Exploring Portuguese Typography: A Visit with Ricardo Santos in Lisbon

March 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

birds-lisboa

Background
As a child, Ricardo Santos often spent Sunday afternoons visiting his grandfathers in the Belém district of Lisbon. Walking along the local seaside parks he absorbed the history of his city and its part in the Age of Discovery when Portuguese explorers such as Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator), Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama, sailed out to the Atlantic Ocean and along the coasts of Africa and the Americas until they found what they were seeking—a sea route to the spice trade centers of India and China. For a time in the 1500’s Portugal ruled the seas and established distant colonies as one of the most powerful nations in the world.1024px-torre_belem_april_2009-4a(left) A section of the Monument of Discoveries (right) The Tower of Belem. (below) Praying before heading off into the challenges of the uncharted world.praying

Santos’ early experiences continue to influence him today, as in his Lisboa typeface, an homage to his native city. Lisboa (pronounced Lish-bow-a) includes a series of elements drawn from the vernacular of the city—antique sailing vessels, tiles, castles, crosses and the raven. We were drawn to these charming symbols and wanted to learn more from their designer, so we organized a short interview in Lisbon in April, 2016.

lisboa_symbolsThe Raven appears throughout the city (a flock are said to have protected and marked the grave of the martyr Saint Vicente) as do icons of Christianity and from the Crusades against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. The Lisboa Dingbats symbols sets are available in a free download at Santos’s web site, Vanarchiv. 

ricardo2ricardo-side-look

Mr. Santos greeted us at his home studio where first discussed his education, starting with an undergraduate degree in design from IADE (Instituto de Artes Visuals, Design and Marketing) in Lisbon. He has also studied with Portuguese type designer Mário Feliciano. Santos traveled to EINA (Escola de Disseny i Art ) in Barcelona for his master’s degree in type design. To the uninformed it might seem as if studying in Barcelona would be akin to studying in Lisbon, but Santos noted that outside of the Iberian Peninsula people wrongly think that Portuguese are identical to the Catalonians and the Spanish. We may seem the same because of geographical location but in fact we are different cousins, we have very different languages and cultural habits. We Portuguese are more quiet, more shy, not as outgoing and flamboyant. Our geographic position kept us oriented to the ocean because the landmass of Spain blocked our natural passages to the rest of Europe, so Portugal has had the influence of many sea-going cultures including the Phoenicians, Romans, Jewish (Sephardic), Arabs and Christians.”

Maritime culture permeates the country’s, art, food and music. Fado, a ballad form distinctive to Portugal, is centered on the melancholy of departing ship crews and the sadness of long separations. However Santos readily admits that he has no affection for Fado—he finds it too mournful and nostalgic. Santos’ music interest is more electronic, he plays guitar with his group Twilight Void.  Listen here.

twilightvoid
The Twilight Void “Dub Sky” 1995. (Played and Recorded by Ricardo Santos and Rui Martins).

studio-cat-copyA watch cat patrols the design area in this quiet and peaceful design studio in Lisbon.


Early Sans Serifs


Santos’ first job after graduation was in architecture offices, T-Raso and Insectos, where he developed way-finding programs. His research introduced him to the  typefaces of Adrian Frutiger whose sans serif approach greatly impressed the young designer. Santos emulated the German’s approach in Van Condensed (1997-2004). The clarity and compactness of this face is especially useful for displaying information, such as specifications in TAP airline’s on-board publication Upmagazine. TAP’s use of his face doubly pleases Santos as he is an aircraft enthusiast—an inheritance from his grandfather who was one of the naval aviation mechanics for the first plane to connected Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

frutigervansComparing sans serifs Frutiger and Van Condensed

doubleairline2
Van Condensed used for specifications in onboard magazine for TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses).

aircrew
Santos (2016) typeface Aircrew, a highly legible font family for signage.

postersSantos’ fonts in use, Van Condensed (left) and Lisboa (right).


Portuguese Letterforms in History


It is understandable that Santos was initially influenced by the German and French models because at that time there had not been a lot published about early type designers from his own country. More recently however the work of early Portuguese calligraphers has been unearthed and digitized. Writing master Manuel de Andrade de Figueiredo (1670-1735) published his own exemplar for the Portuguese calligraphic letter in his treatise on letterform and language rules, Nova Escola para aprender a ler, escrever, e contar/ New School to learn to read, write, and count (1722) It is likely that Figueiredo was influenced by similar works coming out of Italy and France during the same period.

Figueiredo.jpgFour pages from Figueirdo’s treatise on letterform and language rules. You can see the full copy at the BNP (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal). http://purl.pt/107/3/#/2

Near the end of the same century, António Jacinto de Araujo proposed his New Art of Writing (1793). On the title page Jacinto is described as professor of writing and mathematics. There certainly seems to be a lot of math going on in the descriptions (below) to configure the best angles for controlling line weights and letterform shapes.cutting-pensAntónio Jacinto de ARAUJO, New Art of Writing [1793?] You can see the entire work on line at the Portuguese National Library site, http://purl.pt/16770 (BNP).

In the 1880’s calligrapher Joaquim José Ventura da Silva (1777-1849) furthered the Portuguese letter by incorporating influences of the open “roundhand” style of English calligraphers George Shelley and Charles Snell into his Methodical rules for learning to write letters in the English, Portuguese, Aldine, Roman, Italian Gothic and German Gothic styles, (1819). (I took at short look through the book—it seemed mostly involved with how to line up numbers in mathematical formulas.) Internet Archive link https://archive.org/details/regrasmethodicas00silvuoft.

The designs of both Figueiredo and Ventura have been made available in digital revivals by Portuguese type designers. Dino dos Santos of DS Type foundry offered Ventura (2007), Pluma (2005) and Andrade script (2005).

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Revival calligraphy by Dino dos Santos.


The Manueline Style


The ornateness of Portuguese calligraphy certainly feels in-keeping with a unique style of architecture that began during the reign of King Manuel I (1495–1521). Later known as Manueline (Late Gothic), this short lived (from 1490 to 1520) but highly influential style was financed by riches from Portugal’s spice trade. Dozens of new churches, castles and monasteries were built, many of which remain standing today. Inspiration for the ornate style came from several sources: Italian, Spanish and Flemish architecture, Indian temples and Arab mosques and tiles. Maritime elements (spheres, rope, shells, anchors, etc) are portrayed in undulating stone and gilded wood carvings—the gold courtesy of Brazil.MaritimeMan.jpg

globe-screen
A continually recurring motif in Portuguese architectural decoration is the armillary sphere, signifying dominance of the seas and alluding to a papal decree that divided new world discoveries (Treaty of Tordezilhas) between Portugal and Spain.

trainstationRossio train station.

manuelainchurchA Baroque church covered in gold brought back from Brazil.


A Portuguese Letterform?


manuelain-typeLettering along the walls of a Baroque style castle in Sintra, a magical park-town just outside of Lisbon.

lisbao-sketchAn early sketch for Lisboa (2000).

Lisboa
A challenge for Santos is how to get content into his designs. Today he finds himself less concerned with the commercial end of type and more interested in doing what he loves, creating designs with a story “because things without a story do not have much value.”

In early sketches of Santos’ aforementioned design, Lisboa, he sought ways to integrate the flavor of his decoratively styled city and calligraphic design approach (more human). He experimented with the hook-head terminals on his Lisboa, producing a “neo-humanist” typeface with both calligraphic and Iberian flavors (Latin).

While working through this design Santos connected with Swedish type designer, Peter Bruhn (d. 2014) of Fountain Type Foundry who encouraged the young type designer by offering to sell it on his foundry site. The final design is a full-featured typeface light, regular, italic, with OpenType type features and symbols published during 2005. It was selected as one of Typographica’s “favorite fonts” in 2005.

lisboacoverSantos designed catalog for Fountain type’s offering of Lisboa.

lisboa_versus

lisboa-swashTypeface details above (Lisboa and Lisboa Swash).
Below Lisboa Greek and Cyrillic.Greek cyrilic

Escritura
Santos researched some cartography lettering from antique maps for his calligraphic Escritura typeface. There is a strong echo of the hand and pen in his wavy serifs, a more human-like feel than his earlier sans faces. Below is a photograph from his Vanarchiv website, showing how he extracted shapes for the letter a from a 1631 map.

portuguese-map

escritura_penSantos’ Escritura design written in pen and ink (above) and digital (below).

escritura

table-samplesWhile developing Escritura, Santos drew with broad-nib pen, carved in wood and linoleum, all part of the research and development of the final letterform design. See a video with Ricardo working by Rui Martins below.

Tramuntana
Tramuntana (2009), another typeface with calligraphic connections, was inspired by the late Renaissance and Mannerist spirit—Santos’ thesis for his Masters in Advanced Typography in Barcelona (EINA). He took his initial inspiration from Robert Granjon, Garamond and Sabon typefaces.traumuntana

pyrannesThe name tramuntana is the Catalonian word for the cold wind that comes from the Pyrenees mountains. Tramuntana in use on a poster, the Pyrenees mountains (photo: Marc Serarols)


Teaching & The Ruha Stencil Project



There was so much to talk about—however our time was short and I wanted to know about Santos as a type design teacher. He currently teaches the second year of typography (Book Design/Lettering) and then the 3rd year when his students design their own typeface projects at the Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Caldas de Rainha (ESAD.CR).

As part of his teaching philosophy, Santos and two other type designers, Aprígio Morgado and Ruben Dias (more on Ruben below), joined together to form Tipos das Letras. The trio developed a tool for teaching type design in the form of a stencil, a method Santos notes that were historically a means to add consistent and fast lettering to documents.

musicstencil-copyIn Santos’ collection, an antique stenciled Portuguese music score (from the 18th century).

The Ruha stencil goes beyond the creation of just one design, to a device for teaching letter construction, with serifs, stems and bodies that can be combined in a multitude of styles, plus aids for letter spacing and baseline alignment. It is available for sale at http://www.tiposdasletras.com/index.php/stencil/ruha-stencil/). Check below for video of a workshop using this tool. Tipos das Letras (TdL)

ruhastencilstencil-workshopStencil as shown in use in TDL vimeo.

We finished up the evening over pizza with some of Santos’s comrades; of course they also were type designers! Rui Abreu of R-Typography, is the proprietor of a foundry for retail and custom typefaces (he designed the corporate face for Mount Blanc). His work has been selected for honors by the Type Directors Club and ATypi.

montblancMont Blanc corporate typeface by Rui Abreu.

 dinnerThe now and future faces of Portuguese type design, (from left) Rui Abreu, Ricardo Santos and Rúben Dias. We were joined by Berlin-based writer Jan Middendorp who was in Lisbon for a few days. See his extensive list of interviews with type personalities at Creative Characters for Myfonts.

diastypoDias is part of Tipografia Dias, a letterpress workshop whose Manual of Typography was just selected as a finalist in the Type Directors Club Communication Design Competition.  TDC website

Rúben Dias, also part of the Ruha stencil project, is pursuing his doctorate degree on the subject of the typefaces of the Portuguese Royal Printing House. He teaches, organizes conferences and workshops as well as designs typefaces from his Item Zero studio (www.itemzero.com).

Although out visit was brief we were about to embark on two weeks in Portugal, and this encounter helped in viewing many examples of type in architecture, signage and print. Thanks gentlemen for a fun and informative visit!


Sources

All photography by Eric Allen unless otherwise noted in captions.

Interview with Ricardo Santos, Lisbon, Portugal. April 2016. Nancy Stock-Allen.

http://www.tipografos.net/historia/ventura-da-silva.html (history of calligraphers)

http://purl.pt/index/livro/aut/PT/225588.html  New art of writing, National Library of Portugal, Nova arte de escrever, (cota COD-8055) plumes

Malsberger, Anna. Print Magazine, June 18, 2009.  http://www.printmag.com/article/hot_type_ventura/

Middendorph, Jan. Interview of Dino dos Santos, for Creative Characters, 2007, myfonts.com. http://www.myfonts.com/newsletters/cc/200711.html

Carol Twombly, 20th century type designer, the book.

December 8, 2016 § 1 Comment

November 2012
Adobe Headquarters
San Jose, California

December 2016
Oak Knoll Press

New Castle, Delaware
Carol Twombly: Her brief but brilliant career in type design.

There haven’t been any posts on this site since early 2016 because I have been concentrating on finishing my first book, Carol Twombly: Her brief but brilliant career in type design. It is the biography of a talented type designer who worked at Adobe Systems during the decades when type first became accessible to the general public. The book includes a survey of women type designers in the 20th century (such as Gudrun von Hesse, Fiona Ross, Elizabeth Friedander, Freda Sack, among others) and outlines Twombly’s education at RISD (under type designers such as Gerard Unger), an apprenticeship with Bigelow & Holmes, and graduate work in the Masters of Type Design Program at Stanford. It also attempts to describe how digital type technology developed. (Oak Knoll is currently taking preorders  shipping if you are interested in purchasing a copy.)

Why did I write this book and why choose Twombly for my topic? As a former professor at Moore College of Art (an all-women’s school) I lectured on the history of graphic design for several decades, but it was a history overwhelmingly populated by men. It was all so one-sided that I sought to find a way to expand the historical record. I began by looking at women designers and type designers I knew from my (now aging) generation, hoping to capture their stories directly from the source, not from research or second-hand accounts.

I began by contacting several women but, unfortunately, the initial concept of writing about a group of women type designers grew too complicated and it seemed simpler to tell one story in greater depth than many in a more glancing way. David Lemon at Adobe kindly arranged my introduction to Carol, but warned me that she was unlikely to respond to my request. Although reluctant to be the sole focus, she agreed to let me tell her story once the group approach failed. Fortunately, I made contact with enough significant former classmates and colleagues of Carol’s to place her within a group, using her story as the thread that bound them together.

I traveled to Adobe’s headquarters in 2012 to gather some original images. Two terrific Adobe employees, Ernie March and Nicole Miñoza, guided me through the type archives. Ernie and Nicole had dug into the many boxes and sorted out Carol’s work. I had a precious few hours to mark items that would later be photographed for me by Adobe.

fig-72_adobe-hq-2103-bw

Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, California.

adobe-badge

nicole-minoza-adobe-storage

Ernie March and Nicole Miñoza in the Adobe type archives.

wood_binder

Most of the work was gathered into binders. In this case wood type development with lots of red handwritten notes by Carol (something I would see on my own work with her).

I also traveled into the mountains to visit Carol at her home. I felt it was important that I connect on a personal level, even though we frequently corresponded and exchanged a few phone calls. It is now 4 years later and the book has been edited, is in the process of printing and binding and is available on the Oak Knoll website.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-2-12-28-pm

The dust jacket with paragraph from E M Ginger.

In the next few weeks we will resume regular posts from Lisbon, Portugal— Ricardo Santos type designer; Montreal, Canada—Papeterie St-Armand; and Toronto, Canada–Patrick Griffin of CanadaType. In the meantime have a great holiday season. Peace, Nancy.

Outposts of Handmade Paper in 21st Century North America

January 29, 2016 § 1 Comment

No. 1 of three separate posts…

Huun Paper
Calle 19
 

Merida, Mexico
Website http://www.huunpaper.com/
Date of Visit:  January, 2015 + 2016

Coming later in 2016
Part 2. Le papeterie Saint-Armand, Montreal, Canada
Part 3. Dieu Donné & Paper Think Tank, Manhattan and Philadelphia

The Mayan pyramid of Izamal

The Mayan Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal, south of Merida.

mexico map copy

Background
Paper was an integral part of the ancient Maya civilization, used for clothing, maps, official records, books, tribute payments and as a vehicle for casting magic spells. But unlike the stone pyramids that remain from the same civilization, virtually all Maya paper artifacts have been lost, leaving historians without significant resources and a loss of continuity with the ancient craft of papermaking. Researchers have pieced together that around the fifth century Mayans developed a bark proto-paper, called Huun, from the white tender material found between the dark bark and the woody center of a wild fig (ficus cotinifolia or padifolia) tree. Bark was collected on the new moon when the sap was in the root, allowing the tree to recover from the harvest. The inner bark was stripped away and boiled in a soda ash solution for softening and then pounded flat with a stone. Sheets could then be fabricated up to many meters in length.

trees

(Left) The Wild Fig   (Right) the Jonote tree.*

The Aztec version of Huun, amate, (or amatl in the Nahuatl language) made in central Mexico utilized ficus, and mulberry and jonote trees. To fabricate the amate paper sheet strips of the inner tree bark were laid out to form a close grid and then pounded flat with a specially grooved flattened rock to form a sheet.

laying out paper

The Otomi Indians of Pueblo area still make paper in the traditional manner.

Beating the fibers with a rock

The fibers are pounded together with a flat rock.

fibers

Textured rocks used to pound the fibers to a sheet of pulp.

Textured rocks used to pound the plant fibers into a paper sheet.

The Maya Codices
The Mayans fabricated books from their paper in the form of screen-folded codices. The surface was made more suitable for ink and paint by a liberal application of white lime paste. Over centuries Mayan scribes produced thousands of codex books documenting their religion, astronomy, agricultural cycles, history and prophecies, but only 3 have survived— because they were among treasures shipped from Mexico back to Europe (where they remain today in museums in Paris, Dresden and Madrid). All other Mayan books were victims of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when Catholic bishops embarked upon an aggressive campaign to dismantle the existing native culture and religious beliefs.

We were able to view a replica of a Mayan codice in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.

A replica of a Mayan codice in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.

mayan codice detail

In 1529 the first Bishop of Spain, Fray Juan de Zumarraga began a campaign of “spiritual cleansing” by collecting Aztec codices from throughout Mexico and burning them in the market place of Tlatelolco. A similar event transpired on the Yucatan in 1561, when Bishop Diego de Landa burned any remaining Mayan codices in front of the Catholic church in Mani, the seat of the Tutul Xiu (a Mayan chiefdom located in central Yucatan). The bishop wrote, “Among the Maya we found a great number of books written with their characters, and because they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods about the Devil, we burned them all, which the Indians felt most deeply and over which they showed much sorrow.”

Mayan codices were burned in front of the Catholic church in Mani

Mayan codices were burned in front of this Catholic church in Mani. We visited the now tranquil site but finding the church was difficult in 2015 when the town roads and main square were undergoing a massive reconstruction effort.
By 2016 we found that the work was complete.

Murals of the book burning at Mani appear on the walls of the Plaza is the Palacio Municipal in Merida.

A mural of Bishop Diego de Landa burning Mayan books in the town of Mani
is painted on the walls of the Plaza is the Palacio Municipal in Merida.

Huun Paper : A Community Paper Project in Merida by
Mark and Yolanda Callaghan
HUUN paper street facade

Mark and Yolanda Callaghan

Mark and Yolanda Callaghan

In the pre-Hispanic era numerous Mexican villages were devoted exclusively to papermaking however, due to the Spanish interference, the craft virtually disappeared by the end of the 17th century. Today artist Mark Callaghan and his wife Yolanda are revisiting traditional methods in a culturally and environmentally sustainable effort named, Project Huun.

We were able to visit the Huun Paper headquarters on a warm January afternoon in Merida. The rooms were full of Callaghan’s handsome original prints and a display of their Huun paper products. We were informed that we would not see papermaking in production there, the paper is produced in an undisclosed location to protect their trade secrets. They are naturally protective as it would be easy for others to exploit workers at a lower wage, undermining Huun’s goal of self-sufficiency for their workers.

Callaghan, an artist and papermaker, was born in San Diego but moved to Mexico with his mother and older brother when he was 16 years old in 1970. He studied under a local Merida artist, Emilio Torre Gamboa and later at the National School of Painting and Sculpture in Mexico City before earning his BFA at the Instituto Allende (1980) in San Miguel de Allende. He began his career as a life-drawing teacher in the Bellas Artes school of San Miguel before moving back to Mérida in 1982. After the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 he visited his friend and colleague printmaker Alejandro Ehrenburg at his the famous printmaking workshop, Artegrafias Limitadas in Mexico City, and began experimenting with recycling paper using a small blender.

While in Mexico City, overseeing an exhibition of his paintings at the UAM University, Callaghan partnered with Ehrenburg to develop Plastigraphy, a new printmaking process that combines bondo or clay as a workable surface with plasticine used to make a plate. They were inspired by the Mixografia® technique that was earlier developed by the famous Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo and the printmaker Blade. Mixografia® allows for the production of three-dimensional prints with both texture and very fine surface detail. They are printed onto large thick sheets of moist handmade cotton paper. (See more details about Mixografia® here.)

Tamayo's Mixografia prints.  (Left) Luna y Sol 1990, (Right) Perfil amarillo, 1979.

Tamayo’s Mixografia prints.
(Left) Luna y Sol 1990, (Right) Perfil amarillo, 1979.

An inspired Callaghan returned to Merida in 1985 and began developing ways expand the possibilities of papermaking still based on ancient  techniques but using sustainable materials of the Yucatan. He visited the village of San Pablito in central Mexico to study the amate-huun papermaking process (discussed above) from the Otomi Indians. Then, back in the Yucatan, he identified communities of Maya-Yucatecs who were interested in developing papermaking as part of their local economy.

Although he trained the craftsmen in the traditional manner, Callaghan also began to experiment with papers made from renewable indigenous natural plants such as corn, kapok, sisal, sanseviera, grasses, banana and papaya stalk. Several organizations provided funding for Callaghan’s projects to re-acquaint the Mayans with their traditional craft; Sostenabilidad Maya, Ashoka and the MacArthur Foundation.

Several projects took Callighan outside of Merida to small villages on the peninsula. To help Mayans embrace their lost tradition Callaghan taught papermaking to a group of Mayan teachers and actors in the village of Oxkutzcab, with the hopes that it would be passed down to their children. In the aforemetioned village of Mani he taught papermaking history and process at the bi-lingual primary school and was then invited to witness a reenactment of the Bishop de Landa’s book burning in front of the church (held with the blessing of the local Catholic priest).

graphic Maya

Contemporary Mayan codice by a student.

Book making in the Huun Merida workshop.

Book making in the Huun Merida workshop.

Huun products

A display of Huun products available for purchase.

It became obvious to Callaghan that it was more environmentally friendly to use renewable plants than the traditional tree bark. Using the local sanseviera plant he devised a method that combines Japanese washi technique and the ancient Mayan Huun method.

Sansevieria

Sanseviera plant (sometimes called Mother-in-law tongues)

For the last 25 years, Callaghan has devoted most his time to Huun, producing specialty papers with his environmentally sustainable formula. The production helps give many rural Mayan communities a lasting source of income—one that is not part of the pervasive tourist economy of hotel and restaurant work. Moreover, by teaching the lost art of Mayan papermaking, he hopes to help restore the Mayans’ sense of pride in their culture.

It is possible to see Callaghan making paper in a video by Elizabeth Upton, on youtube.

 

Sources

Stock-Allen, Nancy. Interview with Mark Callaghan. Merida, Mexico, 2015.

Van Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. (1944). The Aztec and Maya Papermakers.
New York, NY: J.J. Augustin Publisher.

Hunter, Dard. (1943). Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft.
New York City, NY: Dover Publications, Inc

Sandstrom, Alan R. & Pamela E. Sandstrom. (1986). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

* Source of appropriated image of Jonte Tree. All other photos ©designhistory.org.

Katherine McCoy : Thoughts on Design Writing

April 19, 2015 § 3 Comments

Women’s History Month 2015

Date of Visit: March 4, 2015

McCoy + McCoy
High Ground Design
Buena Vista, Colorado
Link
Bend Before BuenaVista

Background
Katherine McCoy is an internationally renowned graphic designer, design theoretician and educator. A few of her many accolades include the Medal of the AIGA, Election to the Alliance Graphique International and (jointly with husband Michael McCoy) the first ever Design Mind Award from the Smithsonian National Design Museum. She has held positions in the graduate design programs at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design; and has been the Hall Distinguished Professor at Kansas City Art Institute and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art in London. Some of her past positions include president of the Industrial Design Society of America, president of the American Center for Design, vice president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and chair of the Design Arts Fellowships Panel for the National Endowment of the Arts.

 McCoy’s influence on the world of design is significant, when she speaks or writes other design professionals take notice. She has produced a considerable body of writing that records her (sometimes controversial) opinions. We contacted her and asked her to share her thoughts on the development of design writing in the United States as well as her personal approach to the practice.

Arriving at High Ground
The drive to the McCoy’s’ studio/residence took us south along Colorado’s route US 285—a classic western vista of open plains spreading outward to meet the snow-covered Rockies. Our directions specified a particular highway mile marker but we easily spotted the McCoy compound, a cluster of roof lines clearly visible but blending with the surrounding National Forest of high elevation ponderosa and pinyon pine. Our vehicle scrambled up the steep, twisting driveway where the occupants, Katherine and Michael McCoy, greeted us. The couple had been my professors at Cranbrook Academy of Art four decades earlier so no introductions were necessary.copper western hat collection
Their rural dwelling is peppered with icons of the American west: wrought iron artifacts, Arts and Crafts furniture, antique taxidermy heads, Navajo blankets, and collections of copper and pottery. Interspersed are more contemporary design accents of lamps, molded chairs and tables in bright plastic compounds. Surrounding all are commanding views of the terrain—the San Isabel National Forest shown to its advantage from their perch at 8,500 feet.

The Impetus for Design Writing
We settled down to talk in a glass-walled room that gathered welcome warmth from the early March sun. It seemed logical to begin by asking when she first became aware of design writing. McCoy recalled that there was not much available to her while in school, “Writing was not something that (US) graphic designers did. They really didn’t read or write, they just made things. It was all about self-expression and there was very little theory or history.” Indeed, if one looks back at writing produced by our domestic graphic arts industry during that era we find it dominated by autobiographies dedicated to the magic dust, egos and techniques of advertising (i.e. William Bernbach’s A Technique for Producing Ideas, 1965, Leo Burnett’s Communications of an Advertising Man, 1961 or David Ogilvy’s Blood, Brains and Beer, 1978).K. McCoy in Colorado, 2015
Design writing was primarily coming from Europe, exported to the US in books promulgating the formulas of Swiss Design, layout and typography. McCoy’s first exposure to these authors, including Josef Müller-Brockmann, Emil Ruder, Karl Gerstner, and Armin Hofmann, happened in the library of the corporate design firm, Unimark International, her first employer after college. Those designers and their theories of design would shape McCoy’s work for the following decade.Ruder_Muller-BrockmannI was curious if she was involved in Unimark’s leading edge design publication, Dot Zero. Her answer was “No, I was only a junior designer of 21!” But the articles in Dot Zero, chosen by its editorial board, Herbert Bayer, Mildred Constantine, Massimo Vignelli and Jay Doblin, certainly influenced the young designer and she was able to collect all five issues. She especially recalled one particular article, Visual/Verbal Rhetoric by Gui Bonsiepe (Dot Zero 2) as a great example of emerging design theory. [1] Unfortunately, the quarterly Dot Zero ceased to exist after only five issues.

Dot Zero cover (left) and Bonsiepe’s taxonomy of Visual and Verbal Parallelism and Associative Meditation.

Dot Zero cover (left) and Bonsiepe’s taxonomy of
Visual and Verbal Parallelism and Associative Meditation.


Initiating Writing, History, Theory and Criticism at Cranbrook

M. McCoy and K. McCoy, Cranbrook, early 1970's

The McCoys in front of their Cranbrook studio.

Writing was an invaluable tool when McCoy and husband Michael became co-chairs of the Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1971. While seeking avenues to publicize the program and restore its once dynamic reputation, the couple discovered that editors of design periodicals were “dying for content and willing to showcase our teaching approach and student work. Back then editors were very proactive, encouraging us to make suggestions of what we’d like to write about.”Design texts circa 1970
Apart from some newly launched magazines and the aforementioned European books there was a distinct lack of literature from the nascent field of design, a serious disadvantage for McCoy as a teacher and a professional. “There was really only George Nelson’s Problems of Design (1979), Paul Rand’s Thoughts on Design (1951) and Victor Papanek Design for the Real Word Human Ecology and Social Change (1971). As Massimo [Vignelli] pointed out, the three important areas of writing in any discipline are history, theory and criticism. More mature professions such as architecture or fine art have centuries of writing covering those areas but the absence of a similar body of work in graphic design relegated our young field to an amateur status.”

“There were no graphic design history books yet. Phillip Meggs‘ ground breaking History of Graphic Design would not be published until 1983.” To instill an appreciation of design history into the department she introduced a project requiring her students to research a designer and then produce a poster of images and text to help educate their classmates on their topic.

Writing in the 1970’s meant pen and typewriter. (right) The beginning of the McCoy + McCoy library.

Writing in the 1970’s meant pen and typewriter.
(right) The beginning of the McCoy + McCoy library. (Photo:Tom Wedell)

In 1975, McCoy initiated a design journal, Projects and Processes, with co-editor and co-designer (then Cranbrook student) Lorraine Wild. “That was an early realization that I liked writing about design.” The publication was distributed through an extensive mailing list compiled from “museums, magazines, art schools, undergrad and grad programs, design offices, alumnae— virtually anyone who wrote or contacted the us with an interest in design.”

“Another early student writing project was our trip posters. During the early years we would pack up the entire department (16 people) into a Winnebago and drive to places like Yale, RISD, Boston or Philadelphia to visit schools and design offices.” She laughs, “Today that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen! Afterwards the class used 3 by 5 cards to write impressions, quotes or topics to make a glossary of our trip. One student would design the poster incorporating the text and images. Ed Fella designed the first and I did the editing, writing and typography. That poster has had some recent recognition. Apparently Andrew Blauvelt at the Walker Art Center will be including it in an exhibition he is curating for fall 2015, Hippie Modernism, the Struggle for Utopia.”[2]Fella-CranbrookTrip1973

Map illustration detail by Ed Fella

Detail of  Ed Fella’s illustration

Writing became increasingly integral to the curriculum during McCoy’s tenure at Cranbrook. She required her students to develop extensive written statements and bibliographies to substantiate their visual design projects. Introducing design criticism was a bit more difficult. “The whole idea of design criticism was considered impolite (in the 1970s). Organizations, such as the IDSA (the Industrial Design Society of America) felt that design awards were wrong and elitist at that time.” However, by 1990, McCoy was comfortable with critique, perhaps after so many departmental critique sessions! She has written about her philosophy of critique “Nothing is sacred, everything is available for question and criticism. That occasionally makes for uncomfortable moments, but it also ensures that the Design Department continues to grow, to resist formula and dogma.” [3]

Uncomfortable moments became more public as McCoy explored areas outside the Swiss Modernist design dogma. Her influences came from all directions but much of it from writing; at first Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown’s Postmodernist theories, semiotics and later, Post-structuralism and Deconstruction from French literary movements. Katherine explained her new work, “Coming out of literary theory, visual phenomena are analyzed as language encoded for meaning. Meanings are deconstructed, exposing the dynamics of power and the manipulation of meaning.” [4] She visually expressed her new theories on posters advertising various art departments at Cranbrook.

McCoy’s 1980 posters for the Architecture departments at Cranbrook were organized with the Modernist grid but beginning to show other influences, including her exposure to Cranbrook Architecture chair, Daniel Liebeskind, who drew from a wide range of theoretical and philosophical works.

McCoy’s 1980 posters for the Architecture Department at Cranbrook
were organized with the Modernist grid but beginning to show other influences,
including her exposure to Cranbrook Architecture chair, Daniel Liebeskind,
who drew from a wide range of theoretical and philosophical works.

She brought these explorations to her students who embraced them without hesitation. One particular design class earned notoriety, good and bad, from a project that merged French literary theory with typographic composition. In a special issue of Visible Language the students designed eight essays in which they “attacked the assumptions of the text design much as the authors attacked language” [5]. The students visually interpreted the content “by systematically disintegrating the essays by expanding the spaces between lines and words and pushing the footnotes into the space normally reserved for the main text.” [6] The student’s rejection of linearly arranged content generated tremendous controversy in the design world. Venerated Modernist Massimo Vignelli abhorred the new work, classifying Cranbrook as one of the “most dangerous design schools in the world.” [7]

"Visible

Visible Language, French Currents of the Letter
8 essays (Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer 1978)

The publication precipitated a flurry of writing to defend and explain the work. Katherine, the primary spokesperson, wrote long essays about the evolution of the field and the need for graphic design to differentiate in the new world of computer graphics. “This new work is smart and cerebral, challenging its audience to slow down and read carefully in a world of fast forward and instant replay, USA Today and sound bites. The emphasis is on audience interpretation and the construction of meaning, beyond raw data to the reception of messages. This direction seems aligned to our times and technology, as we enter an era of communications revolution and complex global pluralism. Desktop publishing is placing the production of low-end print communications in the hands of office workers and paraprofessionals. Even the simplest corporate report is now typeset and formatted, raising the visual expectations of our audiences. To distinguish high-end graphic communications from the vast output of desktop publishing, a new demand for highly personal, interpretive and eccentric design expressions is surfacing.” [8]

Perhaps one of the best critiques of McCoy’s experiments was Ellen Lupton’sThe Academy of Deconstructed Design, in Eye Magazine. Lupton lucidly explains the various evolutions of Cranbrook Design in a greater context.

Katherine McCoy’s design at a stylistic peak in the early 1990s. The use of opposing terms (binary opposition ie. material immaterial) is a reflection a literary component of Deconstruction.

Katherine McCoy’s design at a stylistic peak in the early 1990s.
The use of opposing terms (binary opposition ie. material immaterial)
is a reflection of a literary component of Deconstruction.

Spread from a 4-page article McCoy wrote and designed with David Frej for a special issue of ID Magazine edited by Tibor Kalman in 1988. McCoy noted, “This turns out to be one of the most quoted and mentioned essays that I’ve written. Link to text

Spread from a 4-page article McCoy wrote and designed with David Frej
for a special issue of ID Magazine edited by Tibor Kalman in 1988.
McCoy noted, “This turns out to be one of the most quoted and mentioned
essays that I’ve written.  Here is a  link to text

By the early 1990s the McCoys’ jointly authored, Cranbrook Design: The New Discourse, to document the work produced in the Cranbrook studios during the 1980s and “probably sealed the reputation of the school” [9].

McCoy’s Personal Writing Mission

McCoy described her evolution in writing. “My design writing evolved naturally out of a desire to express my opinions to a larger audience. Everyone that designs should have an opinion about design. You start to have opinions if you are at all interested or informed. Then it is natural to write them down for others to read.”

Like most writers, McCoy has always been an avid reader. As a life-long Christian Scientist she is accustomed to a self-disciplined practice of studying the weekly lesson and the solo introspection that her faith requires. “Christian Science definitely has a problem-solving aspect to it. It’s a great method for those who want to get their heads straight about life or to resolve problems.”

We reflected a bit on the notion of McCoy as a design missionary. “During my college years there was a big cultural shift, a revolution of sorts, in the environmental movement. Our required readings included major environmental manifestos. That late ‘60s period was all about revolution and a missionary zeal of finding a better way of doing things. Design, especially when I surfaced at the beginning of Swiss design’s arrival in the United States, was all very mission-like. The Swiss had a mission and Unimark certainly had a missionary zeal. I guess that sort of connected to my religious background. I was an idealist about life and problem solving. I still feel that way. We can always make it better.” She paused and chuckled to herself, “I always want to make things better.”

One section of the McCoys’ extensive design library at High Ground.

One section of the McCoys’ extensive design library at High Ground.

 Writing Advice

McCoy keeps a specific audience in mind when she writes—other designers and design educators. Her writing has been described as “cogent, jargon free, and clear” but she still faces the same challenges as any author. [10] “At first the design writing scene was fairly low-key but now it has become more intimidating. I always imagine one of my most respected design writers looking over my shoulder, Andrew Blauvelt, Meredith Davis, Michael Bierut or Ellen Lupton. It’s important to focus on the quality of the writing along with the content.”

Despite many years of writing behind her, she still finds the whole process “really, really hard work. Of course, things got a lot easier with the computer. Editing is key, I love working with a good editor. If you want to learn how to write well, work with a good editor. I was lucky to have a great editor at IDSA, Kristina Goodrich.”

A slightly different editing experience presented itself during a project for public television in the 1980’s. “I worked as the associate producer and content consultant on an independent documentary, Future Wave: Japan Design. I found film editing to be an invaluable lesson: cutting the footage and putting it together, trying to figure out the key points and choosing the interviewees’ key comments. Every word must count within the parameters of a given amount of time. Film is such a great discipline to make you get to the point.”

Women in Design Writing

We diverged for a few minutes to a slightly different topic, the lack of women in design history literature before the mid-20th century. I mentioned that whenever a new design history survey appears it seems that most of the research is gleaned from previous historians, none of who included any information about women in the field—perpetuating the myth that the profession was entirely men before the 20th century.

McCoy agreed, “True there has been much written about women in design since the late 1980’s; but before that only a few.” Exclusion has not been a problem for her—she is in all of the significant design history texts. However, she is certainly cognizant of what might have been, a career minimized as a ‘partner’ to her designer husband. Although their names are inseparable in the design world, the McCoy’s work diverged into hers (2D) and his (3D), giving each a clear identity.

Katherine and Michael McCoy in 2015. Textile wall hangings of reclaimed fabrics are by Katherine. (right) Michael’s Place Seating by Arconas (with Curtis Fentress). His Horizon Lamp by Humanscale (with Peter Stathis) has recently been included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Katherine and Michael McCoy in 2015. Textile wall hangings of reclaimed fabrics
are by Katherine. (right) Michael’s Place Seating by Arconas (with Curtis Fentress).
His Horizon Lamp by Humanscale (with Peter Stathis) has recently been included
in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Earlier women design partners were not so fortunate and if their contributions were noted at all it was a mere footnote to their partners: Lily Reich (with Mies van der Rohe), Charlotte Perriand (with Le Corbusier) Aino Aalto (Alvar Altor) Ray Eames (Charles Eames) etc. “In the early 1970s, when the Museum of Modern Art did the exhibition ‘The work of Charles and Ray Eames,’ no one knew who Ray was and we wondered if Charles had a brother.” Massimo Vignelli corrected his own history by writing Designed by Lella, a tribute to his wife and design partner. “Fifty years ago, it was standard practice that the head of the office was the man and the woman partner had a subordinate role. At best, the woman’s creative input and professional influence was only vaguely accepted; often her contributions were dismissed and sometimes even forgotten.” (Kudos to Mr. Vignelli for putting his book on line with free access.) [11]

One woman that has made it into design history textbooks is Cipe Pineless (1908-1991), credited as “the first independent female art director.” McCoy confided that they were once roommates at an early AIGA event. She could not avoid noticing that despite editing many of the most glamorous fashion magazines of her time, Ms. Pineles dressed for bed (like anyone of good Austrian background) in practical flannel nightgowns. Unfortunately, passing encounters in the female lodging were the extent of their interaction.

Another woman we touched upon was Beatrice Warde (1900–1996), known to typography students for her essay The Crystal Goblet, to letterpress printers for This is a Printing Office, and to design historians for her writings on true origin of Garamond. Warde and Nicolete Gray (1911-1997) (Lettering as Drawing among others), both elegant and intelligent authors, were the first women writing history and criticism in the graphic arts field.

We’ve come a long way from Ms. Warde’s lone female voice to books such Helen’s Armstrong’s anthology that is comprised of about 40% female authorship.

We’ve come a long way from Ms. Warde’s lone female voice to books such as
Helen’s Armstrong’s anthology that is comprised of about 40% female authorship.

We mused a bit on how to get women into the canons of graphic design, especially as men write the majority of the books. I felt that Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish’s Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, did not seize the opportunity to break the mold but McCoy was more cautious. “You know according to theories of Deconstruction there is no such thing as neutral facts. You should look to the work of authors such as Patricia Limerick, who are involved in the New Western History Movement. Those researchers reject the established histories as the total truth and investigate the contributions of under-recognized communities. That said, there are such things as facts in history. We do need those, as well as interpretation and critique.”

Some women to add to the canon. Two publications devoted exclusively to female designers; McCoy is in both. [12]

Two publications devoted exclusively to female designers; McCoy is in both. [12]

McCoy is encouraged by how far design writing has progressed since she entered the field. After a first wave of self-educated pioneers there are now graduate level programs educating professional design writers. “I am so pleased that there are programs dealing with design writing. There have been two great women speakers at High Ground who are at the forefront of educating the next generation of design writers and critics. Sue Yelavich (a Cranbrook alum) is the Director of the MA in Design Studies at The New School. Her counterpart, Alice Twemlow, is co-chair at the School of Visual Arts, another notable program. (Both of them are great writers themselves) The programs appear to focus on solid criticism and interpretation.”

Writing Now + Projects @ High Ground

Katherine McCoy, Colorado, 2015McCoy was clearly ready to talk about the present, her writing projects, her on-going design practice and various other activities. She put down the needlepoint she’d been working during our chat (based on a favorite Pueblo pot) and brought out some printed samples.crewelwork
McCoy has two writing projects in progress. One concentrates on Herbert Bayer, an artist/designer/architect who started out at the Bauhaus but settled in Aspen in 1946. “Walter Paepcke, the founder of modern Aspen, lured Bayer to Colorado, commissioning him to design materials for Aspen’s cultural events and ski resort. Bayer was very prolific; the work was unlike his earlier work in Germany and New York City. Much of it is still unseen. Bayer is far more recognized for his paintings, architecture and landscape work.” The Denver Art Museum’s Bayer Collection preserves his archive, and there are some Bayer collectors in Colorado, affording McCoy great access to Bayer resources.

Two Bayer posters for Aspen, 1948 and 1957.

Two Bayer posters for clients in Aspen, 1948 and 1957. Image source

Herbert Bayer (left) at the Aspen Design Conference (Photo: James Milmoe) Right: Bayer’s Aspen Institute program design.

Herbert Bayer (left) at the Aspen Design Conference (Photo: James Milmoe)
Right: Bayer’s Aspen Institute program design.

Aspen Modernism
A second book project relates to the annual Aspen Design Conference, a now defunct but once much acclaimed event. This project developed out of a presentation made at the McCoy’s annual “mini conference without an audience” held at High Ground. (High Ground Tools and Strategies for Design) “We invite a group of important design thinkers and writers to make a 7-minute rant or presentation about their current interest. It is a way of taking stock on what has been on their mind that year; it is not a portfolio show and tell. After each speaker there is a 15-minute session for questions and comments.”

A few years back McCoy shared her Aspen Modernism research at a session of High Ground and the group “strongly encouraged me to continue, so I pretty much had to pursue the project.” Because there is no consolidated archive of the conference in Aspen McCoy has traveled to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the University of Chicago Library, the University of Illinois Chicago Library and several other archives. “Archival research could get to be habit-forming. Archives are a whole alternative universe – so serene and organized.” She researched 50 years of promotional material and information about the designers who participated in the conference. An avid researcher and library fan, she noted, “I’ve always thought that if I wasn’t a designer I would be a librarian.” The book is now at the book proposal stage.

Mildred Constantine speaking at Aspen (previously mentioned as part of the Dot Zero advisory board) [13] and Aspen ad/poster by Alvin Lustig.

Mildred Constantine speaking at Aspen (previously mentioned as part of the
Dot Zero advisory board)  and Aspen poster by Paul Rand. Image Sources [13]

We moved next to the hurdles of getting a book into print. “The whole process of getting a book published is almost like dating…Does he/she really like me/my book? It’s like a slow dance back and forth over long periods of time. You have to work with people on good faith that your material will be handled properly and that the book will actually come to be published.”

There is the lure of self-publishing but McCoy isn’t enthusiastic about that possibility. “There is a credibility that comes when a publishing house invests in a book. Editors. Fact checking. Longevity. I would want my work on the shelf of a library, in hard copy, a tangible object that will persist.”

The topic of web writing came up. (After all, we were recording this discussion as part of a blog!) McCoy feels that “So far web publishing has not been attractive to me. A lot of work online is not vetted… And it’s very ephemeral. How long does a blog last? Only as long as someone pays for it’s posting.”

McCoy’s Design Practice Today

K_McCoy at computer

McCoy continues her graphic design practice. Most of her work is civic-minded, still spreading the mission of design for a better world. She recently served on the brandColorado team appointed by Colorado’s governor to develop a coherent brand identity for the state. She also participates on university art and design accreditation teams for the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and consults on post-secondary design curricula.

She is in the midst of several projects for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management; print work, trails maps, interpretive kiosks, environmental information. Much of it is concerned with relaying information that dictates a structured visual presentation. There is a certain irony in that, she noted, “It’s sort of funny that I, the person blamed for ruining graphic design with experimental self-expressive work in the 80’s and 90’s, winds up intensely involved in information design.

McCoy's designs for interpretive kiosks

McCoy’s designs for interpretive kiosks

Pike Kiosk

Pike Trail Kiosk

A detail from a trail map

A detail from a trail map, one of many information design projects.

Book covers

Book covers

A catalog to accompany the exhibition “Designing Women of Postwar Britain.”

A catalog to accompany the exhibition “Designing Women of Postwar Britain.”

There are other lesser-known but important dimensions to Katherine McCoy. She became a mother while I was a student at Cranbrook. The baby, Annie, was a fixture in our critiques and department events but design was not a career choice for the daughter of the famous designers. She found her own mission—finding ground water as a hydrogeologist in the parched Southwest.

There are the pastimes McCoy adores; Textiles (sewing, quilting and needlepoint), figure skating and growing spectacular specimens of cactus and succulents. Her Best Novice Cactus 2014 prize at the annual Colorado Cactus & Succulent Show propelled her into the Expert Category.

McCoy with a prize-winning cactus (Photo Michael McCoy). (Right) Cactus prize ribbons.

McCoy with a prize-winning cactus (Photo Michael McCoy). (Right) Cactus prize ribbons.

Cactus_hybrids

Even in horticulture, McCoy thinks beyond what is to envisage what could be.
Clearly impossible but provocative, she employs Photoshop software to create new fantastical cactus hybrids

We ended our visit with a tour of High Ground’s well-equipped conference center and Katherine’s cactus and succulent greenhouse. Other than replenishing supplies the couple would never have to leave their mountain roost, however they also maintain a loft in Denver  – “our urban outpost.”

It was time for us to get back to Breckenridge to rejoin the rest of our party. My companion for the day, Cynthia Solis, rode shotgun as we made our way up the Hoosier Pass. Crossing over the Continental Divide at 11,500 feet, we encountered heavy snow squalls, forcing us to creep behind a convoy of salt trucks. It afforded us a window of time in which to transition back to the world of ski vacations and hot spring spas on the other side.


 

Thanks to Ed Fella for providing the Cranbrook Trip poster art.

Footnotes + Links 

[1] Gui Bonsiepe’s article, first seen in the Journal of the Ulm School of Design. You may read this article on line at this link Hyperlink

[2] Lorraine Wild invented the term Hippie Modernism

[3] Cranbrook Design: The New Discourse, Rizzoli International, New York, 1990, with essays by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Katherine & Michael McCoy, Daralice Bowles, Lorraine Wild, Neils Diffrient and Roy Slade.

[4] McCoy, Katherine, ‘American Graphic Design Expression: The Evolution of American Typography’, Design Quarterly 149, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990, pp. 3-22.

[5] Lorraine Wild, Cranbrook Design:The New Discourse, p.33.

[6] Lupton, Ellen. Deconstruction and Graphic Design, Hyperlink

[7] Harper, Laurel. Radical Graphics/Graphic Radicals. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1999. 65. Print.

[8] McCoy, Katherine, ‘American Graphic Design Expression: The Evolution of American Typography’, Design Quarterly 149, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990, pp. 3-22.

[9] [10] Wild, Lorraine, Katherine McCoy: 1999 AIGA MEDAL. Hyperlink

[11] Vignelli, Massimo, Designed By Lella. Hyperlink

[12] (Shown left) Women in Graphic Design, 1890-2012. Hyperlink
(Shown right) And She Told 2 Friends, as international exhibit of graphic design by women, Kali Nikitas, Michael Mendelson Books, Chicago, 1996.

[13] Image Source: 1. Mildred Constantine addressing the audience at the International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado, 196- / Max Yavno, photographer. Mildred Constantine papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Hyperlink  2. Paul Rand Hyperlink

A list of Katherine McCoy’s essays resides on this archive. Hyperlink

Writings on Katherine McCoy Hyperlink

Ethiopia : Early Christian Illuminated Bibles

December 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

Date of Visit: November 2014

Numerous Churches in Aksum and Lalibela

Ethiopia was the second country to officially adopt Christianity, and the first to illuminate the Bible.

Ethiopia was the second country to officially adopt Christianity, and the first to illuminate the Bible.

Background
According to the ancient Julian calendar Christmas (Ganna) will arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015. The holiday will begin with a day of fasting followed by a 4 am church service the next day. No special events happen until January 19th when a 3-day celebration (Timkat) commemorates the baptism of Christ. There is no exchange of presents, instead a traditional feast, music and games are enjoyed after religious ceremonies. Clearly not part of the Christian world’s Christmas frenzy, Ethiopia enjoys its own treasures of early Christian architecture, artifacts and Bibles. In November 2014, Designtraveler photographer, Eric Allen, visited the country for a humanitarian mission but took time off to visit ancient churches and photograph the Byzantine illustration in early Bibles.

Women gather at dawn for Sunday services. Ethiopian Christians dress for church in the all-white “shamma.”

Women gather at dawn for services. Ethiopian Christians dress for church in the all-white “shamma.”

Ashes are self-applied

Ashes are self-applied.

The ubiquitous cross necklace worn everyday.

The ubiquitous cross necklace worn everyday.

Ethiopia is the only African nation never colonized by another country therefore no crusading army or missionary ever imposed its religion on the populace. Christianity came peacefully in the 1st century when a prisoner from Tyre, Frumentius, converted a ruler of the Aksumite kingdom; by the 4th century it was adopted as the official state religion, making Ethiopia the second Christian nation in the world (after Armenia).

Moslems conquered neighboring Egypt in 640, leaving Ethiopia cut off from the rest of the Christian world (except for a weak link to the surviving Coptic Church in Egypt). This separation along with the blending of the spirits and devils of the established African traditional faiths made for a unique form of Christianity.

Ethiopia possesses the oldest known illuminated Bibles including the famous, Garima Gospels, dated 494. Local lore holds that the author, monk Abba Garima, completed the work in one day, a day that God held off the sunset so Garima could complete his work uninterrupted.  The Gospels were identified by British art historian, Beatric Playne, in 1950. Because women were forbidden from entering the monastery the manuscripts were carried outside for her to view. The ban on women continues today

Ethiopia possesses the oldest known illuminated Bibles including the famous, Garima Gospels, dated 494. Local lore holds that the author, monk Abba Garima, completed the book in one day, a day that God held off the sunset so Garima could complete his work uninterrupted. The Gospels were identified by British art historian, Beatrice Playne, in 1950. Because women were forbidden from entering the monastery the manuscripts were carried outside for them to view. The ban on women continues today.

The two holy cities of Aksum and Lalibela.

The two holy cities of Aksum and Lalibela.

The Churches and Bibles of Lalibela
The mountain town of Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, is home to eleven churches hewn from living volcanic rock. The edifices, constructed in the 12th century, are positioned in a manner that replicates Jerusalem. The churches in the Lalibela area are entirely hand hewn from rock, beginning at the earth’s surface and continuing underground.

The church of Saint George carved in the 13th century.

The church of Saint George carved in the 13th century.

The ceiling of a rock-hewn church.

The ceiling of a rock-hewn church.

The stone walls inside of the church are covered with rugs and pantings. Only priests are allowed behind the curtains. Priests carry the Blessing Cross throughout the service.

Rugs and paintings cover the stone walls inside of the church. Only priests are allowed behind the curtains. Priests carry the Blessing Cross throughout the service.

Some churches are covered by protective shelters erected by UNESCO to preserve the structures from the elements.

Protective shelters erected by UNESCO help preserve the structures from the elements.

Inside the churches monks read the ancient texts using flames.

Inside the churches monks read the ancient texts using flames.

   The monks safeguard the ancient manuscripts but ceremoniously unveil them upon request

The monks safeguard the ancient manuscripts but ceremoniously unveil them upon request.

The religious painting of Ethiopia often depict the holy family and saints in traditional Ethiopian garb. Notice the figures wearing the white shamma in the foreground of the painting above.

Byzantine in style, the religious paintings of Ethiopia often depict the holy family and saints in traditional Ethiopian garb. Notice the figures wearing the white shamma in the foreground of the painting above.

The religious painting of Ethiopia often depict the holy family and saints in traditional Ethiopian garb. Notice the figures wearing the white shamma in the foreground of the painting above.

The Bibles are written in Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopian Semitic language. Ge’ez was the language of the late antiquity empire of Aksum and, until the 19th century, the main language in Ethiopia.

Illustrations positioned to avoid a hole in the skin. Another at the top of the next page.

Illustration positioned to avoid a hole in the skin. Another hole at the top of the next page.

Paintings in a small gospel book, covered with wood boards. St. George is the patron saint of Ethiopia.

Paintings in a small gospel book covered with wood boards. St. George is the patron saint of Ethiopia.

The Holy City of Aksum

About 300 BC the Aksumite empire, a civilization that, in its heyday, rivaled Rome and Persia, established a capital in Aksum. One can still visit a number of inscribed stone stelae from that period.

Greek is one of the 3 texts on this ancient stone in Aksum.

Greek is one of the three texts on this ancient stone in Aksum.

Erected in the 4th century Aksum’s holiest church, St. Mary of Zion, is reportedly the home to the Ark of the Covenant. During the 10th century the ruling power shifted to the Zagwe Dynasty, practitioners of a Judaic form of Christianity. The capital moved to Lalibela, 200 miles to the south.

Inside the modern day St. Mary of Zion. The original church was destroyed by invading Muslims in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 1960’s by then emperor Haile Selassie.

Inside the modern-day St. Mary of Zion. The original church , destroyed by invading Muslims in the 16th century, was rebuilt in the 1960’s by then emperor Haile Selassie.

Ethiopian Bible Crucifiction spread

3Saints

 

The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe that the Queen of Sheba lived in Aksum traveled to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon and a child of that union, Memelik, later brought the Ark of the Covenant to Aksum. Today it is claimed that the Ark is secured inside The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.  Only one person is allowed to see the Ark, and then only one time a year

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe that the Queen of Sheba lived in Aksum and traveled to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon. A child of that union, Memelik, later brought the Ark of the Covenant to Aksum. Today the Ark is said to be stored inside The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Only one person is ever allowed to see the highly guarded artifact.

Young girls selling baskets at the ruins of the temple of the Queen of Sheba.

Young girls selling baskets at the ruins of the temple of the Queen of Sheba.

All photographs Eric Allen

Additional Content Sources:
Cotter, Holland. Bedrock of Art and Faith, April 20, 2012, New York Times.

 

The Lights of Lyon: Cinematography and Phototypesetting

November 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

Date of visit: September 2014

Institute Lumière
25 Rue du 1er Film,
69008 Lyon, France

Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
13, rue de la Poulaillerie
69002 Lyon, France

Mémorial de la prison de Montluc

4 rue Jeanne Hachette
69003 Lyon, France

Evening view of Basilica of Notre-Dame and petite Eiffel tower on Fourvière hill in Lyon.

Evening view of Basilica of Notre-Dame and petite Eiffel tower on Fourvière hill in Lyon.

Lyon’s geographic position at the confluence of important European trade routes has fostered its wealth and intellectual growth since its days as the capital of Gaul. Today it is a center of gastronomy, banking, history and architecture. In the evenings, the city glows in warm lights illuminating the facades of many of the beautiful landmarks. By day visitors can experience other forms of light—projections of cinematic history, typesetting with strobe lights, enlightened French cuisine and the light of truth shone upon the dark relics of the Gestapo.

Lyon, at the heart of Europe and a copper engraving of the city center between the Rhone and the Saône rivers, 1659 (Francois Demasso, British Library

Lyon, at the heart of Europe and a copper engraving of the city center between the Rhone and the Saône rivers, 1659 (Francois Demasso, British Library

The Institute Lumière
During the late 1800’s, inventors sought ways to create the illusion of motion using still photographs. Through the efforts of Lyon residents, the Lumière brothers, that illusion was achieved, and for the first time the moving images were projected for an audience to enjoy. Their invention, the Cinematographe, a combination camera and projector, makes Lyon the birthplace of cinema.

Auguste and Louis Lumière, (lumière is ‘light’ in French) inherited a photographic heritage and wealth from their father, a manufacturer of photographic supplies. Their former family residence, Villa Lumière, now preserved as a museum was our first destination in Lyon.Brothers

Portrait of the Lumière brother outside the museum, skylight chandelier and façade of museum.

Portrait of the Lumière brother outside the museum, skylight chandelier and façade of museum.

We arrived at Institut Lumière on a rainy but warm September afternoon. The building is an opulent art nouveau affair with many of its period details intact. First floor galleries are devoted to a history of cinematography with displays of antique artifacts from the early attempts at image animation: shadow puppetry, magic lanterns and zoetropes. One of the Lumieres’ inspirations, Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope (1891) is included in working condition. Edison’s device was a standing wooden box with a peephole through which only one person could watch. The Lumières’ Cinematographe (1895) not only projected to audience, the hand cranking power source allowed portability.

Using their employees as ‘actors’ the brothers first film, La Sortie de usines Lumière (1894), captured a crowd of men and women leaving the nearby Lumière manufacturing plant. The brothers filmed ten such “documentary shorts” and then sold tickets for public displays in theaters. The culture of public cinema was born.

The Cinematographe and a scene from the first film.

The Cinematographe and a scene from the first film. (Images Institute Lumiére)

Louis turned his attention to color photography, experimenting with dyed potato flour to separate color in an additive process he named ‘autochrome’ in 1903. His ever-inventive mind moved on to experiments including huge circular panoramas and 3-D photography.

The second floor of the museum presents Lumière projects outside the field of photography. Auguste concentrated on medical inventions in response to the horrific injuries sustained by soldiers in World War I. He developed a special gauze bandage for burns (still used today) as well as a functioning prosthetic hand for amputees. (Undoubtedly the loss of a younger brother in that conflict was an influence.)

An early autochrome (a back light source was needed to view the autochrome images.)

An early autochrome (a back light source was needed to view the autochrome images.) Albert Kahn

Cinema is the focus of the institute and a large modern film complex on the grounds hosts current movie showings and cultural events. After several hours at the museum, we left in search of some legendary Lyonnais food. Fortunately, the famous food hall, Les Halles du Paul Bocuse, was only about 15 minutes by foot. Paul Bocouse is known for lightening the traditional French cooking into today’s nouvelle cuisine which stresses fresh, high quality ingredients. The sleek modern hall placed us squarely back in the 21st century. We sat down at one of the food stalls to enjoy a plate of mixed oysters and a glass of wine as we observed the end-of-day gastronomical activities whirl around us.

Cheese at Les Halles, including one in the shape of France.

Cheese at Les Halles, including one in the shape of France.

The Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
Phototypesetting/ Lumitype

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lyon emerged as an important location for Europe’s growing publishing market. A flourishing book trade and active printing community supplied rich local book collections, both public and private. To preserve this legacy printer and book historian, Maurice Audin, along with Henri-Jean Martin, chief curator at the Library of Lyon, sought and received strong support from their community. By 1964 their efforts culminated in the opening of The Museum of Printing, dedicated “to educate the broader population on the role of printing and books in the formation of Western culture”. The privately funded collection became a national museum in 2005.

Entrance to the Printing Museum (l) and a few cases of their type collection (r).

Entrance to the Printing Museum (l) and a few cases of their type collection (r).

We arrived at the museum on a day celebrating French cultural heritage, when all national museums are open free to the public, including foreign visitors. As part of the celebrations live book arts demonstrations were in progress throughout the establishment. (You can read a general overview of the visit on the website, printeresting.org.)

For the type obsessed read on…

Our specific intent for visiting the museum was to learn more about phototypesetting, a technology with a connection to Lyon. Although the commercial phototypesetting era lasted only from the 1960’s through 1990’s, it was a significant period of transition from hot metal to digital typography. Having very little knowledge of this technology we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of Dr. Alan Marshall, an expert in printing history and the author of Plum a la lumiere (Lead to light: Lumitype-Photon and the birth of modern graphic arts). After escorting us to a room dedicated to the history of phototypesetting he gave us a quick run down on some of the particulars of the local connection. It was a very busy day for him and we appreciated his time and expertise.

Dr. Alan Marshall, current director of the museum (and knighted in the Order of Arts and Letters for his contributions to French culture).

Dr. Alan Marshall, current director of the museum (and knighted in the Order of Arts and Letters for his contributions to French culture).

Some background

As much as photography rocked the traditional world of 19th century painting, it also had a transformational effect on the industry of typesetting. Starting in the 1860’s, inventors sought ways to use the new technology to replace the labor of metal type casting. With newspapers and magazines demanding faster and cheaper ways of typesetting, various parties in Germany, England, Japan and the US raced to achieve that goal using photography. It was not until 1894 that Hungarian Eugene Porzolt succeeded in producing the first working model. All of the early attempts were transitional technologies that in some way retrofitted existing linotype or monotype machines. Their technological improvement lay in replacing hot metal type with film and photographic paper, allowing type to made the jump from the third dimension to a flat photographic image.

The general concept behind phototypesetting: light shown through a negative, resized by a lens and exposed onto photosensitive paper.

The general concept behind phototypesetting: light shown through a negative, resized by a lens and exposed onto photosensitive paper.

While the first generation phototypesetters relied on mechanics, the second consisted of electromechanical equipment with valves, relays and other electronic devices. The first successful prototype of this version was the brainchild of two French telecommunication engineers who worked in Lyon, René Higonnet (1902 –1983) and Louis Moyroud (1914–2010). Higonnet and Moyroud, not previously involved in typesetting, were appalled when they encountered the painfully long processes used to prepare type for offset printing: typesetting, casting the type, printing the type and then photographing the printed type for a negative to make an offset plate. Surely they could find a better method in 1943!

By 1944 they had developed enough drawings and plans to apply for a patent and seek financial backing. Higgonet traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts and through a connection made via the eminent American engineer, Vannevar Bush, Higgonet met with William Garth, owner of an offset duplication company (Lithomat, later Photon). Enthusiastic about the project, Garth raised funds by forming the Graphic Arts Research Foundation, a collection of large publishers and printers interested in the cost savings that phototypesetting promised.

Higonnet and Moyroud with their invention and the workings of the first test prototype in France.

Higonnet and Moyroud with their invention and the workings of the first test prototype in France. (Image Source)

The Lumitype “used three essential elements in the process: a master image of the type character, a lens system to size it and a positioning system to place the characters in a line in the proper sequence”. Dr. Marshall explained that one of the problems Higonnet and Moyroud needed to overcome was the difficulty of “freezing” the image of a letter onto the photographic paper. Other attempts to develop a fast “shuttering system” to capture a sharp, crisp letter image had fallen short. Working in the US at MIT the pair adopted Harold Edgerton’s stroboscope (electronic flash) as the solution to that problem. For imaging the type they arranged negatives of the letters onto a round disc and fashioned a method to spin the disc into place at high speeds.

During the input stage, every keystroke is recorded on a memory that notes the width of each character. When each line is complete, a binary computer allocates space for justification of the line. “The signals are then sent on to the setter, at whose heart is a disc made from glass or plastic. The disc carries glyphs (in negative) arranged in concentric circles. When the character is in front of the window display, the electronic tube emits a strobe flash to expose the image through a lens (for sizing) onto a prism or mirror that moved on a track to the required escapement widths for each character. The characters were projected on photo-sensitive paper or film and then developed with chemistry.” (Frank Romano)

The Lumitype font disc at the museum. The first models were able to capture 8 characters per second, 28,000 per hour. The cost of a single disc was from $3,000 to $5,000 in the early 1950’s.

The Lumitype font disc at the museum. The first models were able to capture 8 characters per second, 28,000 per hour. The cost of a single disc was from $3,000 to $5,000 in the early 1950’s.

Lacking a typographic background, the pair naively selected a bastard version of Bodoni as the font to reproduce. Bodoni was a terrible choice because it has extremely difficult hairline serifs that were difficult to hold using photography. They finally opted for the sturdier Scotch roman style.

Higonnet and Moyroud sold the North and South American distribution rights to Garth and retained the distribution rights for the rest of the world. They demonstrated their invention in Europe in 1948 to a skeptical audience but the French type foundry, Deberney and Peignot, invested heavily in the new technology. Charles Peignot marketed the machine using the name Lumitype in 1954. A young Swiss type designer on the D&B staff, Adrian Frutiger, converted existing typefaces to Lumitype format but earned considerable fame from his original sans serif designed specifically for phototypesetting. The font, Univers, a design he had been working on since his student days, was released simultaneously in both metal and film technologies.

The Lumitype at the Museum of Printing with its interior workings revealed. The poster is a display of the font Univers.

The Lumitype at the Museum of Printing with its interior workings revealed. The poster is a display of the font Univers.

Lumitype disc and book

Th e Lumitype disc (l) and the Wonderful World of Insects

The Lumitype, under the brand Lumitype Photon, was presented in New York in 1949. Garth had spent over $1 million to create the prototype (named Petunia) that typeset the first book using phototypesetting, “Wonderful World of Insects” in 1953. The following year the first phototypeset newspaper, The Patriot Ledger, was printed in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Phototypesetting was not a perfect solution to making type. The letterforms tended to become thin, making pages of text look pale. The spacing tended towards tightness because the physical metal bodies of letters had disappeared, leaving the spacing  determination up to the taste and skill of the individual setter. I was required to use an ancient Compugraphic phototypesetter while designing publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art way back in the early 1980’s. A clunky affair, it had a rubbery black curtain that draped over one’s head and shoulders to create a tiny darkroom. Filmstrips of letters were exposed onto a roll of photopaper about four inches wide. Despite zero training as a typesetter, I set headlines for books and posters for the museum. Sadly my lack of training shows, the letter spacing collapsed and the exposure of the letters was hard to manage under primitive conditions (unacceptable now but the über tight setting was fairly common in that era).
Federal Philadelphia cover
In 1983, Louis Moyroud deposited all the Lumitype archives in the Printing Museum in Lyon. Moyroud and Higonnet were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1985, the year in which a new third generation of typesetting was introduced. The new machines did not use negatives or flash tubes to create a letter, rather the glyphs formed electronically on an illuminated CRT tube. That story is for another time…

A phototypographic reminder that after the museum libations were awaiting us in the nearest bouchon.

A phototypographic reminder that after the museum libations were awaiting us in the nearest bouchon.

Montluc Prison

Our final destination was Montluc Prison. This grim and quiet place served as a prison since 1932 but took on a more sinister role during World War 2. When the northern half of France fell under military occupation by the Germans, the south was declared a “free zone” under the Vichy government, a puppet regime. To ensure Vichy cooperation the Germans kept two million French soldiers in forced labor inside of Germany. As part of the condition for relative autonomy the Vichy authorities were required to round up Communists, deGaulle supporters, resistance fighters, political refuges, Jews and “others considered undesirable by the Nazis.” Who was left I wonder?prison exterior
Montluc Prison functioned as the holding station for those arrested, where their fate and final destination was determined before exportation. After the fall of the Vichy in 1942 the Germans ramped up the activities to executions and torture interrogations, many of which were at the hands of Gestapo head, Klaus Barbie, the infamous “Butcher of Lyon”. After the war the building returned to its role as a domestic prison and later closed, only to be reopened in 2010 as a “monument of major importance.”

We were almost the only visitors in the prison museum; most opt to see the Center for Resistance and Deportation Museum closer to the city center. On the exterior there was very little to indicate the entrance but the large and imposing walls gave away the purpose for the structure.prison interior
Inside many of the cells are pictures and biographies of the men, women and children who passed through during the war. All are poignant: a group of 44 orphans that Barbie sent to Auschwitz, mothers and children split up and shipped off to different destinations, the Catholic nun Élise Rivet shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp and executed for hiding refugees and resistance materials.

While it is not a pleasant visit, it is important to keep the reminders of the cruelty of war close by. Unfortunately such prisons and tortures continue today, although not on the popular radar and easily forgotten by the distractions of pretty culture and the constantly shifting news stream. There is much to morn in this place, but also one cannot help but be impressed by the conviction of the resistance fighters who fought to free France.

Young French Resistance fighters buried in their hometown of La Grave in the Haute Alps, west of Lyon.

Young French Resistance fighters buried in their hometown of La Grave in the Haute Alps, west of Lyon.


 

Sources and Acknowledgements

Interview:
Dr. Alan Marshall, September 20, 2014.
Lyon, Paris.

Andrew Boag, “Monotype and phototypesetting”
http://www.letterpress.ch/APINET/IMMPDF/MONOPHOTO/PHS_journal.pdf

Frank Romano, “The Phototypesetting Era”
The Journal of the American Printing History Association
Volume XXIII, Number 2, 2003.

Images

All photography, Eric Allen
http://foreignseen.com/about-eric-allen
with the exception of the Higgonet and Moulard from

Kevin Donley, “Louis Moulard: 1914-2010
January 2013
https://multimediaman.wordpress.com/2013/01/

 

 

 

Art & Crafts from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Black Mountain College & Penland School of Crafts 

blueridge

Date of Visit:  June 2014

1. Black Mountain College /Defunct Campus*
375 Eden Lake Road
Black Mountain, North Carolina
*Currently privately owned by Camp Rockmont for Boys

2. Black Mountain College and Museum Arts Center
56 Broadway Street
Asheville, North Carolina
Link

3. Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina
Link

Where western North Carolina rubs shoulders with Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina rise the Blue Ridge Mountains, some of the most beautiful mountains in the United States. The southern Appalachian peaks are higher than any others east of the Mississippi but of equal stature are the music, art and crafts that flow out of the hollows and valleys in between. We visited two centers of art education that originated in these mountains, one highly experimental (Black Mountain College) and the other more traditional (Penland School of Crafts). Although these schools started within 10 years of each other and both had a focus on the arts there is very little documented interaction between the two. Read on to understand why.

Musicians on the Blue Ridge Parkway preserve mountain music.

Musicians on the Blue Ridge Parkway preserve mountain music.

map2

Black Mountain College

Although Black Mountain College existed for only 20-some years, never achieved accreditation and barely enrolled more than about 50-80 students per term, the impressive roster of students and teachers who passed through significantly impacted American art ; Josef and Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa, Joseph Beuys, Harry Callahan, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, R. Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Franz Kline, Elaine Marie de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Cy Twombly, Peter Voulkos and many others.

We had been under the impression that the school was some kind of a “new world Bauhaus” but under closer investigation we learned that art was just one part of the BMC curricular view that music, art and drama “should no longer have a precarious existence on the fringes of the curriculum but…should be at the very center of things.” [1]  It was not originally intended as an art school, in fact the most influential member of its group of founders, John Andrew Rice, considered art schools as the “most awful places in the world.” At BMC the arts were originally meant as way for students to “express something of a student’s inner being, “not a ‘neurotic”, egoistic focus on making art.[2]

Robert_E_Lee_Hall

Robert E Lee Hall, Black Mountain’s first location, (r) view from the porch

Rice, fired from his professorship at Rollins College for unorthodox behavior and battling the administration, rounded up a few other ex-Rollins faculty and students to start their own educational experiment in 1933. Their initial effort coalesced within the buildings of a religious summer conference center left vacant during the winter in the town of Black Mountain (about an hour from Asheville). Because the founding group did not include art educators painter Josef Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni (both past instructors at the Bauhaus in Germany) were hired on the recommendation of Architect Phillip Johnson and the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, Edward M.M. Warburg (who was active in relocating artists who fled persecution in Europe). Mr. Albers did not speak English however his lack of language meshed with his pedagogy that art cannot be explained by words or literal descriptions…”the performance, how it is done, that is the content of art.” [3] It must have been a culture shock for the Albers to land in the American South shortly after leaving their home in Berlin.

Joseph Albers teaching a drawing class, Annie Albers weaving. Photos from Western Regional Archives.

Joseph Albers teaching a drawing class, Anni Albers weaving. Photos from Western Regional Archives.

BMC was an exercise in democratic cooperation— the faculty owned the college and included the students in decisions about curriculum and policy. Faculty and students lived in close proximity and dined together at each meal. Every decision of consequence, including student applicants and faculty hiring, was by consensus in a seemingly endless schedule of community meetings. As in all such intimate arrangements personalities, personal philosophies, slights and major disagreements lead to dissension. Rice lost the confidence of the community after professional and personal missteps and was asked to resign in 1940.

FacultyBlack_Mountain_College

Faculty meeting; Left to right: Robert Wunsch, Josef Albers, Heinrich Jalowetz, Theodore Dreier, Erwin Straus, unknown, Lawrence Kocher.

By 1941 the college relocated to their own year-round campus on a rural setting of 667 acres featuring a small lake and a few cottages. Grandiose plans for the new buildings were drawn up by Walter Gropius and his partner Marcel Breuer but the estimated construction cost was out of reach for the perennially cash-strapped college.  A. Lawrence Kocher (on the faculty from 1940-43) proposed a more modest general “studies building.” The construction was overseen by a local contractor using the labor of BMC students. (Can you imagine asking students to help build their own campus today?) There was, understandably, some student discontent about the arrangement and the work sessions reduced to 3 afternoons a week.

Male students working on the new campus.

Student worker Don Page, (left) Male students working on stone crew at the new campus.

Black Mountain College on Lake Eden

Black Mountain College on Lake Eden

The Albers introduced Black Mountain’s most successful program, the  Summer Institutes, in 1944. Summer 1945 included visual and performing arts; Walter Gropius, Lionel Feininger, Alvin Lustig, Robert Motherwell on the art faculty and musicians and composers Ronald Hayes, Carol Brice and Alfred Einstein in the Music Institute. The success of the summer program convinced Albers and sympathetic faculty that the college should concentrate specifically on the arts during the winter term. During this early post-war period the full-time student body grew to almost 100 funded by tuitions from the GI bill. BMC painting stars, Robert Rauschenberg (drawn to Josef Albers’s rigorous curriculum) his future wife, Susan Weil, and Kenneth Noland studied at the college.

Crafts were not taught at BMC although a ceramics studio was established. The Albers looked down on ceramics, and crafts in general as “associated with hobbies, Nazi kitsch, and therapy.” [4] Nevertheless an impressive number of important artists-in-residence worked in ceramics: Daniel Rhodes, Warren MacKenzie, Peter Volkous, Karen Karnes and David Weinrib. Voulkos and Weinri pushed ceramics beyond the craft arena into fine art sculpture. None of the faculty received much salary. Karnes reports that pay was $25 a month for teaching along with free room and board. BMC attracted the sort of individual who was less concerned about money than the artistic freedom the college afforded.

"Dining

The Community Dining Hall / Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome with Student Helpers.

The Summer Institute continued after the Albers’ departure in 1947. During the 1952 session John Cage performed his Theater Piece No. 1, an unscripted event considered by many as the first Happening. The Dada-like multimedia performance featured simultaneous events; Cage read texts from atop stepladder, Rauschenberg displayed his white paintings, David Tutor performed on the piano, Charles Olson and M.C. Richards recited poetry while Merce Cunningham and a dog danced around an audience seated in four triangular areas.

Money from the summer sessions probably allowed BMC to live a bit longer than it might if solely dependent upon the term students. During the last few years, as the school spiraled toward bankruptcy, the curriculum shifted to literary arts. Work of avant-garde poets and writers at the college (or somehow connected to the school) appeared in The Black Mountain Review.
Review

Ideological differences, a constantly shifting faculty and student body, a reputation of Bohemianism and a serious lack of funds led to the college’s closure in 1956. The campus is now privately owned.

BMC2014

Black Mountain general studies building seen from across Lake Eden, 2014.

 Visiting Black Mountain College Today

A lovely stretch of tree-lined road leads you a spot where the campus is viewable from across Lake Eden. (We can’t stress enough that the campus is now private. We were permitted access as the camp was not yet in session).  On close inspection Kocher’s building is showing its age. Large trees and bushes obscure the Modernist lines. A set of murals, painted by Jean Charlot during the first Summer Institute have severely faded. However you can sense how it must have felt like a creative utopia, ringed by hills protecting the artists from the outside world.
BMC_closefront

The studies building from the back.

The studies building from the back.

Jean Charlot (who studied under Diego Rivera) painting a mural "Learning" during the first Summer Institute. (r) The remains of that mural today.

Jean Charlot (who studied under Diego Rivera) painting a mural “Learning” during the first Summer Institute. (r) The remains of that mural today.

The Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center

In 1993 Mary Holden founded the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Asheville to preserve its legacy. We arrived on a Saturday morning at opening time and entered into the gallery space filled with selections from the permanent collection. Apart from the show there was a nice video about the history of the college and a good selection of books for purchase. Having read a few of them, we can recommend both Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey and Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community by Martin Duberman. Entrance is free and the location, in downtown Asheville is convenient to the hip sections in town. Well worth the stop.

The Black Mountain Museum in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

RauschenbergFront

Center stage in the gallery : Rauschenberg’s Opal Gospel, 1971.
Interchangeable panels of silk-screened plexiglas.

RauschenbergBack

Opal Gospel, Rear view

Cageetall

Rauschenberg cover design, John Cage Suite for a Toy Piano, and more Black Mountain Review.

Susan Weil, Musical Chairs, 1995. (r) Kenneth Noland Untitled, etching, 1990

Susan Weil, Musical Chairs, 1995. (r) Kenneth Noland Untitled, etching, 1990

 

The Penland School of Crafts

Pen;and's "front lawn"

Penland’s “front lawn”

After leaving Black Mountain it was just a short drive to Penland School of Crafts. Once again we were entering a beautiful rural campus much removed from the rest of the world but despite their proximity and originating within five years of each other there was apparently very little connection between the two establishments. While both schools fostered a spirit of cooperation BMC was all about experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration influenced by academic Europeans while Penland was an all-American endeavor born out of a mission for traditional craft revival.

(We dug around and found a few intersections of note: In 1945 Anni Albers is on record as having lectured at Penland on Functional Design in Relation to Weaving. In 1967 former BMC ceramic artist-in-residence, Karen Karnes, taught at Penland where she was first exposed to salt glazing, a turning point in her work.)

Karen Karnes and Anni Albers, the two artists known to have associated with both Black Mountain College and Penland School of Crafts.

Karen Karnes and Anni Albers, the two artists known to have associated with both Black Mountain College and Penland School of Crafts.

AlbersPenland2

Notation from the Southern Highland Guild newsletter about a workshop held at Penland in the fall of 1945. Anni Albers lectured on design. (Archives, Southern Highland Craft Guild)

AlbersPenland

Penland’s Origins

Penland’s forerunner, the Appalachian Industrial School, was an Episcopal vocational mission school founded in 1914 by Reverend Rufus Morgan (1885-1983) to provide economic support to mountain families. Rufus’ sister, Lucy Calista Morgan (1889-1981) arrived in 1920 to teach but was also urged by her brother,”to learn to weave, and to possibly interest others enough to revive an art that had lingered longer in the mountains than anywhere else.” [5]

During the winter of 1923 ‘Miss Lucy’ studied weaving under Swedish-born weaver Anna Ernberg during an extended visit at Berea College in Kentucky. As early as 1893 Berea’s president William G. Frost “recognized the possibilities for employment of mountain craftspeople at a time when industrialization had diminished the production of crafts in the large urban centers of the country, and consumerism had found its way into the Appalachian Mountains, ending what had been a survival skill of the 18th century. Consumerism entered mountain communities through country stores and the arrival of the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog.” [6] While at Berea Miss Lucy also met Edith Matheny who had established a successful cottage industry of community weavers, the Berea Fireside Industries and was deeply inspired. 

In the spring Miss Lucy returned to North Carolina with a mission to both preserve the local art of weaving and to improve the lives of her community (as was the prevailing philosophy of the William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement that was sweeping the county). She initiated the Fireside Industries of the Appalachian School by teaching a local woman to weave and paid her for her wares. As soon as the news circulated that there was a means for women to earn a living from home Miss Lucy was besieged with anxious weaving students. A dedicated weaving cottage was built with donations of logs and labor from the students and community.

Lucy Morgan founded Penland School of Crafts, and is shown here in the Weaving Cabin, c. 1935, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, Bayard Wooten photograph

Lucy Morgan founder of the Penland School of Crafts shown in the Weaving Cabin, c. 1935, (University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, B. Wooten photograph)

With a group of over of 60 weavers in her charge Miss Lucy invited well-known weaving expert and champion of the manual education movement, Edward Francis Worst (1866-1949), to  work with the weavers. A published report from that event generated such interest from weavers all over the country that the following year (1929) Mr. Worst returned to a class of locals mixed with out-of-state students. The Fireside Industries was soon renamed  The Penland School of Weavers and then again as The Penland School of Weavers and Potters. The school remained under The Appalachian School until 1938 and then became its own entity.

(L) Lucy Morgan advertises for outlets for her weavers products (r) Edward Worst  (and wife) who taught a session of weaving every summer form 1929-1948.(Shown outside the Edward f. Wrost Craft House in 1936)

(L) 1923, Lucy Morgan appeals for outlets for her weavers products (r) Edward Worst (and wife) who taught weaving every summer from 1929-1948.(Shown outside the Edward F. Worst Craft House in 1936)

Today Penland is a thriving community of students who arrive for two-week workshops, 8-week intensive studies, two-year core studies or as part of the highly selective 3-year artist-in residence program. There are 14 media offerings including clay, paper, printing, letterpress, metal, iron, wood, glass, photography and of course, weaving. Each area has a dedicated studio building with plenty of studio space for each student.

We spent an inspiring and exhausting two weeks at Penland, one of us enrolled in letterpress and the other in woodworking. The facilities were terrific. Our teachers, leaders in their fields, were inspiring and helpful. The mish-mash of over 140 strangers bonded quickly into a cohesive bunch of artists who supported and admired each other’s work.

Original weaving cabin exterior (r) due shed on Penland campus today.

Original weaving cabin exterior (r) dye shed on Penland campus today.

The Penland Campus (from Penland.org)

The Penland Campus (from Penland.org)

Working in the letterpress print shop.

Working in the letterpress print shop.

Sculptor Jon Brooks demonstrates in front of the wood building.

Sculptor Jon Brooks demonstrates in front of the wood building.

Weaver Edwina Bringle and her twin sister ceramicist Cynthia, resident fixtures at Penland

Weaver Edwina Bringle and her twin sister ceramicist Cynthia, residents at Penland seen at the end of session “show and tell.”

Certainly being in the protective environment of the hills helped us block out the world and delve deeply into our work. There are precious few places like this and hopefully Penland will continue into the future, alive and flourishing unlike its past neighbor at Black Mountain.

Nichi, nichi kore ko kore.” Every day is a good day – a Zen saying adopted  by students at Black Mountain College.

 


Sources and Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Deb Schillo, librarian at Southern Highland Craft GuildAndrew Glasgow at Penland School of Crafts and Professor Christopher Benfey (Author, Professor and The Albers’ grandnephew) for helping me verify facts  on Anni Albers at Penland.

[1] Duberman,Martin.  Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community. 2009, Northwestern University Press, p.38.

[2] Ibid, p. 41.

[3] Ibid, p. 47.

[4] Benfey, Christopher. Correspondence.

[5] Morgan, Lucy. Gift from the Hills. The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2011). Page 9.

[6] Stopenhagen Broomfield, Sarah. 2006. Weaving Social Change: Berea College Fireside Industries and Reform in Appalachia. Textile Society of America Symposium. University of Nebraska – Lincoln Digital Commons.

Other Sources
Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. Christopher Benfey. 2013. Penguin Books.
Craft Revival: Shaping Western Northern Carolina Past and Present, Western Carolina University Hunter Library, Digital Collections. Link

Western Carolina University Hunter Library Digital Collections, Appalachian SchoolDepartment of Fireside Industries1923/1924

Image Credits

Robert E. Lee Hall from Wikipedia and YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly

Albers, Faculty Meeting, BMC Work Camp, Weaving cabin images from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Western Regional Archives Link

Images: Blue Mountains, inside BMC Museum and 2014 Rockport Camp, Penland today  by Eric Allen Link

Anni Albers Guild Workshop documentation, Southern Highlands Craft Guild Library.

Edward Worst and wife Link

 

 

 

 

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