Revisit nine presentations that explore the power of typography beyond the Archive, from pioneering film and digital graphics to saving endangered scripts.
The Letterform Lecture series complements Type West, our postgraduate certificate program in type design. In normal times we gather at the San Francisco Public Library where the talks are free and open to the public, but the series went online this spring in response to the pandemic. While we miss seeing you in person, the new format gives us a chance to reach our global audience in real time. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few days after the event. As 2020 comes to a close we found it a good time to remember all the excellent talks from the year and give you quick access to those you missed.
Despite pandemic restrictions, the Archive’s Collections Team is actively (and safely) making our new space feel like home.
As you may have heard, we moved to a new space in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood in September. Like a lot of things this year, it didn't come easy, but it feels like a fresh start. At our original location in Potrero Hill, we were just plain out of room — for desks, for books, for collections care projects. Despite turning every corner and closet available into bookcases, our shelves were overflowing. We had to keep incoming collections in boxes after processing them, because we didn't have a linear inch to spare.
New additions to the Online Archive let you reach back to a vibrant period of ornamentation and letterform expression.
As the second industrial revolution hit its stride in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leaps in electrification, manufacturing, and transportation led to rapid changes in Western economies and societies. Advancements in paper making, printing, and typographic technologies followed suit, resulting in cheaper and more plentiful books, new forms of advertising to meet the demands of expanding commerce, and a burst of color and special effects that were previously impossible or too costly to produce. Meanwhile, as populations became vastly more urbanized, artists and printers waxed poetic about country life, incorporating the natural world into their work.
The latest batch of items in the Online Archive represents several dozen highlights from this era in our collection, including work by Will Bradley and Alphonse Mucha, sign painter portfolios from France, early type foundry ephemera, and a remarkable English catalog of wood type.
Letterform Archive will benefit from the fresh perspective and expertise of two creative innovators as we expand the board.
We are pleased and honored to welcome two new members to our Board of Directors. A familiar face to anyone who has seen our membership video, Leila Weefur was a visiting researcher in our early years, and their story about exploring Blackness in advertising and typography at the Archive can be seen in The Occasional. Alejandro Chavetta has partnered with us on many projects, including exhibitions at Astro Studios where he was creative director, and content-creation for Adobe’s Create platform (now Discover), where he serves as Editor in Chief. Leila and Alejandro join an expanding board which aims to represent and respond to our broad community.
Our latest update includes items featuring Cyrillic, Hebrew, Indic, Japanese, Pegon, and Persian scripts.
Among the 25 objects just added to the Online Archive are works representing various writing systems beyond Latin. The items are highlights from two events this spring: a master’s seminar in type history that we taught for California College of Arts, and a lecture, “A Brief Typographic Trip Around the World”, hosted by the Center for Book Arts in New York. In a time when a pandemic has hampered most of our summer travel, let our lifelike images take you on a virtual vacation to 18th-century Indonesia, 1920s Tokyo, or India through the ages.
Yiddish work by Kulture-Lige, El Lissitzky, and Natan Altman demonstrates how dreams of a new society revitalized typography.
Judaism and designs of utopia have a long history together. Many Jews have dreamed of a perfect and socially just society, and created art that reflected this desire. Jews played integral roles in the Russian Revolution and in Bolshevik communism, as well as in building intentional communities around the world. Jewish artists expressed their utopian visions in a variety of ways, but many artists such as El Lissitzky and Natan Altman used painting, design, and the abstract shapes of constructivism to illustrate an upheaval of the old social systems and a radical transformation to something new. This coincided with the rise of communism in Eastern Europe, and with talk of protection of ethnic minorities after centuries of pogroms and discrimination.
Just over fifty years ago, at the apex of the civil rights movement in the US, Dorothy Jackson interviewed five Black designers about “the frustrations and opportunities in a field where ‘flesh-colored’ means pink”. The article for Print was perhaps the first in the mainstream trade press to directly address the impacts of racism in the profession and describe the experience of Black practitioners in their own words. What has changed since then? What remains the same? We asked today’s design leaders to compare their experience to the 1968 discussion and imagine what’s next.
Our growing collection of posters by the avant-garde Japanese designer are portals to universes never before imagined.
Post-war Japan was a catalyzing backdrop that shaped a generation of artists and designers, including the renowned Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則). Over the span of two decades, the Emperor’s divinity had been absolved, the nation was demilitarized, and US military troops had occupied cities. In 1960, at the age of 24, Yokoo traveled 300 miles from Kobe to Tokyo, to the epicenter of this cultural whirlwind. Tokyo, now home to a rapidly increasing population of over 10 million, was preparing to host the 1964 Summer Olympics while reckoning with violent student protests and riots. There, Yokoo’s practice took root and would earn him a reputation for bridging high and low, pre- and post-modern, and Eastern and Western cultures, and challenging conventions by charging posters with intense emotion. Trailblazing across multiple media, Yokoo responded to absurdities of signs and symbols, tensions between seemingly opposing worlds, and existential questions of the self to offer works that are humorous, chaotic, and deeply autobiographical.
24 virtual backgrounds bring you into the Archive for your next video conference call.
Like many of you sheltering at home, our team is seeing a lot of each other within the now-familiar grid of video chat rectangles. We love getting a peek at everyone’s home office, but we also miss being surrounded by the Archive and its countless bits of inspiration and delight.
So, as an addition to our Cabin F(or)ever kit, we’re pleased to bring you our first batch of background images selected from objects in the Online Archive, each carefully cropped and edited for Zoom. Now you can use our periodical wall to visualize your ideal home library, wallpaper your room with Paul Rand, furnish your apartment with type from Caslon’s 1844 specimen, live inside an issue of Emigre, or do “some blue sky thinking” with Martin Venezky.
While design is never a panacea for the world’s ills, the work of British designer Abram Games has particular poignance as we face new threats, uncertainty, and disinformation.
Last year we were honored to host a Live at the Archive event with Abram’s daughter, Naomi Games. There’s no better time than now to present a recording of her talk, which focuses on the designer’s unique ability to promote health and safety, raise awareness, and unite people under a common cause.
In the 1950s, Pintori revisualized the typewriter, transforming it from esoteric machine to a charming companion of modern office life.
The lifeless, rectangular slabs of metal we type on these days were preceded by tools with personality. Sculptural, colorful, and often weighty, typewriters were transformative machines that shaped modern industry and communication in the 20th century. The Italian brand Olivetti, founded in 1908, was among the many key players in the market and was unique in the way they saw approachable design as core to their identity. Part of Olivetti’s success is owed to Giovanni Pintori, who was the company’s art director from 1950 to 1967. Pintori’s color palettes, shapely abstraction, and smart use of the grid conveyed both the mechanic power of an Olivetti device and the joyful ease one should feel when using it.
A good friend will help you move some books, but a true friend will help you move 60,000.
Hey, can we borrow your truck?
We’re so excited to move into our new home, because once we’re all settled in, we’ll be able to better serve our community — you! When most people think about moving, cardboard boxes and packing tape dance in their heads. But to move an archive, we’ll need more than bubble wrap, Sharpies, and trash bags.
Thanks to you, our new space is taking shape. Here’s a peek at what we’re building together.
In July, we announced the surprising — but ultimately opportune — news that Letterform Archive needs a new home. We asked for your help, and you delivered. Over 300 donors from at least 15 countries supported our move campaign. With matching pledges from Emigre and an anonymous donor, we crossed the midway mark of our $200,000 goal.
After over four years as our librarian, Amelia Grounds is turning the page for a new role at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. Here are a few of her proudest accomplishments and favorite things from the Archive.
There may be no task more daunting than designing a book about a designer — especially when that designer was your friend of 30 years. That was the case with Chuck Byrne, who wrote and designed our book on the work of Jack Stauffacher.
Long before Jack Stauffacher picked up a piece of wood type and used it to create one of his remarkable typographic abstractions, the printer and designer had collected lessons in his craft from across time — and from across the globe. Read on to learn about just a few of the many influences that informed his wood type work, which is the subject of our third book, Only on Saturday: The Wood Type Prints of Jack Stauffacher, now live on Kickstarter.
Early Experiments in Printing
At an early age, Jack Stauffacher was practically anointed as a printer. Paging through an issue of Popular Mechanics when he was fourteen, his eye fell on a mail-order advertisement for a 3-by-5-inch letterpress, and his curiosity was permanently piqued. By the time he graduated from high school, he and his father had built a modest studio in the backyard of their home in San Mateo, California, and the tiny mail-order press had given way to a more stately Chandler & Price model. Named the Greenwood Press after the street adjacent to their home, young Stauffacher’s enterprise began to take on small commercial jobs.
For over 50 years, Stauffacher lived a singular life at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community. Now, his legacy lives on at the Archive, and his wood type prints are the subject of our third book.
Some rooms convey history all by themselves. They tell stories about the people who live in them before those occupants even utter a word. Jack Stauffacher’s studio in San Francisco was such a place.
A rare set of Japanese trade publications serves a visual feast of modern graphics and lettering, as well as a study of early-20th-century interactions between Japan and the West.
The early 20th century in Japan witnessed a collision of emerging and residual forces. Tensions between past, present, and future shaped typography, lettering, and other areas of design. Leading up to the Shōwa period (1926–89), as a result of the nation’s modernization and growth of commerce, businesses recognized the value of advertising to consumers in a visually appealing way.
The budding interest in creative advertising and the rise of commercial retail led to a 1920s–30s boom in design trade publishing to satisfy the growing demand for rich reference materials. In 1926, Hamada Masuji (濱田 増治) and a group of colleagues, including Sugiura Hisui, Watanabe Soshu, Nakada Sadanouke, and Miyashita Takao formed the Association of Commercial Artists. Together, with Hamada serving as the Editor-in-Chief, they published The Complete Commercial Artist, a 24-volume collection of trade publications on commercial design.
Jakob Erbar’s least known typeface went silent in World War II. David Jonathan Ross used a specimen at the Archive to bring it back to life.
One look at the web or our phones these days and it’s obvious that a certain style of typeface dominates contemporary design: the geometric sans serif. It feels like nearly every company, from tech startup to multinational corporation, is finding safety and clarity in the genre’s circular rounds, sharp corners, and clean finish. Meanwhile, there’s also a growing hunger for things that are handmade and handwritten, authentic and imperfect. These universal desires for mechanical order and human warmth are pulling in opposite directions.
Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”) is a virtually unknown metal typeface from 1931 that somehow hits tones both geometric and calligraphic, right at a time when we’re tuned into those very frequencies.
Dozens of title treatment sketches by the renowned lettering artist and designer have found a home at the Archive.
There are designers who choose to master their craft for a specific industry. And then there are designers, like Michael Doret, who refuse to stay in one lane. Doret brings his lettering talent to a range of clients: designing logos for sports teams, fast food chains, titles for comic books, children’s animations, drama movies, and typefaces. He sees each project as a unique design challenge: embracing the differences and running with them to come up with the most exciting solution possible. To put it simply, nothing is out of Doret’s reach. In 2018, Doret donated half of his working archive to Letterform Archive and the other half to the Herb Lubalin Center in New York. We are honored that Doret’s final proofs for early movies, as well as developmental sketches and inked comps for Disney and Pixar animated features, have found a home in our growing collection of processmaterial.
We urgently need a new home. Luckily, we found the one we always imagined. Now you can make it a reality.
A few months ago our landlord informed us that they wanted Letterform Archive out of the building.
The shock of this news soon faded as we recognized the drawbacks of our current location. In so many ways, we are near or beyond capacity.
When we imagine the Archive of the future, we imagine a place worthy of the history we hold. We see a purpose-built, contiguous space for classes, tours, collections, and staff. We dream of a larger venue for events, where more of our community can gather. We picture a dedicated gallery for exhibits. We long for accessibility to public transit. Most of all, we need room to grow.
When we imagine the Archive of the future we picture something like this:
For the second year in a row, we’re collaborating with Astro Studios on a San Francisco Design Week exhibition. This time, we’re taking you back to the 1990s.
The Archive is excited to partner up with Astro Studios for our second SF Design Week exhibition on Thursday, June 27. Digital Revolution: Designing in the ’90s explores the impact of technologies on design created in this transformative period — the decade when Astro Studios got their start. To celebrate Design Week and Astro’s 25th anniversary, we’re doing a special collaboration, featuring some of Astro’s most notable projects from their early years alongside posters, type specimens, magazines, and ephemera from the Archive’s collection.
The diagrams, illustrations, models, and methods used to teach people how to make letters can be as engaging as the resulting letters themselves.
Earlier this month we participated in the LetterWest Conference with a mini exhibition using hi-fi captures from objects in our collection. Historical instructional material can be found throughout the Archive, from the regal copybooks of Baroque writing masters, to informal lettering manuals for mid-century modern advertising. Here are a few highlights spanning the last three centuries.
Hundreds of items from Rand’s archive, including process material and personal copies of his work, encapsulate a radiant career.
When visitors make requests for Letterform Archive tours and research visits, we hear one name more than any other: Paul Rand. We’ve always had a few special things to show them: brand guides for IBM and NeXT, packaging for Selectric font elements and Producto cigars, and some key poster and book designs. The latest addition, however, brings us a significant collection from his own archive, giving visitors unprecedented access to his work.
Dating back to 1985, specimens of Ahn’s digital type represent the origins of exploration and play found in Hangul design today.
Ahn Sang Soo is often recognized as the father of contemporary Korean type design, and for good reason. His first typeface designed in 1985 broke the molds of Hangul’s traditional design and paved a path of experimentation for the young script. An alumnus and now a professor and Head of the Graphic Design department of Seoul Hongik University, he’s made major typographic contributions in both design and discourse. In 2012, he founded the Paju Typography Institute (PaTI), an alternative design school, as well as AG Typography Institute, an organization that’s dedicated to not only the design of new typefaces, but research, writing, exhibitions, and book design. He’s also published several design books and translated seminal works on typography by Jan Tschichold and Emil Ruder into Korean. Since AG’s founding, Ahn’s original designs have expanded and new faces have been developed. Throughout his career, his typographic lens has also been applied to print magazines, visual arts, photography, poetry, architecture, and more — altogether representing Ahn’s legacy, and his emphasis on the importance of design, research, and play.
Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with two magazines that represent the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century.
Two weeks ago, our “Periodicals as Collections” series featured bauhaus magazine, the quarterly journal of the German art school that was founded 100 years ago this month. Today, we will explore two more magazines that together weave a narrative about the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century. It is also the story of how a particular Bauhaus student would have a hand in continuing the school’s legacy.
Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with a closer look at the Bauhaus’s magazine on the school’s 100th birthday.
The second installment of Letterform Archive’s survey of avant-garde periodicals recognizes an auspicious occasion. This month marks the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, one of the most significant and influential institutions in 20th-century design history.
Experience Letterform Archive from anywhere in the world.
When guests visit the Archive our goal is to inspire them through radical access to our collection of graphic design and typography artifacts. The aim is to encourage discovery through visual exploration. Now we’re making that experience available to everyone everywhere with the new Online Archive. Charter members will receive exclusive access to the beta before we officially go live in 2020.
We welcome two design icons with the experience and vision to help shape Letterform Archive’s future.
We are pleased and humbled to announce two new members of our Board of Directors. Beyond their impactful professional resumes, Susan Kare and Louise Sandhaus exemplify the range of background and engagement with the design community that will help guide the Archive in our pivotal early years.
From Tokyo, an annual carnival of numerals in every form imaginable — and many forms never before imagined.
Every year, since 2012, Tézzo Suzuki makes a calendar. It’s a personal project, an opportunity to work without clients. It’s also a chance to “pursue new graphical vocabulary”. With each year he dreams up new ways to render numbers one through 31, each limited only by color (one) and canvas (square). Suzuki graciously donated the 2018 and 2019 editions of the calendar to the Archive, and Calendar 19 just arrived.
The San Francisco duo demonstrate the impact of the designer’s voice in politics and graphic design.
Mark Fox and Angie Wang do not shy away from deploying design as critique. Together they are Design is Play, a studio practice formed in 2008 recognized for award-winning branding and identity work in addition to political graphics. They are educators of design and typography at California College of the Arts, as well as advocates of issues they care about. Fox and Wang’s collection at the Archive is worthy of attention — for both its aesthetic merit and its cultural relevance in our current political moment. Many have debated the designer’s role in politics, and Fox and Wang set an example of how design can pull back the curtain to describe how the world is, or even imagine how it could be.
The San Francisco designer reminds us about the beauty of not knowing how things will turn out.
On paper, Martin Venezky is an artist, designer, photographer, and educator. He is also a collector, and some might even consider him a sort of curator. He often plays these roles all at the same time, whether he’s working on a project or not. In both his life and in his practice, he tells stories by combining and recontextualizing images and objects found in the world to create new worlds. His process reveals a lot about his own story too — one of imperfection, surprise, and patience.
“To design a poster and do the whole thing digitally? That gets boring. You’re just sitting there hitting keys, but you kinda wanna get in and see the scale of it.”
A large collection of objects by an under-appreciated Dutch modernist demonstrates the branding power of lettering and color.
Our holdings of packaging design recently got a significant boost with the addition of several hundred objects created by Jacob (commonly signed “Jac.”) Jongert in the 1920s and ’30s for Van Nelle, a Rotterdam-based manufacturer of coffee, tea, and tobacco. The extensive and varied collection includes labels, boxes, tins, in-store displays, posters, advertising, and other collateral, like pocket notebooks and calendars.
Now at Letterform Archive, a landmark of 15th-century bookmaking.
We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of our first complete incunable (book printed before 1501). The Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the most densely illustrated and technically advanced incunables, and helps us tell the story of letterforms in the early years of printing.
For most of Letterform Archive’s existence, one woman has been behind our camera, capturing and sharing the collection for publications, research requests, and social media.
Camille Brown joined the Archive in May 2016 as an intern, and soon took a place on staff as Photographer. Her deft shooting and post-processing skills made large and demanding projects – like the Dwiggins book – possible. And her keen and curious eye set the standard for our social feeds, attracting tens of thousands followers on Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram. Now we bid Camille a tearful farewell as she leaves us for her next life chapter in New York.
The globe-trotting, mind-bending books of Francis Van Maele and Antic-Ham consistently inspire vocal reactions from our visitors.
Artists’ books, simply put, are works of art created in the form of a book. Letterform Archive shows work from our artists’ book collection in every tour we lead. We like to think of each as a complete thought — a thoroughly considered work from start to finish. The materials used to create the book and how the reader interacts with it are equally as important as the images or text the reader sees.
We’re delighted to have several works by Redfoxpress in our artists’ book collection. Originally founded in Luxembourg in 2000 by Francis Van Maele, Redfoxpress is now located on Achill Island (Ireland) and has been co-run by duo Francis Van Maele and Antic-Ham — or Franticham — since 2005. They are creators of screen prints, photographs, stationary, zines, and especially artist books. Redfoxpress participates in book fairs all around the world, including the Bay Area’s very own Codex, which is where we first learned of their work in 2013.
Rare type and talent went into the making of the letterpress portfolio for W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design.
Dwiggins’s visual inventiveness was matched by his verbal wit, and he left behind a number of charming stories and playful but potent essays that helped to define the fields of graphic, advertising, and book design. The deluxe edition of Bruce Kennett’s Dwiggins biography includes a portfolio of Dwiggins’s writings, set in his own typefaces made for the Linotype machine. (The standard edition of the book includes high-fidelity reproductions of these pages.)
In his book’s acknowledgments, Bruce thanks “the Metal Squad who produced the letterpress portfolio (which also appears in the book as the Writings section): Michael Babcock, Darrell Hyder, John Kristensen, and Andrew Steeves, all of whom brought not only their experience and skills, but also their respect and admiration for Dwiggins.” As the final proofs of A Life in Design head to the printer, we look back at the efforts from this team of craftsmen and the methods, both analog and digital, which made the portfolio possible.
Our local and global audience is growing steadily, but Letterform Archive is still a fairly young organization, and this year offered many opportunities to introduce ourselves to new audiences beyond the Bay Area. The last few months were particularly eventful, with a whirlwind of collections projects, hosting visits, planning exhibitions, and sending our team off to represent the Archive and show our collection at conferences all around the world. I had the pleasure of working with our curator, Rob Saunders, on a pop-up exhibit for the 2017 AIGA Conference in Minneapolis.
Bruce Kennett’s biography of W. A. Dwiggins is nearly ready to go to press. A few lucky backers of the project are set to receive the deluxe edition of the book, bound with a leather spine that features gold foil-stamped lettering by master calligrapher, Richard Lipton. This week we talked to Richard about penning the proper spine for Letterform Archive’s first publication.
What’s your relationship to Dwiggins’s work?
Richard Lipton: Like so many graphic designers, calligraphers, and type designers, I had something of a love affair with his multifaceted work. He was a consummate craftsman and there is much to admire in so many aspects surrounding his many interests, accomplishments, and sense of humor.
I came to his work first as a budding calligrapher. I had the opportunity to visit his Hingham studio along with Ed Karr and Jackie Sakwa in the early 1980s and was given a personal guided tour by Dorothy Abbe. I was just fascinated by everything I saw there and heard the admiration in Dorothy’s voice as she described his talent and dedication to everything he touched. There is a warmth and human touch present in all of his work that spoke clearly to the time in which he lived.
Jim Parkinson tells us about reviving Electra for Bruce Kennett’s W. A. Dwiggins biography.
Those of you who have followed the progress of Letterform Archive’s first publication, the forthcoming W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, already know that this book will be both a celebration of this prolific author, artist, and designer, and also the culmination of forty years of passionate research and collecting by two of his biggest fans — the book’s author, designer, and chief visionary, Bruce Kennett, and Letterform Archive’s founder, Rob Saunders. At nearly 500 pages and including 1,200 illustrations, the book is a labor of love and has received unstinting attention to the writing, editing, design, and production. In keeping with our ambition to present Dwiggins in a publication worthy of him, Letterform Archive also commissioned Oakland-based type designer Jim Parkinson to create a digital revival of Dwiggins’s Electra typeface that honors the design’s original personality and strength. The resulting fonts — which we have named “Aluminia” after one of the marionettes Dwiggins designed and fabricated in the 1930s — will be used throughout the Dwiggins biography and are now available for purchase.
For backers who have already purchased the fonts, we expect to deliver these along with your license within the next two weeks. Watch your inbox and, if you haven’t yet responded to our survey requesting your delivery address, please do so as soon as possible, or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that the fonts are finished, we are making steady progress towards sending the book to press and will soon follow this update with additional news and information. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this recent interview with Jim Parkinson, in which he shares both the challenges and the delights of this intriguing project.
Once threatened by dispersal, over 60,000 letter templates from the British Linotype company now have a home at Letterform Archive.
In early April 2017, dozens of boxes arrived at the Archive. Each was packed with hundreds of folders containing thousands of large cards. And on each card, a pencil drawing of a single letter outline, annotated with measurements, character information, dates, and a draftperson’s signature.
On behalf of Bruce Kennett, Rob Saunders, Stephen Coles, and everyone here at Letterform Archive, I would like to thank all 1,059 backers who helped bring the Dwiggins book project to life and ensure Kennett’s remarkable biography will be published.
We are grateful for the outpouring of support, and thrilled to have connected with this worldwide community of Dwiggins fans. If we include the direct, offline orders we received from individuals and institutions who could not use Kickstarter, we surpassed our stretch goal. Therefore, in addition to publishing this book, we are committed to digitizing our entire Dwiggins collection, starting with the rarest materials.
Orders for the deluxe edition have now closed, but in case you or someone you know would like a copy of the standard edition and missed the opportunity to get one on Kickstarter, we have set up a page on Indiegogo InDemand to collect all remaining preorders until we go to press in August. Update: You can now order the book directly from the Letterform Archive shop.
In honor of Earth Day 2017, we bring you this small pamphlet, written and designed by W. A. Dwiggins nearly seventy-five years ago, and published by the Typophiles in 1943. The context for this piece was World War II. Influenced by his Quaker background, Dwiggins created, on more than one occasion, vivid work that advocated for an end to aggression and violence. The message of The Crew of the Ship Earth still resonates today, and it seems appropriate to look again at this tiny pamphlet and appreciate its powerful vision: “… an entirely new mental picture of the world’s population: a picture of all of us together sharing the same needs, the same dangers, the same fate … the same hope … .
W. A. Dwiggins has a posse. We launched our Kickstarter campaign for A Life in Design on March 27 with the hope of reaching some of his many fans around the world. Here we are, twenty-six days later, and the community has responded in force, manifesting a genuine and widespread interest in the man and his work. While our original fundraising goal represented only a fraction of the actual costs needed to develop and produce this book at a level that does justice to Bruce Kennett’s remarkable biography, we now have received the resources needed to cover our expenses.
As a nonprofit organization, we are committed to using all proceeds to further our mission. Therefore, in response to the phenomenal outpouring of support, we feel compelled to do more. As we head into the last week of the campaign, we’re introducing a stretch goal of $175,000. The additional funds would allow us to digitize the rarest Dwiggins objects in our collection and share them in a public, online gallery of zoomable, downloadable images. While “A Life in Design” includes over 1200 illustrations, it represents only a segment of Letterform Archive’s holdings, which include process work, original sketches, typeface proofs, and other unique material rarely seen outside our doors. A rich web gallery will introduce Dwiggins to designers and makers around the globe. Here’s a sample of what’s possible.
Philip Grushkin was a tour de force in the publishing world. Before launching his prolific career, Grushkin studied under master book jacket designer George Salter. Working largely during the 1940s–80s, he designed book jackets for publishers like Random House and Alfred A. Knopf. He later became an art director, designing hundreds of books for Abrams Art Books.
Letterform Archive acquired a modest portion of Gruskin’s archives in the fall of 2016, complete with original art and mechanicals for several of his dust jacket designs. The collection is a great source of education and inspiration for both students and researchers. Showing final pieces, while highlighting edits and production notes in the process pieces is an excellent tool for explaining pre-digital printing processes to aspiring graphic designers.
Letterform Archive’s publishing program debuts with W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, a comprehensive illustrated biography of the innovative type designer, illustrator, and lettering artist, William Addison Dwiggins. Written and designed by Bruce Kennett, with a foreword by Steven Heller, this book is essential for anyone interested in graphic design, publishing, and the book arts.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book is now available directly from Letterform Archive.
Jack Stauffacher (who celebrated his 96th birthday in December 2016) has been making books since age 16 — which means 80 years spent practicing and perfecting the interrelated arts of printing, typography, design, and publishing. A 2004 AIGA medalist, the self-taught Stauffacher is one of the most distinguished printers in the United States today.
Last fall, Letterform Archive acquired over 200 of Stauffacher’s wood type prints. These are the product of the printer-typographer’s experiments with the drawers of wood type he inherited at his 300 Broadway studio, located in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.
These wooden letters — many mismatched, not a single complete alphabet among them — provided, simultaneously, a semantic constraint and a material freedom. Stauffacher used the opportunity to create “monoprints,” no two the same. Among his techniques: manipulating the layouts of the letters on the bed of his press between impressions; using solvents and sponges (among other materials) to create unique textural variations and effects with inking; iterating with sub-sets of letters; and inking once, then printing multiple times. The resulting prints offer striking variance in color, shape, texture, and pattern — a particular contrast with Stauffacher’s more traditional editioned productions.
A facsimile edition of these prints is forthcoming from Letterform Archive.
Dutch designer Piet Zwart (1885-1977) was trained as an architect, but is best known as a pioneer of twentieth-century experimental typography and photomontage. He preferred to call himself a “form engineer” because he was such a strong believer in functionality, standardization and machine production. The master set from Zwart’s own archive is at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.
Letterform Archive’s collection of Piet Zwart was begun thirty years ago, but it has been substantially enhanced by newly acquired material. Starting in 2013 there was a series of five auctions in the Netherlands featuring duplicates from Zwart’s personal archive. We were an active bidder in all five sales.
Our Piet Zwart collection now contains over 120 pieces of rare ephemera. Many are proof copies (printed on one side only) with dates or other notations in his own hand, and almost all have Zwart’s name and address rubber stamped in green on the back.
The items featured in the linked PDF arrived recently from the last of the five auction sales.
Letterform Archive gratefully acknowledges Aaron Marcus’s recent generous donation of an archive of his work.
The newly acquired collection encompasses a broad swath of Marcus’s works and interests, ranging from art and design to physics and computer science. Through his experimental design works and creative explorations, Marcus challenges both our notion of what letters are and how they are constructed. His explorations — through both hand work and computer code — prefigure a computer-assisted approach to creative expression that is widely utilized by artists and designers today.
Thanks to a generous gift from Professor Dennis Y. Ichiyama, Letterform Archive is excited to add nearly 200 identity manuals to our collection.
Dennis Ichiyama is a designer and professor of visual communication design at Purdue University. As a student, he studied under Paul Rand at Yale, learning the importance of creating within limitations — a philosophy he carried with him into a long career as a designer and educator.