Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brothers from seemingly everywhere

If only Trump could acknowledge what makes us great. Michael Daly's June 20, 2017 post about the USS Fitzgerald disaster (and one man's heroism) says it all. Here's an extract of Daly's essay in The Daily Beast:
And therein resides America’s true greatness, the making of shipmates and brothers of people hailing from seemingly everywhere. Along with Tran Huynh from Vietnam and Oakville, Connecticut, these particular seven included Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from Okinawa and then San Diego; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Guatemala and then Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor “Hitch” Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from the Philippines and then Chula Vista, California; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Keep True


My intern, a graduating FIT Senior, has a very busy Wednesday, a day on which she has three classes. This past Thursday, when I asked how her previous day went, she replied that it was good and that they'd had a speaker, who was very inspiring. I asked who the speaker was—and wasn't surprised to learn that it was the incomparable Debbie Millman, who talked about overcoming rejection.

Everyone has been rejected. But few people overcome rejection and dejection as brilliantly and with such intelligent focus as Debbie. In addition to persevering, Debbie is a gifted storytelling, weaving anecdotes about herself while guiding others to overcome.

• • •

Bear with me here. The waters get a bit deep and roiled. My comparisons will be a bit  grandiose. And I'm not necessarily comparing Millman to Melville—although I could argue that, like Melville, Millman incorporates all aspects of her voracious reading into a body of work. Where am I going with this?

Well, I just finished both Moby-Dick, the novel, and Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? Philbrick succinctly discusses many of the themes of the novel and how they apply so universally to the pre-Civil War United States or to the Vietnam Era or, most obviously to us, our time of Trump. Writing Moby-Dick was not easy. After meeting Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose work pulses with the power of darkness, Melville scrapped a lot of his whaling yarn and reworked it into the novel everyone so admires. It went well, but it didn't. That is, Melville completed his astounding trove of a book and it was published, but to bad reviews. The book didn't sell well. Melville and his famous eventually moved from the Berkshires to New York, where Melville worked as a customs inspector for almost twenty years. Neither he nor his family knew that decades would pass before his magnum opus would surface as a daunting but beloved classic.

Here's where Millman and Melville dovetail: in their pursuit of what makes them themselves. I can't put it better than Philbrick:
After Melville's death, his family found a possible clue as to how he managed to survive the forty-year backwash left by the creation of Moby-Dick and, indeed, how he came to write that novel in the first place. Atop a table piled high with papers was a portable writing desk. Taped inside the desk, which had no bottom [a metaphor waiting to be cracked open?], was a piece of paper with a motto printed on it: "Keep true to the dreams of thy youth."
Philbrick explains that the phrase comes from the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller. He also comments that despite Melville's melancholy disposition, woes, disappointments, shortcomings and rejections, his late-in-life letters indicate that he eventually returned to the "view espoused by Ishmael in Moby-Dick."  Philbrick writes, "this redemptive mixture of skepticism and hope, this genial stoicism in the face of a short, ridiculous, and irrational life, is why I read Moby-Dick."

It's why—among other reasons—I'll re-read Moby-Dick and Why Read Moby-Dick—and why I'll continue to read articles and listen to podcasts by (or about) Debbie Millman. It's also why I'll dive into what takes time to burn off blubber (I know; lame) and return to/tend to those dreams.


"Keep true to the dreams of thy youth."


PS
Moby-Dick has inspired a LOT of gorgeously illustrated and produced editions. The images above are by Rockwell Kent, who created these illustrations in 1930. The image is a spread from Rockwell Kent, An Anthology of His Work, Edited with an Introduction by Fridolf Johnson, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1982. Design direction and graphics by R. Scudellari; design and coordination by Naomi Osnos. (Cool trivia for me: Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown, NY)

Monday, November 7, 2016

A bigger design, headed by an "H"

Susan Faludi’s piece in The New York Times (Oct 30, 2016) reminds me that change is a looooong time coming—assuming it comes at all. Hillary is pilloried for being smart, feisty, persistent, you name it. One thing is indisputable: Hillary Rodham Clinton has had a plan for decades.

Back in the day, when I served as (apparently) the first woman co-editor of uPenn’s yearbook, the Record, the editorial group documented current pressing issues—most of which haven’t changed. When we discussed Women’s Lib, the male photography editor gleefully noted that his friend could do a cartoon of an Amazon holding up a couple of vanquished men. Hardy har har. We ran the cartoon—and I made sure it was was positioned between a quote implying liberated women are neurotic and my editorial riposte. In its review, The Daily Pennsylvanian stated my essay was too soft. It was. But I stand by every impassioned and prolix word of it—however bad the writing and the typography seem today.

I also stand with Hillary, flaws and all.

In case you’re feeling strong, the text is below. In case you want to see snaps of the pages of the ancient artefact, I can post them.

• • •

START ESSAY—FROM THE PENN RECORD DECADES AGO

Not all Women’s Lib members are neurotic. Or ugly. Many people who consider Women’s Rights as an important issue which has been glossed over for centuries, scorn critics’ labels and look beyond the stereotypes. Despite such understanding by some, however, the stigma of a liberated woman as a Charlotte Atlas, raging Fury, and wearer of jockey shorts remains. While the misconceptions provide occasionally amusing cartoon material, they miss the point.

Liberated females don’t all want to unsex themselves. They simply wish to point out that women are much stronger mentally and physically than many people wish to admit. Men often seem to hate the thought of being outdone by “the weaker sex.” If a female performs in a superior manner, she is metamorphosed into a freak or amazon since girls supposedly aren’t capable of such feats. A woman’s place is in the home—or at least out of obvious competition.

Women’s Liberation complains that women have been stifled by the traditional concepts and roles  of females. By raising consciousness, the movement sensitizes women to such facts:

—To many, girls, exist only for marriage, and once married, life’s problems will come from burnt meals. The idea that after marriage a woman is a mere auxiliary rather than her own thinking being, is inane.
—In employment, women with college degrees are often put into clerical or secretarial positions. Other more stimulating jobs go to less “risky,” less “emotional” male family heads. The female family bread-earners are ignored.
—Females applying to professional schools are often told their chances of survival are slim because they will probably marry. Men admitted to professional schools, on the other hand, often marry and depend on their wives for support.
—Women who have lasted through rigorous academic training and become holders of M.A.’s or Ph.D’s, are paid lower salaries than male counterparts.

The basic issue is much more than equal pay for equal jobs, however; it is equal treatment for equal capability and performance. By demanding such right, women do not necessary condemn the age-old roles of wife and mother. Like any other human, women need people—the other sex included—in order to interact as a complete being [sic]. The women do, however, condemn generalizations that place them in categories such as passive, scatter-brained, indecisive, and useless outside the house. Women’s Lib is working to obliterate the inaccurate definitions of what a female is and can do. Perhaps by dispelling old myths explicitly defining femininity and implicitly defining masculinity, women will liberate a few males as well.

—Beth Tondreau

END ESSAY

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm with Her



Catching up with aging copies of The New Yorker magazine, I read an article by Margaret Talbot, "The Baby Lab: How Elizabeth Spelke peers into the infant mind (September 4, 2006 [yes, I'm that far behind!]).

The article is interesting, delves into research about early development of children and how their baby minds interpret the world, and notes the "uniquely human is the capacity to combine such core abilities—through the medium of language, Spelke surmises—into more sophisticated capabilities. . . ."

Talbot's article details: Spelke's work with eminent child psychologist Jerome Kagan, Spelke's acknowledgment of how Robert Fantzs' studies of the late nineteen fifties "gave us a set of tools that let us play Twenty Questions with a baby, visual stimuli, babies' implicit knowledge, and Steven Pinker's admiration for and later disagreements with Spelke—possibly due to gender differences.

Needless to say, I've grossly simplified an article that's a bit over my head, the ending of the article struck a chord especially in light of the current election and the disaster of a debate last night (to use only once a word the Republican candidate repeated so often it could spawn a drinking game).

Talbot quotes Elizabeth Spelke's post on Edge, a Web publication that airs scientific controversies:  "Humans are capable of discovering that our core conceptions are false and of replacing them with truer ones." Spelke's post continues:

Nobody should be troubled by our research, whatever we come to find. . . . Everybody should be troubled by the phenomena that motivate it: the pervasive tendency of people all over the world to categorize others into different social groups, despite our common and universal humanity, and to endow these groups with social and emotional significance that fuels ethnic conflict and can even lead to war and genocide.

Talbot's final paragraph, written only a year after Donald Trump's (1950s frat boy) locker room banter, is partly upsetting, partly prophetic, and slightly hopeful.

This mirrors her [Spelke's] belief that, in time, feminism will embolden more women to take up high-level careers int the physical sciences, and more of us will recognize how alike men's and women's minds really are. For Spelke, who has spent most of her life documenting the core knowledge that we're born with, the more important thing about it is our uniquely human ability to rise above it.

In an election where one candidate's unevolved core knowledge is dragging down discourse, I can only hope that Hillary Clinton can rise and stay above so that citizens who are currently responding with their guts will do a "Wait. What?" and vote with their heads.

CAPTION: some of the campaign buttons from The Forty-Five Pin Project, art directed by the Hillary Clinton campaign Design Director, Jennifer Kinon.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

More Happy Hundredth Birthday to the National Park System

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the only National Park to flow through a state capitol (i.e. St. Paul, Minneapolis). Pat and I were happy to take a gorgeous boat ride on the Mississippi (on a cheesy boat smelling like some sort of antiseptic, but who wanted to stay inside anyway?). We were also happy to see that The Minneapolis Institute of Art has placed picture frames around the Twin Cities in conjunction with the 100th Anniversary of The National Park System and an exhibit of Paul Allen's collection of nature art. Happy Birthday! (By the way, what do you think of the anniversary logo?

Repost from 2013. Happy Birthday, National Park Service

Inspired by the postcard of a 1939 WPA poster from your summer 2013 cross country trip, I checked out Ranger Doug's site. The Grand Canyon is just one of the fabulous art homages designed for the National Parks between 1935 and 1943—and returned to life decades later by Doug Leen. 

The history is indeed "rangers of the lost art." In 1973, while a seasonal park ranger, Doug Leen discovered a 1938 Grand Teton beaut (as in "beauty" not "butte") destined for the park burn pile. As the site's history section notes, the poster piqued Leen's curiosity, and "a 20-year effort led him to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where 13 black-and-white negatives survived in the file drawers of the National Park Service archives. These negatives and the single Teton poster, then the only one known to survive (and the first poster designed by the Federal Poster Project for the national parks), were used as templates."

In addition to showing and selling its gorgeously-reconstructed silkscreened posters, rangerdoug.com reveals the rich history of the poor times in the mid-1930s to pre-World War II. According to the site, FDR's WPA employed more than 8 million workers—with seven percent of the WPA budget going for arts projects such as murals and posters—and a few years into the program, posters for the National Park Service.


I bought the YellowstoneAcadia, and Arches posters for the office, to recall three faves of my numerous national park visits. The posters, masterpieces of silkscreening, are even more glorious than they look online; in the flesh/paper/ink, they're rich and tactile.

Do you know of any examples of gorgeous art and/or design fostered by the US government during our current recession?

The Grand Canyon and Teton posters are screenshots from Ranger Doug's site. Yellowstone, Acadia, and Arches are my quick shots of purchased posters and don't do justice to the colors or the feel of the silkscreens.




Sunday, June 5, 2016

I wanna be just like you


























Via Steve Heller's Daily Heller, here's what I found most striking about his post featuring Valnoir of Metastazis Studio. For wannabe-former good doobies, this is just one brilliant wake-up call.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Sew beautiful

Around a century ago, machines were functional but were also decorated. Today, they're a display in   the Soho store of All Saints Spitalfields. (Interestingly, architect Ernest Flagg's 1902Little Singer Building at 561 Broadway is not too far from the afore-mentioned store now hosting a wall of machines.)

The designs of the decals are beautiful and humbling—and the ornamentation and typography hint at the influences (some Art Nouveau, as shown) of the time.





Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Resident alien

Perhaps because I'm currently reading Jhumpa Lahiri's In Altre Parole, I'm more aware than ever that feeling displaced and dislocated can impede or inspire art, whether verbal or visual. Lahiri's mental and emotional home is Rome, where she writes that she feels the freedom to be imperfect in the Italian language—even as she (or her narrator) remains in her own head.

With Lahiri's words—and the assigned pages for the next day's Italian class—in my brain, I happened upon a small exhibit at Marymount College about Immigrant Artists. (Richer and deeper info about this exhibit is to come, along with possibly more images.)

The piece that spoke most loudly to me was visually easy to love. Created by the Spanish artist Isidro Blasco, it shows the artist's penchant for photographing from tall buildings in many cities and then constructing a three-dimensional sculpture that pops.

In this tapas-like show, the section by Carin Goldberg—whom I admire immensely—was more cerebral than visual. While on Fellowship at The American Academy in Rome, Goldberg's act of collecting and analyzing detritus from the city (which has been described by others as pretty darned dirty), was one of the ways she conducted a dialogue with Rome. Although her marks (drawings/paintings) in this show didn't sing "Roma" to me, the small jars of water from fountains both famous and unknown evoked the idea of Rome—as well as memories of my own childhood trips to places far more prosaic than Rome (I'm thinking of car trips which yielded souvenirs like an inch of Missouri dirt). Of course, I'm combining the sacred of Italy and the profane of the US, but so does Carin in researching both the high and the low. In an interview, Carin Goldberg thoughtfully discusses dislocation and describes a work process when in Rome that surely will yield more exhibits and (I hope) talks.

Carin Goldberg's explorations put me in mind of Molly Haskell's  review of Luc Sante's recent book The Other Paris, where the seedy undersides of neighborhood reveal the real—and often lost—attributes of a beloved location.

Why Rome? To understand who we are or are not? Overcome feelings of displacement? With the exception of Rome, Jhumpa Lahiri feels uncomfortable in most places. In her writing and in interviews, Lahiri says she has no real home. On the other hand, Carin Goldberg is very clear about who and what she is: a New Yorker.  For both artists, however, arts and letters provide a way to make sense of the world—both old and new.


Image: Isidro Blasco's New York Wave (2015). 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bewitching

Forgive the semi-self-referential post, but for Halloween and cat-lovers everywhere, here's a perfect combo: a how-to book called Tiny Hats on Cats by Buzzfeed Illustrator and Internet DIY sensation Adam Ellis, who has created an amusingly-exhaustive book of petits chapeaux for your kitty.

It's not the most complex support for a book guts project BTD has ever designed for Hachette, but it's one of the more amusing. If you don't want your kitty to be a witch, then there are many other options. It's not too late to buy the book at an old-fashioned brick and mortar store and create costumes for your furry friend. The recent spate of books spawned by canine and feline YouTube/Instagram/blog sensations shows that now, on the Internet, everyone knows you're a dog . . . or cat.

0 x 30?

Very clean and very noticeable poster on NYC sanitation trucks. But what does the goal mean? The NYC Sanitation tweet alludes to the goal, but what IS the goal? If 15 pounds of garbage are thrown away by every New Yorker every week on average, then I guess the goal is 0. But what's the 30?

The clean typography on the numbers made me look.

Monday, October 19, 2015

TWA. Up up and away

It was like a vacation without any baggage. Yesterday's Open House New York included Eero Saarinen's exquisite JFK Flight Center (formerly the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at JFK Airport. The trip from the L train to the E to the AirTrain was easy and full of the happy anticipation of seeing a landmark as it was more or less designed before it becomes a museum and hotel.


I've always loved the building, possibly because it's amazing—or more likely because I have a 1970s-vintage photo my Dad took of me in the TWA terminal, right before I boarded a flight to return to London, where I was working at the time.

For Open House NY, The Port Authority of NY & NY handed out a fact sheet, with gorgeous architectural shots of an unpopulated building on one side and facts on the other. But yesterday, the terminal was anything but empty. Hordes of us—all armed with cameras or phones or cameras and phones—descended like happy birds, all taking the same photos with both iPhones and larger cameras. An empty bank of old phones (ca 1990s?)? Click! The departure boards? Click! Attendees costumed in Sixties garb to mark the 1962 opening of the terminal? Click! In a less-vintage mode, former employees of TWA, whose assets were acquired by American Airlines in 2001, visited with each other in TWA tee shirts or jackets.



It was a gorgeous day with a crowd that was tickled to be there—and it was a huge a tribute to Eero Saarinen, to preservation, and to architects. Saarinen's visionary and sculptural spaces even put me in mind of another awe-inspiring architect with a sense of flight: Antoni Gaudí, whose buildings are also ongoing feats of construction and restoration.


Info bits cribbed from a handout from The Port Authority of NY & NJ, info at the terminal and Beyer Blinder Belle's website.
  • The TWA Terminal opened in 1962.
  • Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) was born in Finland to textile artist Loja Gesellius Saarinen and internationally-heralded architect Eliel Saarinen.
  • Eero Saarinen designed the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis Missouri (aka Gateway Arch).
  • 1994. The terminal was designated a NYC Landmark.
  • 2001. Unable to support the size of modern aircraft, the terminal was closed.
  • 2005. The terminal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2010–12. Beyer Blinder Belle performed restoration cleanup work.
  • 2018. Planned completion date of the TWA Flight Center Hotel, with a design partnership that includes MCR Development, JetBlue and the Port Authority. BBB will work with Lubrano Ciavarra Architects (a smaller firm founded by Lea Ciavarra and Anne Marie Lubrano).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis and juxtapositions



Not too far from his temporary NYC residence, at around 8:11am, Pope Francis rode to the UN starting down Fifth Avenue. Many vehicles preceded and protected a small Fiat with a big mission. Most of us used our phones to catch (or try to!) the moment.


Lower down Fifth Avenue, another icon drew large crowds lining up for the iPhone 6s. And a bit further south, two different kinds of branding coexist where Saks's banners wave behind the Papal flag.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The beauty of Amsterdam

I often joke with my students that I'm a nightmare to travel with because I'm always taking shots of typography to share with them! In Amsterdam, I was delighted by the gorgeous hand painted script faces:


Idiosyncratic stacking:



Fresh use of Helvetica:


And this... an undeniably gorgeous tweak on Garamond for the signage for the Plantage district, designed by Dijkhuis+Dijkstra. (And is that Eric Spiekermann's ubiquitous Meta typeface there for the text?)



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Spelling Shakespeare and an "E" for Economics






An article by Dennis Drabelle in uPenn's alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, about so-called polymath Victorian collector Horace Howard Furness includes a cool bit of typographical reason for why the Philadelphia Shakspere Society spelled the Bard's name without an "e" between the "k" and the "s."
(Re the name: Penn English professors Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, in a 1993 article in Shakespeare Quarterly, note that no two of the Bard’s six surviving “supposed autographs” are spelled the same way—but none of them include an e between the surname’s two syllables. 
The e may well have been inserted by printers to avoid setting a k before an s—the long s of the period, that is, which looks like an f—because the two letters would crowd each other and were apt to break during the printing process. “To avoid breakage (and the ensuing fine),” de Grazia and Stallybrass explain, “a compositor would set a neutral typebody between k and long s”—sometimes a hyphen, sometimes an e. Thus, today’s received spelling “is not that of the author’s hand but that of the printer’s press and reflects not a personal investment in the question of identity but rather an economic use in the preservation of typeface.”)
Like so many things, the added "e" is a matter of economics.

A bit of nerdy explanation of the example I set of Shakespeare's name in roman and italic at the top of this squib: it's in Bembo, an Old Style typeface. Of course, the Bembo my office owns is not at all the face that printers would have used back in the day. The Bembo shown here is digital as opposed to the hot metal that printers needed to keep from getting banged up. But Bembo historically closer to the 17th century images shown here from Penn's library site (top image; 1623; look at the "s" characters which look like "f"s) as well as from a PDF from the librarians at the University of Delaware (bottom image; 1634; same comment about the "f"-like "s" characters).

• • •

* Notes regarding the two title pages from just two of the many works by William Shakespeare, 1564–1616.
The title page from the University of Pennsylvania is Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies. London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. In Horace Howard Furness Memorial (Shakespeare) Library. Folio PR2751 .A1.
And the title page from the University of Delaware is, according to the PDF from the university's library, is "A rare early quarto edition of a play by William Shakespeare and John Fletchr entitled The Two Noble Kinsmen (London: by Tho. Cotes, for John Waterson, 1634). Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.

** Why not Caslon, so often used to evoke earlier English settings? Because Caslon's transitional typeface would have been a bit too late to look like these two title pages from 1623 and 1634. William Caslon was born in 1692/93.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fresh




Probably because of my involvement in mentoring, I've received emails from the YoungArts Foundation over the years. This most recent email is fresh, clean, different, with lots info and maximum impact.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ladislav Sutnar, Pioniere


Il 30 luglio, sono andata al un ricevimento per gli investitori e investitrice (investors) nel Campagna di Kickstarter per aiutare un publicazione di un libro su Ladislav Sutnar. Ladislav Sutnar (1897–1976) è nato in Czechoslovakia. In Czechoslovakia, lui ha rivoluzionato i designi dei libri. Quando Sutnar ha comminciato a lavorare, il mondo era comfortabile con il movimento Art Nouveau, ma Sutnar ha fatto il lavoro importante d’aspetto—o stile—“Functionalist” (Funcionalismus). Per la Casa Editrice Druzstevi Prace, lui ha creato gli visuali unificatti. Questo unità visuale, con una sistema, è stato l’inizio del’ identità corporata ch lui ha fatto pochi anno dopo negli Stati Uniti.

Dal 1927 al 1939, lui è stato il designatore ufficiale per tutti gli esposizione del  governmento Czech. In 1939, lo stato Czechoslovakia ha mandato Sutnar al New York, per aiutare fare il Pavilione Czech alla Fiera Mondiale. Allo scoppio della Guerra Mondiale Due, Sutnar ha deciso di rimanere a New York. Dal 1940 al 1960, Sutnar ha lavorato con Sweets Catalog, una compagnia che ha fatto gli catalogi complessi e technicali per gli architetti, ingenere, e costruttori. Il suo disegno pionieristico era chiaro da vedere e leggere e facile da usare.

Sutnar ha raccomandato il uso delle parentesi per i prefissi d’area per i telefoni. Questo contribuzione  è preso in considerazione un pietra miliar per i grafici d’informazione.

Per favore, fate gli correzione degli sbagli.

Foto di sopra: Beth Tondreau; di sotto: Google Images.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Small Change. Not.

I've been stressing about discussing with a client how to review a budget on a project which has expanded in work but not in compensation. Sincere explanation? Too boring and uncompelling. Humor? "Is there budget creep to go with mission creep?" As you can tell, I'm overthinking.

I can learn from my corner coffee guy, who clearly but nicely told me this morning that the coin I gave him yesterday wasn't a dollar (it was a Euro; clearly I can't recognize coins till I've had my coffee). The solution was simple; he just gave me less change this morning.

The lessons were pretty cool:
speak up, but calmly
trust makes a difference
and, of course,
count your change . . . or changes

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Chalking it up




























Screen shot of chalk lettering  used without specific permissions or identifications.

Chalk hand-lettering has been in vogue the last few years, with many a boite and bistro beautifully proclaiming their comestibles via lettering by designers like head-shakingly talented Dana Tanamachi and her cohort. The hand-drawn and ephemeral attributes make the gorgeous work even more visually valuable. Currently, the heated chalk lettering seems to be trending slightly downwards.

It's not the first chalk trend.

While reading Cokie Roberts's Ladies of Liberty, I was struck by a passage describing decorations for a ball Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams and her husband John Quincy Adams threw in 1824 to honor General Andrew Jackson, Adams's rival for and eventual successor as President of the United States.
John Quincy's niece, Abigail,was there and remembered the floor of the ballroom decorated with chalk "spread-eagels, flags, nd the motto 'Welcome to the hero of New Orleans.'" Louise had commented on the chalk floor decorations she had seen the year before at the British ambassador's, so she took the idea and adapted it to celebrate Jackson's feat.

According to Kathryn Kane's copyrighted Word Press blog The Regency Redingote:
the practice of chalking the floor of a ballroom appears to ahve originated near the turn of the nineteenth century, among the beau monde, and was employed on very special occasions for important balls . . . One of the primary reasons for chalking the floor was for the safety of the dancers. The soles of most dress shoes at that time, for both men and women, were of plain, smooth leather. Such soles could easily slip on a smooth waxed ballroom floor in the course of a dance. It had become the habit of many dancers to rub the soles of their shoes with chalk before they began dancing for the evening, to give their slick-soled dancing slippers a better grip. At some point, some clever host or hostess hit upon the idea of chalking the entire floor, to ensure the safety of all their dancing guests. BUt they did not just scatter chalk across the floor. They hired artists to draw beautiful patterns over the floor in chalk which would be danced out over the course of the evening. But regardless of their fleeting nature, the chalk designs on the floor would provide a visual treat to the guests before the ball began as well as eliminating slippage as the dacers whirled about the ballroom.
Dancers still chalk their shoes before tripping the light fantastic, but I've never seen any gorgeous chalk designs at any NYC dance venue. But I digress from design.

Kathryn Kane writes that for the 1824 Washington, DC, extravaganza

Louisa Catherine Adams hired the same artist, a man from Baltimore, to chalk the dance floor for her ball. She drew the designs herself and the artist then transferred them to the floor in chalk."

I'll ignore every current design practitioner's bane of a client designing a piece and then having  a designer execute it in favor of cooing about the  something beautiful and practical safety evolving into a visual and ephemeral treat.



SOURCES
Cokie Roberts' fascinating and occasionally too-breezy Ladies of Liberty.

Kathryn Kane's Word Press blog The Regency Redingote.
Fascinating site about First Ladies, firstladies.orghttp://www.firstladies.org/biographies

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sweet

Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar designed startling, revolutionary and clean books in his native country while most of his contemporaries were still in Art Nouveau mode (full disclosure: I love both Sutnar and Mucha, an Art Nouveau star). Last night, at a reception to thank Kickstarter contributors to a Sutnar book, expert and auctioneer Nicholas Lowry of the Swann Auction Galleries noted that the Sutnar on was perhaps the most comprehensive look of Sutnars in one place. The wall of Sutnar shown here includes one Sutnar wannabe or clone: a the work of a student with, as Lowry said, "a very brown nose" who paid homage (or at least we hope it was an homage) to his teacher.

Prior to last night, (the Daily Heller) I knew Sutnar primarily for his work on Sweet's Catalogs , wherein Sutnar turned nuts and bolts information into masterpieces of graphic design. In addition to posters, Swann Auction Galleries offered printed material for ogling and fondling. The rich chalky feel of some of the work provided an inspiring modern touchy-feely moment.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Celebrating Design (of Pluto)



While reading Kenneth Chang's piece in The New York Times, The Long, Strange Trip to Pluto, and How NASA nearly Missed It, I was struck by meticulous planning for the voyage of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. More than once, writer Chang used the word "design" in his article. And more than a few times, I thought that any kind of planning and design—no matter the purpose—faces the same sort of challenges.

Yeah. "Doh." Obvious perception. But back to the former planet Pluto.

In 2000, a study by
Dr. Stamatios Krimigis, then the head of the space department at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and a member of a committee that advised NASA on missions to the outer planets," worked like crazy to devise a cost estimate; their quick study produced the "basic design that would turn into New Horizons.
When NASA requested proposals for a competition to design a new Pluto mission, Dr. Krimigis enlisted Dr. S. Alan Stern, the head of the Southwest Research Institute's space studies department in Boulder, Colorado. Their team perfected New Horizons—which won the competition after much butt-busting (and just a bit of rocket science).

The sprint to design, build and test the spacecraft met budgetary obstacles. Sending a spacecraft into space involves far greater work than a book design (another "Doh" here), but a particular paragraph reminded me of many of budget discussion for the work in my office:

"Managers of spacecraft missions often talk about the trade-offs between cost, schedule and risk. Too quick and too cheap greatly raise the chance of failure. 'We don't believe in that,' Dr. Krimigis said."

While constructing the New Horizons spacecraft, the team used proven technologies and kept the design to the essentials—with the exception of a digital radio receiver that would consume less power. At one point, the Department of Energy informed the New Horizons team it couldn't provide enough plutonium as a power source, but the design decision to use a less power-hungry digital receiver enabled New Horizons to proceed with reduced wattage.

The last and most dramatic use of one sort of design followed by another sort of design—planning—occurred shortly after the fabulous transmissions that have us all transfixed. Ten days before the Pluto flyby, the spacecraft fell silent. The reason?
. . . the spacecraft's computer had overloaded trying to do things at once—receive instructions for the flyby while compressing images in its memory banks. By design, the main computer entered what engineers call "Safe mode to avoid damage to the spacecraft, and the backup computer kicked in.  . . . An hour and a half later, the ground stations detected the signal from the backup computer.
A smart design to avoid overload damage (from multi-tasking, which the world has learned is not possible from this piece and articles other than Chang's) led to the use of the obviously-intelligent plan to have a backup. Kenneth Chang slyly noted that although "flinging a spacecraft to a rendezvous at the edge of the solar system is indeed rocket science but not groundbreaking rocket science." But I think the forethought and collaboration and design that has New Horizons transmitting astounding data about Pluto pretty much rocks.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Awe inspiring

You were generous, Suzanne, when you introduced yourself to the table at Baruch College's Symposium, Thinking Through Design, to note that you developed a love of typography while working with me at BTDnyc. We do love us faces and fonts in the office.












Above: poster by Michael Bierut for the Austin Initiative for Graphic Awesomeness, instigated by UnderConsideration. 


But there are  designers who not only love/work with but also transform and create typography and fonts. The Type Directors Club (TDC) held an award ceremony and the opening of its 61st annual typography exhibit and the winners of the TDC typeface design competition. Louise Fili, who captures the beauty of Italy and gives it her own heart and soul and feel, deservedly won the inconsistently-awarded medal. Hingston Studio won the best in show for a David Bowie video with a gorgeously-lit noir approach and noir-er typography. I've loved David Bowie through every single one of his phases, will continue to love him forever—and I thought Tom Hingston's work was superlative. Yet, I couldn't help thinking that another David (Byrne) had already worked with an earlier brilliant firm (M&Co.) to equally-startling effect. Of course, as a designer who stays perhaps too much on well-trodden ground, I realize it's a fine and noble thing to capture something and give it a new (noir!) twist. Have a look at the video on the TDC site and tell me what you think.

Running through August 6 at the Cooper Gallery, the show includes a healthy representation of student work as well as winning entries by the usual suspects. There's a reason the usual suspects are so well-represented; their work is pretty awesome. The exhibit includes a few pieces I don't get; but a good poke in a new or different direction is one of the best reasons to see the show—possibly more than once.





Monday, July 13, 2015

Spitalfields Silks

I hadn't heard of the Spitalfields until a friend suggested that a group of friends convene in London and rent a home her acquaintances own in the district. Although we all didn't gather and only two of us made it to London and stayed with friend, I was intrigued by an industrial and historic area that's become gentrified and trendy (just like New York).

The proposed/unused holiday house was built in 1724 for a Huguenot Silk Merchant, saved from demolition in the 1970s, and then restored for twentieth century living under the auspices of the Spitalfields Trust. The top floor of the house was originally the weavers loft which housed the loom for making silk, and its current use as a master bedroom echoed the fate of of New York's industrial buildings.

Our quick trip precluded a trip to the Spitalfields neighborhood (next time!), but I learned that Spitalfields was settled by Huguenot silk weavers who fled religious persecution in France in the late 17th century and settled outside the bounds of the City of London. (there was apparently a Huguenot branch of my paternal family, hence my mild fascination with the emigrés.)

And we did get to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Like history and design sleuths, we found a small section devoted to Spitalfields silks. The small butrich display showed a number of and patterns. But more excitingly, it introduced me to a new (non Huguenot) heroine, Anna Maria Garthwaite.





Born in 1690, Anna Maria Garthwaite was a freelance English textile designer who "lived and worked in Spitalfields from about 1730 until her death in 1763. One of the leading pattern designers for the English silk industry, she "produced as many as 80 designs a year for master weavers and mercers textile merchants)." As someone who's still figuring out how to make a decent yet fabulous repeat pattern, I'm in awe. Although she was not herself a weaver, like all designers, Garthwaite had to understand the weaving process in order to make patterns that could be viably manufactured.





I just loved an arresting cut paper piece which Garthwaite made when she was seventeen (a friend tells me it's a famous piece of art in England). And her patterns are exquisite. It's worth checking out the V&A's image bank—especially the details on the seventh screen in.



Top photo of fabric by Anna Maria Garthwaite: V&A Museum, Spitalfields Silks by Moira Thunder. Permission to use image from CD packaged with the book is allowed for non income-producing projects (such as this blog).
Middle photo: furtive photo from Room 52b: dress fabric from a design by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1742.
Bottom photo: furtive photo number 2 from Room 52b: cut paper by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1707.

*Material in quotes is from wall text in the V&A display.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nothing Better

There's truly nothing better than a museum like London's Victoria & Albert Museum, which is dizzyingly full of riches.

Even the cafés are spectacular. The V&S's three dining rooms form the first museum restaurant in the world and were "intended as a showpiece of modern design, craftsmanship and manufacturing."

The large central Gamble Room (designed by James Gamble, 1865–78) is flanked by two smaller rooms: the Morris Room (designed by the firm set up by William Morris, 1866–8) and the Poynter Room (by Edward Poynter, 1876–81).

In The Gamble Room, stained glass windows, ceramics and even a piano (no one was playing when we were there) spectacularly vie for attention. Inscriptions in tile provide a typographical game, with one even ending in "X, Y, Z": "There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy the good of his labour—XYZ." I agree. There is nothing better.

A few questions, though! Why the "X, Y, Z"? Ideas? And while I'm asking for enlightenment, let me know if you find any information about the gorgeous allium-like light fixtures, which were not part of the original Gamble Room (The Central Refreshment Room), which had gas jets but not electricity in its early days of the 1860s.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Clear as a Bell


On a quick trip to London's V&A Museum, I passed this stained glass commissioned by Robert Bell (died 1577). Bell, a one-time thorn in the side of Elizabeth I and Speaker of the House of Commons, was knighted in 1577; but, felled by gaol fever while presiding as a judge, didn’t have much time to enjoy his new status or the stained glass he commissioned for the expansion of his home, Beaupré Hall. All of the heraldry may not be a quick read, but the three bells—which signal Sir Robert’s  three marriages—are clear.