Katherine McCoy : Thoughts on Design Writing

April 19, 2015 § 3 Comments

Women’s History Month 2016

Date of Visit: March 4, 2016

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

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 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.


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

Art & Crafts from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Black Mountain College & Penland School of Crafts 


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

3. Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina

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.


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, 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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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


Opal Gospel, Rear view


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.


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)


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





Andreu Balius: A Visit to Catalonia and the TypeRepublic

January 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Date of Visit : April 2013

Andreu Balius
Mila I Fontanalas 14-26 2n 2g
Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain)

Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque
calle Cardenal Herrero 1, 14003 Cordoba, Spain

Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque in Cordoba is church built inside of an existing mosque. Below Mudejar brickwork on a church tower in Tarazona.

The Unique Arts Heritage in Spain
Each region of Spain has its own unique cultural and political viewpoint, however, almost all share the common influence of 800 years of rule by Muslims from North Africa (800-1492). The Moors, who referred to their holdings on the Iberian peninsula as Al-Andalus, infused their architecture and crafts with decoration as prescribed by Islamic culture: complex patterns derived from geometry or vegetation as well as elaborate interlocking calligraphy. 

The distinctive style of Al-Andalusian art and architecture evolved through the confluence of two factors — geography and religion. Massive mountain ranges separated the country from the rest of Europe but it lay distant from the major Islamic centers as well. This position allowed for a community that intermingled diverse cultures along with their respective artistic traditions.

Islamic motifs were retained as part of the vernacular even after the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 15th century. The Islamic-influenced style is known as Mudejar, a derivation of the Arabic world “mudayyan”, translated as “he who is permitted to remain”.

Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque in Cordoba is church built inside of an existing mosque. Below Mudejar brickwork on a church tower in Tarazona.

Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque in Cordoba is church built inside of an existing mosque. Below Mudejar brickwork on a church tower in Tarazona.

Church Tower

Typography in Spain


Is there any evidence of Mudajer in Spanish typography? We will address that a bit later on, but first what is “Spanish style” typography? The term appears frequently in typographic literature but it is hard to find a solid explanation. (And there are those who strongly contest the notion of national styles.)

Printing and punchcutting arrived in Spain long after it commenced in the other parts of Europe, almost twenty-five years after Gutenberg’s bible. The first book printed in Spain was executed with imported typefaces. The printer was German, Lambert Palmert who set up his press in Valencia and quickly collaborated with a local goldsmith, Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba (presumably to fabricate type for the press). In the hands of Fernández and other Spanish metalworkers the imported type design soon acquired, as type historian Daniel B. Updike wrote, “something characteristically Spanish.”

Updike seems at a loss to explain clearly how Spanish style crept into the existing designs – only that it must have been “something about the air, the sky and the landscape that bewitched the immigrant German printers.” The Spanish style proved stealthy and pervasive, “Even the Spanish copies of Baskerville and Caslon acquired a Spanish flavor.” Updike’s vague explanations finally concede with “Like the flavor of olives, “Spanish” cannot be described.”


Andreu Balius: The TypeRepublic
Along the northeastern coast of Spain lies the autonomous community of Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, home of the TypeRepublic. Although the actual territory of the TypeRepublic is confined to a computer on the desk of type designer Andreu Balius (and virtual space of the internet) we were still able to enjoy a very pleasant visit there in April 2013.

We traveled by subway, surfacing near some of the city’s fantastical Art Moderne architecture, however Mr. Balius’s building on Mila i Fontanals felt straight out of New York’s Chelsea district — a clean modern building housing studio spaces for model agencies, photographers and artists. On the third floor we found Balius’s studio, part of a cooperative space shared with other designers and illustrators. After greetings and introductions we left Balius’s studio mates lunching at the communal table in the front of the studio and moved to his section.

Balius: Education and Training
Balius is the kind of person we like to meet – a combination of very accomplished yet casually approachable. An outdoor enthusiast and avid traveler, he is also a serious student. He first studied sociology at the University of Barcelona before developing an interest in visual communication. A degree in Graphic Design at IDEP (Barcelona) was followed by another in Fine Arts (Graphic Design) at Southampton University in the United Kingdom and finally a PhD in Design from the University of Southampton UK in 2013. Balius extensively studies type history both as a personal interest and as part of his design process. To better grasp letter formation he trained with master calligrapher Keith Adams. (And another Adams link)  All of these studies contributed to a personal design process, including his sociologist commitment to make all of his type design work within an appropriate social context.

We started our discussion with a quick overview of Spanish type history touching on the work of several major figures from The Golden Era of Spanish punchcutters; Eudald Pradell (1721–1788), Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros (1732-1812), Geronimo Gil. Also acknowledged were the more recent Richard Gans Foundry (active 1888-1975) and printer and typographer Ricard Giralt Miracle (1911-1994). Each is an interesting topic unto itself, but the one Balius knows most intimately is Eudald Paradell (or Edward Pradell) after creating a historical interpretation of Pradell’s work for digital use.
Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 5.00.26 PM
Pradell, an illiterate but a highly skillful engraver of armor, is recognized as Spain’s first punchcutter. Under the royal patronage of Carlos III, Pradell opened a foundry in Madrid to produce fonts for Spain’s Imprenta Royal. Balius’s work on Pradell earned awards from ATypI 2001 and the Type Directors Club in 2002. The descriptive blurb for the digital version on myfonts.com states “Although it is a very contemporary product, Pradell has a very distinctive Spanish flavor.” (There is no elaboration on what Spanish flavor means, not even a reference to olives or the Spanish sky.) Balius later created a customized version of Pradell, (Pradell Chillan) for La discussion, a newspaper in Chile.

Small world---During the AtypI95 Barcelona conference Balius met Designtraveler interviewee Margaret Richardson (Portland, Oregon) as she researched the type scene in Spain.

Small world—During the AtypI95 Barcelona conference Balius met Designtraveler interviewee Margaret Richardson (Portland, Oregon) as she researched the type scene in Spain.

Starting out in the 1990’s, when learning digital type design was not an academic option, Balius taught himself the complexities of digital media. His first type face, Temble, (a rather distorted design) was released through ITC in 1996 and is still available today.Temble
In 1993 Balius initiated a co-operative type design community “open to anyone that wanted to take part”. The over 60 fonts offered were created in the spirit of experimentation. (Today the community goes under the name Garcia Fonts.)

From 1996 to 2001 he co-created Typerware with Joan Calres Pérez Casasin based in the village Santa Maria de Martorelles (near Barcelona). Balius and Casasin jointly designed the whimsical Font Soup in 1997, later reworked into a German version for FontFont.

(Hmmmm are there national identities at play here?)

(Hmmmm are there national identities at play here?)

Balius: Type Offerings
Today Balius’s personal selling vehicle is the TypeRepublic, an independent foundry featuring commercially available fonts as well as a showcase for his custom work. We only had time to discuss a few of our favorites.

Elizabeth, 2005
This face, originally designed by Elizabeth Friedlander for Bauersche Giesserei foundry in 1938, is one of the few type designs by a woman before the digital age. Normally a font is identified by a designer’s last name (think Gill, Caslon, Didot, etc) but this design was created in Germany during the late 1930’s when a Jewish name was considered a liability. Friedlander was rejected for the more Arian friendly Elizabeth.

Top row: Balius created a roman, italic and Swash italic. Bottom row : Original Elizabeth taken from Pauline Pauker’s, The Working life of Elizabeth Friedlander.

Top row: Balius created a roman, italic and Swash italic. Bottom row : Original Elizabeth taken from Pauline Pauker’s, The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander.

Commissioned by Fundicion Tipographica Neufville, Balius based his interpretation of Elizabeth upon specimens in an old Bauer type catalog (although the final digital version required extensive optical scaling).
The Gypsy Carmen

Carmen, 2007-2008

Another of Balius’s fonts carries a female’s first name however the design, entirely by Balius, reflects the passion and intrigue of the infamous Spanish gypsy. A 2008 commission for Prosper Merimée’s Carmen (1845) the design is firmly rooted in Didot, the major type influence of the 19th century.
 In 2011, the sexy retailer, Victoria’s Secret, commissioned a promotion display version of Carmen. It was awarded one of the year’s best typefaces in 2008 from Typographica.org and named a Top Type of 2009 by FontShop.

A Latin-Arabic Typeface: Al-Andalus (2009-2013)

A one-week course in non-Latin typography at The University of Reading inspired Balius to create a typeface design that would address communication between the Latin and Arabic languages used in his home country. To better understand the form and function of an unfamiliar language he studied Arabic calligraphy from a Syrian calligrapher based in Barcelona. Balius based his design on the calligraphic style, Naskh, the form most commonly used for printing Arabic.

The digital execution of this face was difficult because Balius’s usual software, FontLab, could not handle the Arabic writing system from right to left and complex diacritics. His solution was to use a newer untested program, Glyphs.

The digital execution of this face was difficult because Balius’s usual software, FontLab, could not handle the Arabic writing system from right to left and complex diacritics. His solution was to use a newer untested program, Glyphs.

Balius designed the Arabic font to combine perfectly with his existing roman face PradellAl Andalus includes a complete set of characters in Arabic, including all glyphs for Farsi & Urdu, as well as a complete set of ligatures and basic punctuation.

Al-Andalus sample from TypeRepublic

Al-Andalus sample from TypeRepublic

There are so many more of Balius’s original and custom designs that we did not have time to discuss (check out his website). It is also possible to read his thoughts on type application in his book, Type at Work, The Use of Type in Editorial Design, published in English by BIS (Amsterdam, 2003).

Leaving the Type Republic


Outside of type design Balius is an outdoor enthusiast – hiking and mountain biking are his favorite activities. He also travels extensively throughout the world giving workshops and lecturing at prestigious conferences.  Whether on the road for fun or work he takes along sketchbooks to record his unending flow of ideas.

We left with a better understanding of his typography and a list of places for hiking and visiting in Southern Spain. He recommended some great hikes in the White Villages of Andalusia.

One of the White Villages

One of the White Villages

During the remainder of the trip we kept our eyes open for type designs that we felt displayed some of the decorative influence of Mudejar.

In Cadiz we came across one that seemed it could not be German or English or French...

In Cadiz we came across type that could not be German or English or French…

Spanish Black letter in Granada

Spanish Black letter in Granada

We were also intrigued by lettering that was hand drawn on the walls of a university building in the town of Baeza. Only later did we realize that Balius had created a custom typeface, Universitas, from that same academic lettering tradition.


Balius, Universitas

Balius, Universitas

For more of Spain and Spanish typography see our guest post on Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro in Madrid on Printeresting.org.

Additional Sources 

Carmen image from design boom

Paucker, Pauline: “New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander.”
(Oldham): Incline Press, (1998)

San Francisco: A Stroll Through the Monotype District

October 7, 2013 § 1 Comment

Featuring Type Designer Carl Crossgrove
Date of Visit : 
November 2012

I. Carl Crossgrove
Monotype Imaging
1875 South Grant Street, Suite 720
San Mateo, CA 94402

II. M&H Type Foundry
1802 Hays Street, The Presidio
San Francisco, CA

NOTICE: This entry suggested only for serious typographic enthusiasts!

The Monotype Type Casting System
From its start in the mid-15th century, type composition (arranging cast metal letters for printing a page of text) was a labor-intensive process requiring scores of employees (including strike-prone trade union members). During the 19th century the demand for an automated system spurred a number of inventors to invest their careers and fortunes in that endeavor. One of the most successful entrants in the race to automate was the Monotype type casting system, patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887.

Tolbert Lanston, inventor, civil war veteran and employee in the Pension Office in Washington, DC. His invention required two pieces of equipment: a keyboard and a metal type-caster.

Tolbert Lanston, inventor, civil war veteran and employee in the Pension Office in Washington, DC. His invention required two pieces of equipment: a keyboard and a
metal type-caster. The process began with an operator typing the text using a keyboard
of 276 keys, the amount required to cover all of a font variants such as italic, bold, etc.)
Each key strike triggered a series of hole punches along the length
of a 4-inch wide paper ribbon.

That perforated or “programmed” ribbon next moved to the type-caster where it directed the casting of metal type characters from molten metal. The type was deposited in galleys in the correct sequence (type composition). Within the caster lay the brass matrix (above left). Later after the type was no longer needed, it was melted down for reuse rather than hand-distributed back in storage. (Monotype was softer than traditional foundry type and wore more quickly.) This “non-distribution” system saved countless hours of work.

That perforated or “programmed” ribbon next moved to the type-caster where it directed the casting of metal type characters from molten metal. The type was deposited in galleys in the correct sequence (type composition). Within the caster lay the brass matrix (above left). Later after the type was no longer needed, it was melted down for reuse rather than hand-distributed back in storage. (Monotype was softer than traditional foundry type and wore more quickly.)
This “NON-DISTRIBUTION” system saved countless hours of work.

Lanston’s complex invention was fraught with serious problems that threatened its viability. John Sellers Bancroft, a mechanical engineer in Philadelphia, came to the rescue in 1899 as he “took what came to him scarcely more than an ingenious mechanical toy, frail, unreliable and difficult to construct” and redesigned it. He “produced a thoroughly practicable substantial machine of much greater scope and capacity than the original. From a partial failure Bancroft evolved a great commercial and mechanical success.”

Monotype’s main competition was the Linotype, a device that cast entire lines of type. Each of the two systems had certain advantages: Linotype’s lines of type were easier to move around in large set-ups, making it practical for newspapers whereas the Monotype system produced single letters, easier to tweak when setting complex material or to correct in case of error, a better match for small fine press printers and mid-range production shops. Elbert Hubbard of the Arts and Crafts era Roycroft Press, purchased a Monotype caster for his shop in East Aurora, New York. Hubbard embraced the new mechanized type system with his typically populist enthusiasm. “Goodbye Expert. Farewell, Prima Donna. Any compositor can operate this new composing machine at sight.”

Lanston Monotype grew into one of the top three type suppliers in the world. In addition to manufacturing type casters, the company designed and supplied fonts adapted to work with their system. The type library expanded and grew prominent in the decades between 1920 – 1950 under the management of Sol Hess (designer of 85 typefaces) and the designs he commissioned from Frederic Goudy.

British Monotype

A separate type concern was born from Lanston’s Monotype, the British Lanston Monotype Corporation Ltd. In 1887, just after obtaining his patent, Lanston needed a cash infusion to complete the refinements on his invention.  Financial relief came from the sale of the British and colonial patent rights for $1,000,000 to a group headed by Great Britain’s Lord Dunraven (who installed himself as chairman at the London office).

At first the British branch repaired and refitted the Monotype casters shipped from the United States and offered training classes for Monotype keyboard operators. All of the initial type offerings were limited to existing 19th century type designs (Albions, Clarendons, Grotesques, Old Faces and Moderns) that were adapted to work with the Monotype system. By 1911 the first original type offering, Veronese, was released.

Morison in 1912 (Image: Barker) In 1953 Morison wrote a collection of essays about some of his Monotype revivals: Italian Renaissance (Centaur, Bembo, Polifilo, Blado), French Renaissance (Garamond, Granjon), 18th C (Fournier le jeune, Baskerville and Bell) and 20th century designs of Goudy Modern, Perpertua (Gill) and Times New Roman (by Morison and Victor Lardent). (image: DT library).

Morison in 1912 (Image: Barker) In 1953 Morison wrote a collection of essays about some of his Monotype revivals: Italian Renaissance (Centaur, Bembo, Polifilo, Blado), French Renaissance (Garamond, Granjon), 18th C (Fournier le jeune, Baskerville and Bell) and 20th century designs of Goudy Modern, Perpertua (Gill) and Times New Roman (by Morison and Victor Lardent). (image: Designhistory.org).

Things changed after WWI when the company expanded in response to the peacetime demand for equipment and new typefaces. The UK branch started manufacturing equipment and embarked on an ambitious type development program. The chief architect of the British Monotype library was Stanley Morrison, a self-educated type expert and contributing author to prestigious typographic journals such as the Fleuron and Penrose Annual. While writing for UK Monotype’s house organ, Monotype Recorder, Morison’s proposal for developing a “programme of typographical design, rational, systematic, and corresponding effectively with the foreseeable needs of modern printing” earned him the position as British Monotype’s typographic advisor in 1922 —and a pulpit from which he would exert a serious influence over the future of modern type design. Morison commissioned and developed numerous important type designs but is broadly known for his involvement with Times New Roman (1932) a face he developed (drawn by Victor Lardent) as a challenge to improve legibility of The London Times.

By the 1940’s British Monotype broke into three divisions, each independent entities. Its name changed, as did ownership, through continual acquisitions of other type vendors and a merger with Agfa /Compugraphic in 1998. Today as Monotype Imaging, the company has acquired some of the best known type libraries in the world, including Bitstream, ITC and its old rival, Linotype. Currently based in Boston, there are offices across the US, throughout the UK, Europe and the Pacific rim.

Monotype in San Francisco

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries San Francisco was home to a large concentration of printers, making it an ideal location for type founding. On a recent stop in San Francisco we were able to see some of the West Coast descendants from both the British and American Monotype still actively at work. From Monotype Imaging we met with type designer Carl Crossgrove and later briefly toured one of the last stops of the Lanston Monotype Company, the M&H foundry.

Announcing the California location of Lanston Monotype in the Rialto Building at 116 New Montgomery Street.

Announcing the California location of Lanston Monotype in the Rialto Building
at 116 New Montgomery Street.

Today Monotype descendants are housed  in two locations: 1. From British Monotype: The San Mateo office is on the 7th floor  2. From Lanston Monotype, M&H Type in the Presido.

Today Monotype descendants are housed in two locations:
1. From British Monotype: The San Mateo office is on the 7th floor
2. From Lanston Monotype, M&H Type in the Presido.

Carl Crossgrove

One of ten staff designers for Monotype Imaging, Carl Crossgrove creates type for the digital market at the San Mateo location just outside San Francisco. He also releases faces through his personal foundry, Terrestial Design. Because he works from home two days a week we were able to meet him for a Mediterranean lunch in the Castro district. It was easy to spot his fierce signature mustache but behind that visage resides a refreshingly calm, self-effacing and thoughtful individual.

carl draws copy

Early Influences

Crossgrove spent his formative years experimenting with lettering styles influenced by comic books and album covers, but towards the end of his high school years he turned to classical lettering and calligraphy. Although Crossgrove’s path to becoming a full-time type designer was circuitous, he never ceased designing letterforms. He did not rush immediately to college after high school but spent time exploring other directions (including painting and a lot of printmaking), not aware that type design could be a viable occupation. Then, during a visit to Boston in 1990, he learned otherwise when he met David Berlow, Mike Parker and Matthew Carter of Bitstream (the first digital type foundry). He came to the realization that “there was actually such a thing as the type industry and type design could be a real career.”

He rather spontaneously attended a late summer type conference, Type90 in Oxford, England, and returned to attend the printing program at Rochester Institute of Technology. His intention was to train as a professional printer with hopes of building his own independent type practice on the side. Although there were not a lot of classes offered for the “type concentration” part of his degree program, he augmented his training by applying for a summer position for “type enthusiasts” that he stumbled across in the back of Fine Print on Type. The position was a six-month internship at Adobe Systems in Mountain View, California. Adobe Type Manager David Lemon hired Crossgrove based upon a telephone interview and his portfolio, the contents which Crossgrove now wryly recalls as being “rather primitive.” Two separate Adobe internships exposed Crossgrove to talented Adobe type designers, including Carol Twombly and Robert Slimbach, who influenced and refined his sensibilities. At both Adobe and RIT Crossgrove worked with the Ikarus system, teaching himself details of typography such as spacing, kerning, etc.

A font designed in collaboration with Carol Twombly and Kim Buker Chansler for Adobe in 1994. Other wood type faces he worked on at Adobe are Rosewood, Pepperwood and Zebrawood. He later designed the Reliq family for Adobe on his own.

A font designed in collaboration with Carol Twombly & Kim Buker Chansler for Adobe in 1994. Other wood type faces he worked on at Adobe are Rosewood, Pepperwood and Zebrawood

A student of type history and type designers, Crossgrove traveled to printing museums in Europe to study the original drawings of lettering giants Rudolf Koch, Georg Trump and Hermann Zapf. One of his most respected type heroes is Czech type designer Oldřich Menhart (1897-1962) who trained as a calligrapher and printer before beginning a career in type design. Menhart, who “saw writing, calligraphy, lettering and type design as belonging to the same discipline”, designed one typeface for British Monotype, Menhart Roman and Italic, in 1934.

A sample of Menhart’s Monotype design from Fine Print on Type, “Oldrich Menhart”, by Paul Duensing, San Francisco, 1989.

A sample of Menhart’s Monotype design from Fine Print on Type, “Oldrich Menhart”, by Paul Duensing, San Francisco, 1989.

In 2006, Crossgrove had the privilege of converting the 1934 Menhart Roman to a digital format for Monotype Imaging. Two of Crossgrove’s own original designs show influences of Menhart: Origami (Monotype, 1998) and Beorcana (released through Crossgrove’s own foundry, Terrestrial Designs, in 2006).

In 2006, Crossgrove had the privilege of converting the 1934 Menhart Roman to a digital format for Monotype Imaging. Two of Crossgrove’s own original designs show influences of Menhart: Origami (Monotype, 1998) and Beorcana (shown later in this article).


Crossgrove in San Francisco

After graduation from RIT in 1994 Crossgrove moved west to San Francisco where his highly technical printing education was more than adequate for his first position which he describes as “the curmudgeonly guy on the computer at the back of a quickie printer.” The shop was his necessary bread and butter as he continued to draw custom type designs on his own time.Curlz1995

Before long his side work received considerable attention. Curlz for Monotype (with Steve Matteson) was hugely popular (especially with my novelty-hungry students) in 1995. His Scripsit was given Serif Magazine’s Judge’s Choice Award in 1996. He also worked on heretofore unreleased proposals Tarantella Script, Ranunculus and Penmark. Following shortly after were Minska in 1997 for ITC and Reliq, with the look of ancient Greek graffiti, for Adobe in 1998.Minska
Although his early novel faces were popular, this direction was not necessarily where Crossgrove’s predilections were leaning. Some of his formers classmate from RIT, on staff at Monotype Imaging, fed him projects, and finally his hard work turned into a full-time position in 2001.

2002 with Steve Matteson

2002 with Steve Matteson

Crossgrove’s work at Monotype started with translating several historical revivals for digital format. His Othello, in 2002 (with Steve Matteson), is the heavy, rustic face originally offered by Monotype in 1928 as an alternative to Rudolph Koch’s Neuland.Fairbank
The delicate Fairbank allowed Crossgrove (in collaboration with Robin Nichols at Monotype in the UK) to work in a more calligraphic mode. The original design was by Alfred Fairbank (1895-1982), a disciple of Edward Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. It was Fairbanks’s only type face as he was more devoted to calligraphy and calligraphic activities and his role in the British Society of Scribes and Illuminators.

Crossgrove’s Advice for Fledgling Type Designers

Oldřich Menhart advocated for type designers to study old masters but then to develop a contemporary style. Similar advice comes from Crossgrove when he offers pearls of wisdom for aspiring type designers: “Get deeply into historical styles then create your own personal approach.” Additionally he suggests throwing away your first three type designs; he cites the Japanese practice of discarding the first 5 years of painting as an example. Another piece of advice is getting professional guidance. “You can train yourself but it is better to show your work to someone knowledgeable if you can.”

Crossgrove strongly believes in hand drawing: “I typically sketch letter shapes over and over, throughout the process of development, so that while the outlines are evolving in digital format, I’m testing shapes on paper at the same time.

Expansive Original Faces
Mundo SansMundo Sans
By 2003 Crossgrove was a seasoned and mature designer who was building a library of his own expansive type families. His ten-year project, Mundo Sans, has 14 styles with weights ranging from hairline to extremely bold. Inspired by faces like Gill, Futura and Syntax, Crossgrove “didn’t intend Mundo Sans to be revolutionary”; rather, he sought to create “a design with subtle pen ductus, a wide range of weights, and a fluid, unobtrusive italic.”


Seen in mass Beorcana is lively but does not over do it, making it likeable and longwearing. Beorcana (released through Crossgrove’s own foundry, Terrestrial Designs, in 2006).

Seen in mass Beorcana is lively but does not over do it, making it likeable and longwearing. Beorcana (released through Crossgrove’s own foundry, Terrestrial Designs, in 2006). Read more about it on a dedicated site www.beorcana.com

Described by some as Crossgrove’s magnum opus, the super family of Beorcana took 14 years to develop. The first release from his Terrestrial Design, Beorcana’s name refers to a runic letter for the European white birch tree, a symbol for new growth and possibility. It was an appropriate choice for a face that branched out to 28 styles.

Beorcana is a roman face designed without serifs, not a sans serif but rather a member of the unusual category of ‘serif less roman’ (or more appropriately, a calligraphic sans). The strokes appear to have grown from a pen, as does the very human diamond shaped dot over the i.  Although it is customary for text faces to have serifs, this calligraphically inspired face is expressly designed for text.

The amount of work behind this design is staggering. Crossgrove created each of the styles using optical sizing, ie. designing each variation based on his visual judgment, not just increasing or decreasing the strokes by mathematical increments. His attention to scaling means that even the micro-style—as small as 3-points—harmonizes with all of the other sizes and weights. The Type Directors Club cited the design for excellence in 2007.


Biome (2009), another TDC winner, is what Crossgrove terms a “superelliptical sans, more fluid and organic than the typical sans serif”. Crossgrove points out that the soft elliptical forms are not symmetrical; if you print them out and flip them upside-down this will become apparent. It has a “retro-futuristic” feel, the sort of vibe that the Modernists were trying to accomplish (in a non-retro way) in the 1950’s.

You can read more in depth descriptions of Beorcana and Biome on their dedicated web sites

You can read more in depth descriptions of Biome on its dedicated web site.

Noori Nastaliq

Crossgrove is especially happy that he has been able to experience a wide variety of styles. Recently he worked on a revival of an Arabic type family, Noori Nastaliq, a connecting style of calligraphy characterized by sloping word alignments. Working with linguist Kamal Mansour, manager of non-Latin type at Monotype, the pair devised forms to fulfill the need to slowly descend along a base line. Using Open Type technology Crossgrove analyzed the original calligraphy to find a common joining scheme that would work technically while providing fluid, realistic written joins.

Noori Nastaliq

Future Projects

Crossgrove has plans for future designs, I’ve never released a serif text face of my own design. Origami is really meant for display. I think the prospect is a little intimidating when there are centuries of excellent serif book types in a huge range of styles. If I can come up with a design that serves modern purposes, I would like to complete a small serif family. I’d also like to finish a rough calligraphic design that’s been on hold for a long time: Tarantella Script. I think there is potential in the sort of eccentric, dark style of it.

Now in his 40’s, Crossgrove is well positioned between the old guard and the new. With his range of experience, his historical perspective and intense dedication  his complete oeuvre will likely be substantial.

II. M&H Typecasting

While the digitally adapted Monotype Imaging is still active, the American Lanston Monotype did not fare as well. During the decades after Goudy, labor disputes and manufacturing issues plagued the company. It was resold a number of times before American Type Founders purchased it in 1969, then sold to Mackenzie and Harris (M&H) in San Francisco and finally in 1983 by Gerald Giampa (1950 – 2009). Giampa set up shop on Prince Edward Island where he manufactured the type casters until 1987 when, in 2000,  the last remnants of the Lanston Monotype machine works and institutional records were lost in a tidal wave. Today all that remains are the rights to the Lanston Monotype name and font library, now owned by the digital font foundry, P22, in Buffalo, New York. (E. Holub sent this correction: Giampa never manufactured Monotype casters as stated above. He purchased the patterns and machines for making the matrices necessary for typecasting, but it seems that all that ever resulted from his purchase of the remains of one department of Lanston was digital type.)

M&H Monotype Equipment

M&H Monotype Equipment

Cast type in the M&H inventory. the figure on the left is Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press speeding  us through that dark and silent Sunday at the shop.

Cast type in the M&H inventory. The figure on the left is Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press speeding us through that dark and silent Sunday at the shop. Tours for the public are normally offered on Thursdays.

While in San Francisco we had a very quick peak at the type foundry, M&H Typecasting, one of the last stops along the Lanston Monotype trail.  The foundry is located in the historic Presidio complex as part of the Arion Press. Because we arrived on a Sunday, the machines were not working; however the shelves were lined with packages of recently cast type and the row of machines attested to a busy operation. One can find a catalog of their fonts at their website.nicks
How can you differentiate Lanston from British Monotype if you are a letterpress printer or student with access to metal type? Monotype is a general term covering a number of iterations of the original caster: composition, sorts, giant, supercaster and Thompson are all casters from Monotype and each machine casts a very different type. However, I have been taught that the shape of the nick is a reliable indicator.

Shown above left is a piece of Lanston Type from M&H, identifiable by the round knick. On the right is a piece of English Monotype from the Bixler Foundry in Skaneateles, New York, sporting a square nick.  But of course the explanation of Monotype is never simple, and since we are not a type casting expert we turned to Rob LoMascolo, printer and trained type caster, for a better understanding of how to differentiate the two.  (Rob is the proud owner of a 1968 English Composition Caster and plans to refurbish it in the near future.)

The English/ American Monotype division is somewhat confusing. For example, the Bixlers use all English mats, but that does not mean that they are using all English Monotype equipment. English Monotype mats can be cast on an American caster, and American mats can be used on an English caster. The biggest difference between the American and the English mats is the depth of drive. The depth of drive is how deeply the letters are recessed into the mat, and thereby how high the face of the type will be on its body once cast.  American mats are .030” and the English are .050”. The deeper depth of drive of the English mats makes type that will wear better, especially with characters that kern.”

Ok, have you got that?  There is still a smattering of commercial Monotype casters across the US: in addition to M&H and Bixler are Skyline Type Foundry in Prescott, Arizona, and Sterling Foundries in Indianapolis, Indiana. Monotype casters also survive in the hands of dedicated private individuals who still cast their own type and sometimes work with serious printers, Hill & Dale (West Virginia), Firefly (Boston) and Ed Rayher’s Swamp Press in Northfield, Massachusetts.

Here’s hoping that a different sort of tidal wave (not the destructive sort but one of burgeoning interest in letterpress printing) helps to sustain the remaining Monotype casters for the foreseeable future.

In addition to our Interview : Some Sources Used for this Article.

Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 187 by Persifor Frazer, Apr 1919, pages 518-519.

Fine Print on Type, “Oldrich Menhart”, by Paul Duensing, San Francisco, 1989.

Catalogue of Printed Material issued by The Monotype Corporation.

The Monotype Story, by Fred Williams, Editor-Publisher, Type & Press, Spring 1984.

Stanley Morison: Significant Historian, 21 October 2011, HYPERLINK: “http://www.lawsonarchive.com/category/typographically-speaking/” Typographically Speaking, The Alexander S. Lawson Archive.

Barker, Nicolas, Stanley Morison, Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (June 1972).

Surviving Radical Technological Change through Dynamic Capability: Evidence from the Typesetter Industry, HYPERLINK : http://ideas.repec.org/s/oup/indcch.html”Industrial & Corporate Change. Oxford University Press, Volume 6 (1997), No: 2 (March), Pages: 341-77.

Burian, Veronika and Shaw, Paul. Type with Spirit: The Work of Oldřich Menhart.  Codex: The Journal of Letterforms, Fall 2012.


Smitshuijzen, Edo, Interview with Kamal Mansour, Manager of non-Latin products at Monotype. Hyperlink http://www.khtt.net/person/250/en

Coming In November 2013 -Andreu Balius and his Type Republic in Barcelona.

Philadelphia 1776–2013: A Day in Women’s History Month

March 7, 2013 § 3 Comments

Date of visit: March 2, 2013arabesque2

I. Benjamin Franklin Court
Gentlewomen of the Press
317 Chestnut Street

II. Monotype Factory Building
Women typecasters during war-time
24th and Locust Street

III. Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers

What do we know about the history of women in the graphic arts? According to all of the major academic texts on the subject virtually no women worked in the field before the mid-twentieth century. However, despite the impression left by those authors there have been women printers, typesetters, type casters, punch cutters, type drafters and type designers since the 16th century. Women have worked alongside their fathers, husbands and brothers as valuable partners, regularly taking over while men traveled, left to fight in wars, were incarcerated or inebriated. If the absent man was able to return to his press the women were frequently demoted or dismissed.

Just as their own families have marginalized the roles of these women so have modern design historians. In 1920, the eminent type historian Daniel Berkeley Updike, (himself a grandson and great-grandson of the colonial Goddard women printers) wrote of the female worker matter-of-factly and dismissively, “women in the type foundry, like child labor, is nothing new.” In essence, women were there but of they were of no consequence. Fortunately things are changing and women from the present, as well as the past, are getting their due recognition.

11:00 AM
Benjamin Franklin Court
Colonial Ladies of Letterpress

pressPart of the Independence National Historical Park includes a colonial print shop on the former site of Benjamin Franklin’s home. The press now houses a few type cases, a bindery and a large antique printing press used for live demonstrations. On each Saturday of March a short lecture, Gentlewomen of the Press (Women Printers of the 18th Century), highlights some of the women in colonial print shops. My son discovered the free event and he and his girlfriend gamely accompanied me to the presentation.

Finding the press took a bit of persistence. The Franklin Court complex is located inside of a city block with minimal signage to announce its whereabouts. The entrance begins next to the colonial post office and snakes past the construction site that currently covers most of the Franklin museum complex (slated for completion by Fall 2103).

We entered just in time to hear the ranger’s enthusiastic explanation as to why colonial Philadelphia had a high rate of female literacy. The colonial Quakers encouraged women to read for participation in Bible study, a necessity in a religion that required self-learning rather than instruction by church officials. Literacy was certainly an advantage for women in the press shop (although we’ve read of one illiterate woman printer, Dinah Nuthead, who became the tenth woman licensed to print in the colonies in 1696.)

Deborah Read Franklin, Title page printed by Ann Smith Franklin, Mary Katherine Goddard

Deborah Read Franklin, Title page by Ann Smith Franklin, (r) Mary Katherine Goddard

Our presenter surveyed numerous Franklin women and female associates who were active in the printing field, most of whom fit the pattern of marginalization we noted earlier. Benjamin’s wife, Deborah Read (1708-1774), was the manager of the family press during Franklin’s long absences overseas— holding down the fort and helping to expand the business throughout the colonies. Franklin only credited his wife for her financial prowess, “Frugality is…a virtue I could never acquire in myself, but I was lucky enough to find it in a wife, who thereby became a fortune to me.”

It was the female in-laws of Franklin that actually “got inky” at the press. Ann (Smith) Franklin (1696 -1763) the sister-in-law of Benjamin and widow of his brother, became the first woman printer in Newport, Rhode Island at age 39 when she inherited her husband’s press in 1735. She ran the press while raising five children alone, later joined by son James when he completed his apprenticeship with Uncle Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1748. When James died Anne (then age 65) fed the family by continuing the print shop assisted by her son-in-law and her two daughters, who were “correct and quick compositors.”

Franklin was also in a business partnership with Elizabeth Timothy (?–1757), a widow in South Carolina, whose newspaper printing skills were praised by Franklin over those of her late husband. Mrs. Timothy, as a woman, could not be legally recognized in her position and therefore placed the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter, on the paper’s masthead as the official publisher. Using a male child’s name was a common tactic for printing widows and one of the reasons that many women printers names are unrecorded.
dec independenceThe most historically notable woman of the group was Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), daughter of another female printer, Sarah Updike Goddard, and ancestor of the aforementioned Daniel Berkeley Updike. Mary Katherine took over her brother William’s newspaper during his frequent incarcerations for “public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper” and while he fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1777, Congress authorized her to print the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the original signers, but she made her livelihood and reputation at the newspaper. One of her contemporaries, newspaper publisher Isaiah Thomas, considered her,“ an expert and correct compositor, doing good printing besides fine work with copperplates.” Nevertheless, not all was peaceful after the Revolution as brother William returned to the press and summarily dismissed Mary Katherine. She lost her printing business to her brother despite a slew of influential names attached to her letters of petition to the government and five attempted lawsuits. She persevered by selling books, stationery and dry goods.

Prepping the leather tampons with ink, and inking the type.

Prepping the leather tampons for ink tack (r) Inking the type on press

Pulling the lever (r) Teaching the next generation

Pulling the press lever, (r) Teaching the next generation

We saw the press in operation by two different women park guards who competently made their way through the printing as they explained the process. Several woman-centric printed items were on sale. Satisfied in mind but not in stomach, we lunched a few doors away at Fork restaurant.

2:00 PM
The Monotype Factory
Women in War Time Prove “We can do it!”


The next stop was 24th and Locust Street, location of the former Monotype Factory. This time Philadelphia-based graphic designer and Hofstra Design professor, Bez Ocko, accompanied us. Although the name Monotype is now associated with digital fonts the term was first used to describe a metal type-casting machine sold in the United States and Great Britain. In 1887 Tolbert Lanston designed the Monotype prototype which required two pieces of equipment, a keyboard and a metal typecaster. The process began with an operator typing the text using a keyboard of 276 keys, the amount required to cover all of a font variants such as italic, bold, etc.  Each key strike triggered a number of holes punched along the length of a 4-inch wide paper ribbon. The typecasting machine used the perforated ribbon to dictate the specific order in which individual metal letters were cast from a brass a matrix. (We will include much more about the Monotype in our next posting in late March.)monotype_stoneMonotypebuildingBy 1905 the American Lanston Monotype Company moved its manufacturing to Philadelphia, first on Callowhill Street and later to 24th and Locust. The new five-story brick structure housed 200,000 square-feet of matrix making, letter drafting, tooling, assembling, milling, casting, inspection, engineering and training facilities.

Today the only remainders of the Philadelphia Monotype factory are the stone letters over the door and past volumes of the house organ, Monotype: A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency. In those publications one can read how women at Monotype and across the country, normally confined to keyboard input, filled in for men during wartime. The articles praise the women for their important contribution in war time but make it clear that it is only a temporary situation.women of monotype

From an 1918 edition, “The present shortage of male Monotype operators and runners has opened a new field for the girls and they are making good at it.” From Omaha, Nebraska came the story of how a woman became a Monotype type caster during the man shortage of World War I. “As the weeks rolled by and no suitable candidate for the job appeared it began to look as if our foreman would be compelled to operate the casters himself. About this time a copy of Monotype containing the picture of a young lady operator in New York fell into the hands of a Miss Wells who was working in the bindery. She applied and after considering the matter for some time we decided to give her a chance to show what she could do. She began by watching how the work was done. This she did for several days after which she was taught to take off the galleys, keep the metal pots full, and the temperature of the metal right, to put on the spools of copy and the other incidentals of caster running. She has not attempted to change the molds but hopes to be able to do so in the future. As matters now stand Miss Wells is learning as rapidly as the average young man and is more dependable.”…“In this connection it might be well to consider that all trades are breaking down traditions and find that woman can perform many operations for which they were supposed to be in some way unfitted.Ladies and Monotype casters

Despite the women’s suitability for their work the male run trade unions squashed any future prospects. “At the last meeting of the American Publishers Association there rose a request to the International Typographic Union to train women operators for the newspaper, but the proposition did not meet the approval of that body, who considered the newspaper end of the business as too strenuous for the women.” In this case it was the union, not family members or the actual workshop managers that kept women out of the foundry.

4:00 PM The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
December 2, 2012 – April 14, 2013

Our last stop of the day was a joint showing of the work of graphic designer Paula Scher (b. 1948) and her illustrator husband Seymour Chwast (b. 1931). The exhibition was the perfect demonstration, not only of Ms. Scher’s talent, but also of how far women have come in terms of professional and marital equality. The couple was given equal billing and space in the large gallery. Both spouses showed high quality work, but at a distance Sher’s exudes a more powerful energy, a deliberate approach she cultivated in response to the environment where her work is often seen, New York City.

Wall of work by Paula Scher

Wall of work by Paula Scher

Scher, educated at Tyler School of Art just outside Philadelphia, began her career designing album covers for CBS and Atlantic Records. In 1984, she co-founded Koppel & Scher with fellow Tyler graduate Terry Koppel and it was during that partnership that she designed her intensely controversial Swatch poster. The poster was a near perfect replication of the travel poster designed by Herbert Matter in 1934. Although she obtained the rights from the Matter estate, and it appears that she was clearly referring to Swiss culture, Matter and the dying era of Swiss design, the subsequent critical uproar included accusations of plagiarism or a least a lack of professional integrity. Perhaps part of the controversy was that Scher was a woman appropriating the work of a male icon, (recently deceased) and the perceived lack of reverence was just too provocative.scher_swatch
The exhibition display was big and bright. The space, divided equally in half, featured walls filled to the rafters with their work plus separate but equal media presentations. The east wall, displaying a single A from Scher’s logo for the Type Director’s Club is directly countered by the west wall sporting the organic A Chwast drew for Artone India Ink. Each spouse was given their proper due, a sweet end to a day tinged with female inequality and anonymity.

Professor Ocko provides scale reference for Scher's A (r) Chwast's A

Professor Ocko provides scale reference for Scher’s A (r) Chwast’s A

One can never know if her predecessors had the  luxury (or burden) of reflecting on their professional relationships but perhaps they might have had some of the same thoughts as Scher, “If I had not been with him, would I have lived my life exactly this way, or am I with him because I always wanted to do it this way? I don’t know. I ask myself this question all the time.’’ * To see more of her work and hear Ms. Scher in her own words you can view her interview, Paula Scher : The Geography of Design by Nicholas Heller

Additional Sources

Barlow, Marjorie Dana. Notes on Women Printers in Colonial America and The Untied States, 1639-1975, The Hroswitha Club, University Press of Virginia, 1976.

Photo Mary Katherine Goddard:  Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library

Monotype Doing Her Bit, While Her Soldier is Serving His Country. Monotype A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency, Published by the Lanston Monotype Company of Philadelphia.
•Volume 5, No 6, March April 1918, p 133.
• Volume 6, No 1, May June 1918.

Tiger, Caroline.  Together – never; except in an exhibit of their graphic designs at the Art Museum.  The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 1, 2012.

Paula Scher: The Geography of Design (Part 2) Nicholas Heller, August 2009. Youtube.

Written by Nancy Stock-Allen

Preserving India : Libraries, Museums and Temples

February 7, 2013 § 2 Comments


Date of Visit: January 2013

I. The Gandhi Museum
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Link: http://www.gandhimuseum.org/

II. The Sarasvati Mahal Library
Thanjuvar, Tamil Nadu
Link: Library catalog

III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Near Maduri, Tamil Nadu
Link: Facebookmap

The state of Tamil Nadu (Tamil country), once called Madras, is located on the southeastern coast of India. Inhabited by the Tamil people since 500 BC, it still holds fast to its regional language, Tamil, used along with Hindi (the national language) and English on official signs. The state is home to a rich history of architectural and literary works achieved during the powerful dynasties of the Chera, Chola and Pandya. That heritage, threatened with extinction during a period of European colonization, has thankfully been 
saved by strong social reformists and  conservationists for us to enjoy in the 21st century.

The first book in Tamil was printed in Kollam, Kerala, on October 20, 1578 by Portuguese missionary Henrique Henriques.

The Tamil alphabet was adapted to typesetting and cast in the mid-1500’s.
Portuguese missionary, Henrique Henriques, printed the first Tamil book in western India in 1577. British Colonists did not allow Indian citizens to own printing presses until the 19th century.

Digital Tamil offered by Peter Bilak and Satya Rajpurohit 's The Indian Type Foundry (ITF)

Digital Tamil offered by Peter Bilak and Satya Rajpurohit, Indian Type Foundry

I. The Gandhi Museum / Preserving the Legacy

We retreated from the cacophony of Madurai’s streets for a few hours to tour the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. By coincidence it was January 26th, Republic Day, the annual holiday commemorating the adoption of the Indian Constitution and when we arrived the front garden was full of students making speeches and carrying flags. Once inside the building we were quickly swept up into the story of India’s struggle for independence starting in 1598 when the British East India Trading Company commenced their campaign of colonization. The Englishmen pitted regional Indian rulers against each other, bribed others and bludgeoned the rest to gain control over of a major portion of the country. (Similarly the Portuguese, French, Danes and Dutch injected their own spice trading groups.) Once established the British traders sucked the country’s resources dry by denying Indians the right to manufacture their own goods and forcing them to buy imports from England. Native landowners and peasants alike were highly taxed and that revenue bought Indian commodities to ship back to England. As John Sullivan wrote, “The Englishman flourishes like a sponge, drawing up the riches from the banks of the Ganges and squeezing them on the banks of the Thames.”

The British Parliament was advised to obliterate Indian culture and religion in an infamous report by Lord Macaulay, who suggested the following to his superiors back in England, “I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”   Missionaries were dispatched to introduce Christianity to India as part of that scheme.

When Queen Victoria assumed the role of Empress of India in 1858 westernization accelerated. Railroads and the telegraph reduced travel and communication time across the vast continent and  English was instituted as the official language (facilitating more contact between India and the Western world). Indians, however, were not convinced that British ways were “good and greater than their own.” To the contrary, Indian scholars began to rediscover their indigenous history and literature spawning an Indian Renaissance, a resurgence of national pride and an urgency to expel the colonists. Many dedicated Indian patriots and martyrs would perish in the pursuit of independence over the next century.

Malayalam script , another Dravidian language, seen here on a newspaper in neighboring state of Kerala

Gandhi’s image always present, seen here on a newspaper in neighboring state of Kerala. The script used is Malayalam, also part of the Dravidian group that includes Tamil.

We now know that it was the transcendent personality of Mahatma Gandhi that successfully inspired India’s masses by his new method of action, “satyagraha” (a word Gandhi combined from the Sanskrit for “ truth” and “holding firm”). The title of Mahatma, or “Great Soul” was bestowed by Gandhi’s contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, the author of India’s national anthem. (If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember that Aina Cederblom, from our last post, taught weaving at an experimental school run by Tagore near Kolkata.)

Small industry spinning 2013

Small industry spinning 2013

About half of the museum space presents the arc of Gandhi’s personal and public life. We learned that it was in Madurai that Gandhi chose to adopt the dhoti, a simple Indian peasant garment, as a symbol of his solidarity with all classes of his countrymen. He spun the thread for his personal clothing on a spinning wheel, setting an example to urge Indians to resume making their own goods. The exhibit concludes with a small room containing a single profoundly moving artifact—the blood stained dhoti that Gandhi wore on the day of his assassination. The whole experience gave us a deep respect for the combined efforts of Gandhi and his predecessors who helped India regain self-rule in 1947 and preserved the rich cultural heritage of India.

The Indian flag carries the image of the Chakra, the spinning wheel

II. The Maharaja Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library / Preserving Literature
Thanjavur, South India

Sarasvati, goddess of lknowledge, music, arts and science. (r) Serfoji II, forced out of power by the British, devoted his life to culture and learning.

Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science. (r) Library founder Serfoji II, forced out of power by the British, devoted his life to culture and learning.

About 200 kilometers north of Madurai is Thanjavur, a cultural mecca that evolved under the patronage of kings who supported religion and the cultural arts of music, dance, art and literature. The city is most known for its stunningly beautiful Brihadisvara Temple built during the Chola dynasty by Raja Raja the Great (985-1016). We visited the enormous temple complex at dusk while the setting sun best emphasized the sculptural facades.

Brihadeeswarar Temple

Brihadeeswarar Temple

The capstone of the high tower was positioned by hauling the stone along a 6 km ramp.

The capstone of the high tower was positioned by hauling the stone along a 6 km ramp.

Early Tamil inscriptions circle the temple base

Early Tamil inscriptions circle the temple base

Thanjavur priests and scholars were active writers of religious and scholarly manuscripts, many composed in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism. The nearby royal palace stored much of their work in a library named Sarasvati Mahal during the Nayak period of the 16th century. A later ruler, Raja Serfoji II (1798-1832), enlarged the collection by dispatching pandits (experts in Sanskrit) to buy or copy Sanskrit manuscripts from Northern India and other important Sanskrit centers.

Serfoji, an ardent bibliophile, studied English, French, Italian and Latin under Danish missionary, Reverend C. F. Schwartz. In 1805 he set up a printing press in 1805 in the palace and equipped it with “cast Devanagari type imported from Madras”. [1] (Devanagari is one of several writing systems used for recording Sanskrit.) Other sources describe the type as stone type. “The Types and Blocks were prepared using soft stone and hard wood.” [4] The press, known as Navavidyakalanichi, was inaugurated with an edition of Maratha Pachanga (The Almanac) produced on European paper. Serfoji also ordered translations of English story books for educating village children.The royal library eventually passed into public hands upon the death of the last Maratha queen in 1983.

The library is still situated within the royal palace complex in the heart of Thanjavur. We arrived on a Tuesday before the 10 am opening (There are a number of conflicting sources on the opening days and times. Tuesday seems the most reliable). We first viewed the palace art gallery next door which was undergoing extensive renovation—a work in progress that will be far superior after completion. The library however was well worth the visit.

Bookstore on left, entrance hall to the Saravasti Library on the right

Open air book store and the entrance hall to the Sarasvati Library on the right

The brightly painted exterior book store hints at what will be for the entire palace complex in the future. Once inside a hallway leads you to junction between a museum on the right and the library archives on the left. The museum very strictly prohibits any photography and the four or so grim-faced guards in charge of the small museum loudly slap the showcases with dust rags, glaring at all visitors to show that they mean business. (The library officials suggested that we scan images to illustrate this piece from The Painted Treasures of the Sarasvati Mahal Library [5].)

All sorts of books are on view: palm leaf books, manuscripts and printed bound books of diverse subject matter: Vedas (Hindu scriptures), epic poems, purana, (histories of the universe from creation to destruction) philosophy, modi (business registers),  jyothisa (astrology), medicine, literature and scientific illustrations. Well-known works including the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata and several versions of the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey) including one known as Valmiki Ramayanam which features all 24,000 verses written in Grantha script so miniature that the letters are impossible to read with naked eye. (A magnifying glass is suspended above for viewing.) Some of the palm books are entirely script while others are illuminated with a single color or elaborate multiple color decorations. Also on display are maps, early Western books and curios such as the smallest and largest palm leaf books.

It is a bit confusing to sort out some of the facts about the collection. According to a library-produced pamphlet for tourists the oldest dated palm leaf manuscript, the Andhrabhagavatam, by Telugu poet Bammera Pothanais dated 1432 (although Pothana’s lifespan was 1450-1510). Yet a book the library published in 2011 the oldest palm leaf manuscript is the Gadyachintamani written in 1550.

(l) The Phalavati, (r) Panchapakshi Shastra miniature palm leaf

(l) A palm leaf Phalavati, (r) Panchapakshi Shastra, a miniature palm leaf book

Bhamati (1468) the oldest paper manuscript in the collection is in palm leaf proportions. (r) A sample of Marathi script, one of the 11 scripts in the library collection.

Bhamati (1468) the oldest paper manuscript in the collection echos palm leaf proportions. (r) A sample of Marathi script, one of the 11 scripts in the library collection.

Bhavartha Ramayana, a "stone printed" edition from the press of Serfoji II in 1803.

Bhavartha Ramayana, a “stone printed” edition from the press of Serfoji II in 1803.

We were most fascinated by the books made from palm leaves, a common book material in ancient India. The process of preparing a palm leaf for writing is labor intensive: the dried leaves are cut to equal lengths, drilled for the string binding, boiled in water, dried again and then buried in sand before a final polish with conch shells. A salaka (metal stylus) was used to inscribe the text into the leaf surface and then washed with a mixture of charcoal and vegetable juice to add contrast to the letters. The finished leaves were smoked over a fire and coated with juices to provide protection from insect damage.

In the 1700’s a plant-based paper was beginning to be manufactured as a substitute for palm leaf material. The paper manuscripts were written using wood, bamboo or quill pens with an ink that was a mixture of lamp soot and extracts of the needle bush (Vachellia farnesiana). The natural preservative for paper was a bath in a turmeric and water solution.

Behind the Scenes Preservation and Transcription

Today the library’s mission includes preservation of the collection, recording it on microfilm as well as transcribing the ancient texts into computers for publication. Anxious to know more we asked to see some of the work behind the scenes. We were grateful for the limited access granted by head librarian, Dr. S. Sudarshan, to see the transcription and preservation processes. We were introduced to one of the Telugu pandits, Mr. D. Ravi, who graciously conducted a short tour of the four manuscript divisions which are divided by language (Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu).

panditOne of the pandits was translating and hand transcribing content from an ancient palm leaf book. She was handwriting the entire text in ball point pen on paper, preparing it for electronic entry in the nearby computer center.

vaults of palm leavesLarge wooden cabinets hold the manuscripts along one side of the archives. Although there is no air-conditioning or climate control the storage is relatively stable deep within the thick stone-walled building. As a precaution if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees the palm leaf pages are not handled. (The library computers are pampered with air-conditioning inside a separate glass walled section.) Hopefully environmental control will come for the manuscripts in the future, but for now the collection is preserved using traditional natural methods. Each palm-leaf is routinely cleaned with Citronella, an extract of lemon grass which insures flexibility of the leaves and acts as an insecticide. If the cleaning process lightens the lettering it is refreshed by a wash of black ink and oil. Approximately 60 of the 25,000 palm leaf manuscripts are cleaned each day.

Palm books swaddled in cloth and string (r) Applying citronella mixture for preservation (these image by Photo: M. Moorthy )

Palm books swaddled in cloth and string (r) Applying citronella mixture for preservation  Photo: M. Moorthy )

Mr. Ravi opened the first storage cabinet and out flowed the lush odor of the Citronella. Each manuscript is individually wrapped in white linen, tied with a string and identified on the outside. Our guide kindly untied one to demonstrate the flexibility of a preserved leaf that was several hundred years old.
In another section of the building paper books were in various stages of repair. Stabilization of holes and tears in delicate pages is achieved by layering a piece translucent “Japan paper” (we suspect it was rice paper) over the entire page and then trimmed.paper_page_preservation

A small group of men was binding newly printed books containing the text from an ancient palm leaf book manuscript. We saw similar reprints for sale in the library bookstore and in shops inside temples all over Tamil Nadu.

The library has published the content of many of the palm books in the collection. The image of the palm leaves is often on the cover.

The library has published many of the palm books in the collection. The image of the palm leaf version is often on the cover.

III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Preserving Sanskrit and the ancient Grantha Script

Although India has one national language, Hindi, it also recognizes 22 regional languages out of it hundreds of local tongues. Without any expertise in this area we are reluctant to wade into the topic of Indian languages but what we surmise is that there are two major branches of language development in Tamil Nadu. One is the Sanskrit family—a historical language related to modern Indian languages in much the same way that Greek and Latin connect with western languages. Separately there is the Dravidian family of languages, 85 in number including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam systems that we observed in the Sarasvati Mahal library collection. What muddles the water is the fact that some of the Dravidian languages can be used to write Sanskrit while other can reproduce the full range of sounds in Sanskrit.

Although it is an ancient language, Sanskrit is still used in some instances in the modern world. For example when yoga teachers instruct their students, they frequently use the Sanskrit names for positions, ie: Adho-mukha svanasana is Sanskrit for downward dog.  Om, , is also a Sanskrit word.

Student priests. Three lines of white indicate their affiliation with Shiva. The picture behind is their guru.

Student priests. Three lines of white indicate their affiliation with Shiva. The man in the picture behind them is their guru.

A more academic use of Sanskrit is in religious practices, including Hinduism. We were able to observe Sanskrit as a living language while visiting a traditional Vedic school dedicated to educating boys of Brahmin birth to become Hindu priests. While one does not expect boys between the ages of 10 and 18 to be interested in conversing with older adults these fellows were a respectful and inquisitive group. They were enthusiastic in sharing their Sanskrit lesson books using Grantha script, a once common form now replaced in the secular world with Devanagari script. They were a lively group but when it was time for their twice daily chanting and prayer ceremony they scrambled into their places, executed some nostril breathing exercises and then flipped open their books to chant in unison as a cohesive whole.boys and meGaranth2nostrilbreathing

Be not like the frog in the well. The frog in the well knows nothing bigger or grander than its well. So are all (bigots) narrow-minded persons, they do not see anything bigger than their own wells. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886).

Photo Credits
Unless otherwise noted, all images 2013 © designhistory.org.

Footnotes/Additional Sources

[1] The Indian Antiquary, page 194 June 7,1872.

[2] Srinivasanm G, Treasure Trove in Thanjavur, The Daily Hindu, November 7, 2011.

[3] Wujastyk, DominikThanjavur Library – A Realm of Knowledge, The Sampradaya Sun-Independnet Vaisnava News, Oct 14, 2012. 

[4] Perumal, Dr. P, Historical Sources in Thanjavur, Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati Mahal Library, Blog, April, 2012.
[5] Krishna, Nanditha, Painted Manuscripts of the Sarasvati Mahal Library, Thanjauvar, 1994.
Author: Nancy Stock-Allen

The Swiss Poster: From New Haven to Zurich

November 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Bez Ocko, Guest Contributor

Dates of Visits: 2001 & 2004
(All images copyrighted Bez Ocko, 2012)

I. New Haven, Connecticut
Tom Strong’s Swiss Poster Collection

II. Zurich, Switzerland
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich

III. Basel, Switzerland
Jean-Benoit Levy’s studio A•N•D (Trafic Grafic)
Basel School of Art
Swiss Poster Collection: Basel

Background: Switzerland has a long tradition of remarkable poster design (you can read about Swiss poster history here). This post, written by guest contributor, Bez Ocko, focuses on her research for an exhibition of contemporary Swiss posters from collections in the United States and in Switzerland.

I. Tom Strong’s Swiss Poster Collection
When I was an MFA student in the Yale Graphic Design program in the 1980s, I’d heard tales of Tom Strong’s wondrous Swiss poster collection. I also learned that Strong, another graduate of the Yale program (1962) and a partner in Strong Cohen Graphic Design in New Haven, was keen to share his collection. I was finally able to showcase some of Strong’s holdings in “The Swiss Poster: Art of Ten Masters”, an exhibition I curated for the Hofstra University Museum. Link to Hofstra Show, Link to NY Times Review

I began preparing for the exhibition by viewing Strong’s collection in a small third floor attic-type room at his New Haven home. Many new posters have been added since my visit, but in 2001 he already had hundreds that he kept piled neatly in stacks. Our one-by-one look through method necessitated beginning a new stack of posters and transferring each viewed poster from one stack to the other. The posters are of nearly uniform dimensions—conforming to the Swiss Weltformat (world format) of 90.5 x 128 cm (approximately 35.5 x 50.5 inches)—so with care we managed to keep the new stack neat and square.

Tom Strong and his posters

Strong knows each poster, who designed it, when it was designed, what city and institution it came from. He remembers how each was acquired. If it promoted a cultural event or a literary work, he’s researched it. If it publicizes an orchestra or an opera, he knows the music. He relishes the small detail while embracing the big picture. For Strong, these posters are stories and friends and new horizons.

Strong credits his friend Chris Pullman for infecting him with this passion in the 1960s. “Chris went on a smoking expedition to Switzerland to check out where the fire was coming from…” So begins the saga of Strong’s collection. Alvin Eisenman, founder of the Graphic Design department at Yale, sent Chris to Switzerland with entrée to the likes of Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hoffmann who, in turn, directed him to free poster sources like the Opera, etc. Chris began gathering samples to bring home with him while also scouting for new design faculty for the Yale program. When he returned to New Haven, Pullman gave a couple of posters to Strong. The following year, Strong himself made the trip to Switzerland, beginning a pattern of travel and poster collecting that went on for many years. Though he no longer travels to Switzerland on a regular basis, he still tends to the growing collection.

In addition to collecting Swiss posters, Strong collects HO scale model trains of Swiss and German types, Braun products (radios, shavers, lighters, small home appliances), National Park Service folders (template by Vignelli), posters designed for Yale musical group performances and Otl Aicher’s Olympic and Lufthansa posters. When I visited Strong he was eager to share all of these with me and to tell me exactly what excites him about each collection. As for Swiss posters, he is thrilled that there are many great posters to continually add to the collection. According to Strong, there are usually at least 150 wonderful posters published each year out of a total of 5,000 annual commissions. He loves the scale of these posters, which though large, are not billboards but of human scale in synch with the scale of European walking cities. He also cites the uniformity of their format, enabling interchangeability in mounting exhibitions, and the affordability of acquisition even today.

Josef Müller-Brockmann, 1972 / Cornel Windlin, 1998
Rosemarie Tissi, 1996

Jean Benoît Lévy, 1997 / Ralph Schraivogel, 1994
Wolfgang Weingart, 1983

After viewing Strong’s collection I decided that the exhibition would focus on individual Swiss designers who brought a unique graphic approach to their work. Fortunately Strong’s collection included great pieces by Armin Hofmann, Melchior Imboden, Jean Benoît Lévy, Bruno Monguzzi, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Ralph Schraivogel, Rosemarie Tissi, Niklaus Troxler, Wolfgang Weingart and Cornel Windlin; the ten masters of the exhibition.

I began the research that would result in the final selection of posters for the exhibit and the catalog essays I wrote. The designers who were contacted answered my questions and provided missing biographical information. Jean Benoît Lévy was especially responsive, providing thoughtful and extensive replies, which went even beyond the scope of my inquiries, enough so that I added a separate catalog article, “Can the Swiss Poster find its way in the American Streets?” It brought another perspective and addressed the contrasts between the poster context in the two countries, as well as voicing the frustration of the poster-interested American designer’s lack of public poster venues. At the time Lévy had design studios both in San Francisco and Basel. He was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of my project with his time and materials, plus he contributed several new posters to both the exhibition and my own nascent collection.

II. Switzerland
A. In Zurich
Museum für Gestaltung: Ralph Schraivogel Posters & Ladislav Sutnar: Design in Action

In the spring of 2004 I was off to Switzerland to continue my poster research. I had been living in Amsterdam at the time and the short trip to Switzerland was convenient; the flight to Zurich was under an hour and a half. Scheduled to give a conference talk on the subject, I was also going to the source to see what else I would uncover. Jean Benoît Lévy had suggested the visit because a Ralph Schraivogel exhibition was opening at the in mid-March at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (The Museum of Design, Zurich). After discovering Schraivogel’s work in Tom Strong’s poster collection, I had become a big fan and even purchased two of his works; one, a stunning exhibit poster for the Henry Van de Velde show with its almost dizzying confluence of vibrating lines, an image of a chair and levitating type and the second, a poster for an exhibition of photography’s precursors displaying Schraivogel’s implausible overlapping and interventions of bold type upon subtler imagery in a graphic space containing alternating colored rays and soft edged lens-like circles enclosing the various elements.

The Ladislav Sutnar: Design in Action exhibit was on display in the main building of the Museum für Gestaltung. It was a thorough, top of the line presentation of his work in the design field. Yet what remains memorable from this show is the surprise of his so-called erotic paintings and prints from the sixties and seventies. Exiting through the gift shop, I picked up a couple of the available exhibition posters on offer. If you are not already there, you can add to your poster collection by ordering these directly from the museum’s on-line store.

Schraivogel Posters, on photography and Van de Velde

The Schraivogel exhibition opening in the poster gallery of the museum was relaxed and elegant in style. A glass bowl packed with yellow and orange tulips sat atop the central exhibition case, which that night also acted as a tabletop for liquid refreshments. The intriguing activity and vibrating intensity of Ralph’s posters surrounded us; two facing walls flush with Weltformat posters hung two-deep and side-by-side. A back wall carried his large posters and smaller posters were hung on the inside of the front windowed wall. Many of the posters were familiar such as those for the Zürich Filmpodium series and the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. (Filmpodium is a non-commercial art house cinema that specializes in retrospectives of film history). Robert Massin, the legendary French designer, gave the introductory speech. His essay is included in the wonderful publication of the Museum’s Schraivogel Poster Collection. Jean Benoît Lévy’s easy sociability helped me feel comfortable among the poster design luminaries at the celebratory dinner held afterwards at a local restaurant.

B. In Basel
Jean Benoit Levy’s Studio A•N•D
Basler Plakatsammlung (Basel Poster Collection)
Basel School of Design

Benoit Levy’s Studio

I took an early morning train to Basel, to meet up again with JB and partake in the day of activity that he had arranged. First stop was his design studio called A•N•D (Trafic Graphic), a beautiful two-story space whose walls showcased his elegant posters. I still have postcards of his poster images that he gave me that day. He also showed me the lenticular postcards he was then working on. These word-based messages, published by Chronicle Books in 2004, use a vintage printing technique that transforms one word into another as the cards are angled back and forth. At that time JB was working both in the Basel studio and in San Francisco; since 2006 he is headquartered solely in California. Studio Link

More from inside the A•N•D Studio

The studio staff was deeply focused on their work and JB had me on a tight schedule, so off I went down the street to visit the Basler Plakatsammlung (Basel Poster Collection) and its then director, Rolf Thalmann. The collection, a repository of over 50,000 Swiss posters dating from 1880, contains posters for services, tourism, public transport, consumer goods, politics, social communication and events. According to Thalmann “The Basel Poster Collection sees its function as that of a mirror and an archive of everyday visual culture in Switzerland.”

Rolf showed me select posters and the vast poster storage. He also agreed to find some specific images for my upcoming talk. [The poster collection is now part of the School fur Gestaltung Basel (Basel School of Design) and is directed by curator Kurt Würmli.]

Weingart’s typography students in Basel

Another stop was the Basel School of Design, where I was given a tour and visited with several faculty members in their classrooms. The last room was the typography studio, under the direction of the legendary Wolfgang Weingart. Students were setting type on laptop computers and manipulating the output, slicing the text line by line and arranging these as I had done years before when I was a student in graduate school. Weingart was present, round and about in a low-keyed way, but he was not lecturing. Old films from his posters were taped to a glass enclosed office separating two classrooms.

C. Back to Zurich for the Schraivogel Opening

Wolfgang Weingart (left) & Ralph Schraivogel

Weingart returned with me to Zurich and the Schraivogel exhibition. A student group was there to view the exhibit and meet Ralph who came prepared to speak about his work and answer questions. Weingart was there to introduce Ralph. Bedecked by backpacked laden students and encircled by Schraiogel’s buzzy works, Weingart began by contrasted the style of hanging of this exhibition to the Armin Hofmann exhibit in the same space earlier this year. Schraivogel’s installation looked to him like a “wallpaper wall” whereas Hoffman’s posters were hung with a conventional amount of space between them. He spoke of Schraivogel’s “interesting visual language,” the work which is related “like a family,” and Ralph’s unique visual style. He mentioned the similarity between Ralph’s working process and his own when he was creating posters —using film, chemicals and repro cameras—how this method, which involves transparency, informs the work.

Schraivogel granted that the hanging was a bit chaotic and agreed about the relatedness of his works. His fascination with poster making corresponded to an initial interest in becoming a painter. A slow worker, he only designs two posters a year—using the time to find new ways to approach design.

Schraivogel learned film montage while working in magazine design and production. Using film “sketches” unwrapped from neat kraft paper packages, he discussed his method of integrating typography and image, explaining his preference for beginning the design with the type (usually the only given from the client). This allows him more freedom with the image. If he begins with the image it can be difficult to make the typography work. He likes to either meld or separate them, but most importantly, the type and image need to interfere with each other in some way.

Schraivogel discussed some difficulties he has encountered. The issues inherent during the scale change from a sketch to the Weltformat size are dealt with by allowing for a certain amount of variance in the final piece. The loss of methods and materials he has used in the past, repro cameras and film positives, compelled his switch to computers. Current printing technology goes straight from the computer to plate making, eliminating film altogether.

Schraivogel with sketches of the Van de Velde poster

Filmpodium matrix and final poster

We also saw the matrix that he used to create the type for the Shakespeare in Film poster for Filmpodium Zürich. With sketches for his superb John Ford poster, he explained how playing with the orientation of the film positives inspired his use of the type.

I was thoroughly jazzed up by my visits to Ralph’s exhibit and I really wanted to find a way to acquire a few more of his posters before I left Switzerland. With only an hour before I needed to leave for the airport, I made an ambitious dash into the heart of downtown in search of the Filmpodium shop. Luckily the theater had a number of wonderful posters on offer at the time. I narrowly made my flight but left Switzerland with a number of Swiss Weltformat posters including the four fantastic Schraivogel posters I purchased at the eleventh hour.

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