long rectangular pool of water. The campus unfolds ahead of you in a series of buildings, each named after a sports legends, (Tiger Woods, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, etc) surrounding a small lake. Sculptures and artwork abound. Everything is manicured, well maintained, and sparklingly rich.
We joined the class as they assembled in the Nolan Ryan building and were met by a PSU graduate and current branding director for Nike Action Sports, Damion Triplett. Damion guided us into a conference room where he introduced us to the work in his division—one of Nike’s smallest categories with “only” about 140 team members and 500 million in sales after almost 10 years of carefully building their brand. Mr. Triplett described their target market (snowboarders, skateboarders, surfers and BMX bikers) along with the challenges he faces compared to the more conventional sports divisions of Nike. Action sports clients are by nature, edgy and hip risk-takers, rapidly picking up and discarding trends. Because the entire process of product development and launch can take up to two years, Triplett and his team must be a combination of trend-spotters, design innovators and soothsayers.
Triplett described a two-pronged approach to their marketing. One is periodic releases of short run collectible shoes that are only carried in smaller “mom and pop” stores. These releases are supported by special point-of-purchase displays—(he showed us an example of a hand-painted risers used for shoe display). High performing athletes, such as skateboarder Eric Koston, have been signed to endorse these limited editions. The second involves mass-market campaigns targeted across the entire action sports category. We viewed a number of the upcoming commercials, all featuring ‘rock star’ action sports figures but no product, only a Nike logo in the closing frames.
We viewed a number of handsome corporate manuals and sales manuals but Damion’s most impressive strengths lie in his agile and inventive problem solving skills. With a background in industrial design and theater set building he has learned to both plan ahead yet be adaptable to last minute curve balls, proving the value of a creative mind (even within the constraints of a corporate environment). The genre of action sports deals out a unique set of problems, for example retail store mannequins often have 6-pack abs and over-developed arms suitable for lines such as Abercrombie, etc but they do not fit the body type of a surfer or skateboarder; or edgy T-shirt slogans suitable for action sports types cause trouble in the main stream world (as in the case of a tee-shirt campaign using phrases such as “Get High,” “Ride Pipe,” which did not go down well with the Mayor of Boston.)
The team was gearing up for the Nike sponsored US World Cup of Surfing (the 2011 events concluded in August), an event that attracts tens of thousands of board shorts/bikini clad youth. It is likely that the event offered Damion a fair share of opportunities for surfing through his own problem solving.
We left Action Sports and Margaret’s class behind and walked across the campus, (treading over a “Nike, There is No Finish Line,” bronze sidewalk plaque) to the the Nike Department of Archives (DNA) exhibitions, “40 years of the Swoosh” and “The Bowerman Centennial.”
The celebration of the Swoosh anniversary included the release of 28-page booklet exclusively for “the benefit of Nike employees” but you can see it online at a number of sites, Slam online and a Steven Heller article , the complete logo story can also be read online.
The handsome centennial exhibit centered around a vitrine that held the original waffle iron used by Bill Bowerman to create his new, lightweight running shoe sole. Most of the shoe prototypes on exhibit were thought to have been lost but were unearthed during a construction project at Bowerman’s former home and workshop. The DNA staff were conducting a number of guest tours but when free they were very helpful in answering questions and offering information.
The campus is not open to the general public but someone made a YouTube video which gives you a better idea of the facilities Finding America.
A Life of Forms in Art
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery
I was disappointed to learn I had missed the exhibition, A Life of Forms in Art, but I phoned to request to see the archives and was excited to learn that the exhibition was still hanging intact. An appointment was set and I drove to the green, leafy, summer-slumbering campus to see Reynold’s work. It is clear that Reynolds, an artist who had strong convictions and passions, expressed himself freely in his teaching which partly helped raise his calligraphy class to a “cult status.”(This was back when it was normal for a professor to express both cranky and loveable sides without fear of students slamming them on RateYourProfessor.com or end-of-the-semester class evaluations)
A self-taught calligrapher, Reynolds held a Masters of English Literature which explains his lifetime interest in the “three Bills: Blake, Morris and Shakespeare.” Former student Chuck Bigelow described Reynolds’s teaching as follows, ” calligraphy was the visible means of literate expression and, through that, a gateway to the history and lore of civilization. Moreover, it was a link between one’s own simple, utilitarian practice of handwriting and the accumulation of knowledge and scholarship through the ages.”
Reynolds started teaching at Reed in 1929 but concentrated on calligraphy from 1949 through 1969. Some of the most influential type designers of the early digital era, including Sumner Stone and Chuck Bigelow, were introduced to letter design in Reynolds’s class. Reynolds built up an international reputation, was awarded many honors and starred in a 20-part series on italic calligraphy for public television. One of the episodes was playing on a large screen in the exhibition which was wonderful because you got to see the man in living action. A YouTube video clip discusses rhythm and gives you an idea of his thoughts on writing.
Reynolds was a “William Morris Socialist according to the Stephanie Snyder, the Reed College Gallery director and curator of the show. It was fascinating to read about his experiences with J. Edgar Hoover. Because Reynolds had been a member of the Reed College Young Communist League the FBI summoned him to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee to “name names.” He refused, saying, “I am no hero, but I hate to get down on my knees unless I’m planting or looking for collar buttons.”
Reynolds also invented an improvisational calligraphic form he named “weathergrams.” These were haiku-like poems (10 words of less) drawn with ink onto small pieces of brown kraft paper. The weathergrams were hung on campus trees and allowed to weather through an entire season.
Our whole trip was 10 days but it flew by like a weekend. There is so much to see in Portland and the surrounding area. Luckily the next week we were at Wells College (in the finger lakes region of Aurora, New York) taking a summer class with Portland School of Art professor and master printer Barbara Tentenbaum. Although we’ve attended the Wells Summer Intensive several times previously, this time our eye was caught by an old poster (lettered by Lance Hidy) advertising a lecture by Reynolds at Radcliff in 1976. Small world.
May 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Date of Visit : May 2011
199 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT 06840
If we could count the number of times we’ve admired pictures of Philip Johnson’s Glass House over the past several decades the total would be well into the hundreds. When it opened for tours a few years ago we very much wanted to see the real thing however a flood of public interest meant that tickets for the May to November season sold out almost as soon as they were made available. Luckily this year was different and we were able to purchase tickets for a 3:30 tour on a Monday near the end of May.
Your visit must start at the Glass House visitor center located directly across the street from the New Canaan train station. If you arrive by car, parking can be found in a nearby municipal lot. The basic tour takes about an hour and a half at the cost of $30 per person and operates in all weather conditions. The day of our visit it was raining on and off so umbrellas were generously provided. A comfortable shuttle bus transported the small group for the 8-minute trip and dropped us off inside the front gate.
Johnson closed his drive from road traffic with a gate that consisted of an aluminum ship’s boom suspended horizontally between two tall masonry pillars. The engineering necessary to raise and lower the boom reportedly was quite difficult to solve. Our group murmured with approval but, apart from the function, we did not think the visual aspects worked as well.
On one side of the drive is a small red and black Postmodern style building, composed of unusual angles and curves, reminiscent of the work of Frank Gehry. On the opposite side, a bit further off, sits a nineteenth century clapboard farmhouse. The property is populated with numerous buildings of radically different styles and functions. Do not arrive expecting to see a site dedicated to Modernism, instead realize that Johnson, with family money and substantial shares in Alcoa, had the wherewithal to indulge in diverse architectural experiments and follies.
The Glass House, not visible from the gate, appears after a short walk down a gently sloping drive and past some strategically trimmed evergreen trees. On first sighting the house is fronted by a large circular sculpture by Donald Judd, a dry laid stone wall, a red brick guest house, and small grassy lawn crisscrossed by neat gravel paths. The effect is atmospheric and contemplative, perhaps more so due to the misty weather conditions of that day.
Our guide wisely let us wander about the house for a few minutes before she made her presentation, knowing that we would look and not listen at first encounter with the architectural icon. Some of our random observations; stark yet comfortable, quietly masculine, leather covered tables and leather tiles on the bathroom ceiling. The touches of white in the plush rug, bed cover, window shades and statue of two voluptuous women saved the place from serious brown overload. Kitchen cabinets were delaminating in spots and seemed inadequate for realistic cooking. It was explained that cooking was pretty low on the list of functions in this space and other buildings on the property would be used for dinner parties, etc.
Johnson likened a stay in the Glass House to a camping trip; a place to interact intimately with nature. There is neither air-conditioning nor are there screens on the four doors that open on each side of the house. In warm weather bugs are invited to cohabitate in the space, seemingly at odds with the mathematical, machine aesthetic of the Modern Movement. The mechanics are invisible. The sub floor heat, piped underground from the nearby brick guesthouse, was probably inadequate for a structure that is separated from the elements with a single pane glass walls.
The view from inside is fantastic. Tall trees trunks frame a pond with a pavilion and a large sculpture on the hill beyond. All of the grounds are beautiful, especially the open unmown fields. Our small and practical mind had pedestrian questions, such as how often the windows were washed. We were informed that it was once a week, alternating inside and outside.
The earliest concept for a glass-sided dwelling did not originate with Johnson, Mies van der Rohe had designed a similar structure for the Farnsworth House which he exhibited in a model at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947 (although the building was not realized until 1951). Johnson credited Mies for the inspiration when he built his Glass House first in 1949 but, understandably, preempting Mies project caused tensions in their relationship. Feelings couldn’t have been too badly damaged because Johnson’s house is a showcase for the Barcelona and Brno chairs by Mies and his design collaborator Lily Reich. (Note: Mies had a much more difficult experience with his own glass-walled building—his client sued him and Frank Lloyd Wright severely criticized his design.)
Upon exiting the Glass House we were told that the brick guesthouse was closed due to discovery of toxic black mold. Our tour then moved up a path to a spot that allowed a direct frontal view of the house. This vantage point brought the round swimming pool, intensely bright turquoise, into prominence. We wonder if changing the surface to a gray or slightly more natural color would be an improvement.
Further down the path sits the entrance to the underground bunker that functioned as Johnson’s painting gallery. The windowless (and freezing cold) space was filled with his collection of over-scale Modern paintings. Only a few were visible, others were hidden on panels that rotated 360 degrees. We did catch a glimpse of a handsome Warhol portrait of Johnson, the only likeness of the owner that we saw on the property.
Outside, we moved onto a sculpture gallery roofed with metal trusses and glass panes that allowed natural light to flow down onto the art collection. Unfortunately the rain also flowed in, rusting the beams and gathering in small puddles on the floor. It’s only possible to peer over a railing to see art on the lower levels and ceramics in a distant gallery.
On our return to the gate the guide discussed Johnson’s separate office building, or office hut. The whimsical combination of geometric shapes, with a conical top and chocolate-brown exterior, looks like a child’s playhouse. Below the office is a ghost-structure of a greenhouse that was used for growing peonies by Johnson’s life partner, David Whitney.
What we did not see was Johnson’s dramatic nighttime lighting of the house. Thanks to the work of the local high school students, it has been recorded and posted on-line.
We took the van back to the visitor center and gift shop where we chatted a bit more with our guide. The entire staff was terrific, friendly and knowledgeable. We believe that Mr.Johnson would have approved of the way his legacy is being preserved and presented.
Afterwards we drove north to Hyde Park, New York, where we indulged in a French meal in the Escoffier Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. We were seated in front a large glass wall, but this time the view was not Johnson’s arboreal landscape, instead it was of 16 student chefs working hard to prepare our delicious meal.