Tag Archives: Graphic Design

Imag(in)ing Authors

I don’t think that there is any doubt that we used to glorify authors much more in the past than in the present: while the written word is still alive and well (for now) its producers are not the focal points of our popular culture that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald once were, except for those long-dead but seemingly eternal celebrity scribes like Will and Jane. There is so much material evidence of author adoration from a century and more ago : portraits, pilgrimages to literary “shrines”, biographies, the various Victorian “Authors” games–first produced right here in Salem— designed to develop literary familiarity and appreciation from an early age.But that is not the literary or the material culture that we live in now, so I was kind of surprised to encounter two “Odes to Authors” prints while I was browsing around the website of Anthropologie, of all places. These are the work of artist Valerie Suter, who is apparently a voracious reader of twentieth-century fiction.

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Odes to Authors Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes by Valerie Suter, available here.

I went over to Suter’s website and found lots more authors: clearly they are her primary inspiration at this point in her life/career. She works in various mediums (including animation and clothing) and portrays her literary subjects in accessible and whimsical ways, occasionally doing something or in each other’s company, like the familiar subjects of A Moveable Feast  and Mark Twain playing pool, below. Lots of color, patterned backgrounds, interesting scale, and an almost complete absence of any formality or pretense bring these authors to life. I really want Josephine Tey, author of one of my very favorite books, The Daughter of Time (1951).

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Paintings by Valerie Suter: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast; John Steinbeck among chrysanthemums, Mark Twain playing pool, E.B. White, Joan Didion & Josephine Tey; Penguin Classic cover of The Daughter of Time. 


That’s the Ticket

Well now we are in this rather ominous week between Halloween and the Election. How t0 deal with it? By retreating into the past, of course! I’ve been curious about the mechanics of elections for a while, actually, and decided to indulge my curiosity by browsing through some local digitized collections of electoral ephemera. The large collection of nineteenth-century election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society is particularly engrossing: so many stories and ideas and trends are encapsulated on these little scraps of paper. For a non-Americanist such a myself, it took quite a bit of background work just to identify the myriad political parties as well as the issues that were driving their formation, and I also came to realize that the transitions from written to printed party tickets, and from party tickets to official ballots, were very momentous, almost on a par with the evolution of voting via machine or electronically. Who knew that the Australian ballot was a secret ballot, first adopted in the United States in Massachusetts as late as 1888? Certainly not me. Here’s a small sample of a great collection, beginning with a very early printed ballot which features Salem’w own Timothy Pickering and also illustrates the electoral college very clearly.

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Freedom is expressed in both words and images on nineteenth-century Massachusetts election tickets, often and in various ways: the “Free Bridge and Equal Rights” ballots from the 1820s which refer to the proposed Warren bridge over the Charles River, linking Charlestown and Boston, a liberty pole, the “Free Soil” party that split off from the Whigs over the issue of slavery, the linkage of nearly every candidate “and liberty”. The first two tickets below are also illustrations of the hybrid print-script tickets produced before printed “party tickets” became the norm after 1840 or so.

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ticket-3-liberty-pole-1829

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And after the Civil War: color, more elaborate typography and imagery, and a spectrum of emergent political affiliations, including various Labor and Greenback parties, Prohibition, Liberal, Independent, Citizens’, Peoples’ parties and both regular and varietal Republicans and Democrats. The party ticket evolved into such an familiar form that it would even be mocked through caricature. And then it became much the official ballot, much more private, and consequently much less interesting.

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Election tickets from 1800, 1829, 1848, n.d., n.d., 1870, 1876, 1883, n.d, and n.d., all Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society and available here.


Craftsman Confidence

As part of my recent immersion in early nineteenth-century design trends, I browsed through digital volumes of The Craftsman over its 1901-1916 run, every issue readily accessible at the University of Wisconsin’s wonderful Digital Library of the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. This was not a difficult task, as Stickley’s magazine is so interesting: such a heady mix of practicality, philosophy, and politics! How can you not enjoy a magazine with article titles like “Was Jesus a Carpenter?”, “The Century of Ugliness” (which was of course the 19th century from their point of view–when craftsmanship was compromised by industrialization), and “A Plea for True Democracy in the Domestic Architecture of America”?  In the end though, I came away feeling sad, as the editors and authors were so very hopeful for their new century, and their hopes were not fulfilled–the most anachronistic aspect of the magazine is its strident optimism. Everything can be reformed and everything is “civic”: not just education and urban planning, but also architecture and horticulture, even clothing. Birds are just as essential as bookcases, as the magazine espouses an integrated doctrine of conservation, craftsmanship, and community. The persistent quest for everything that is simple and “true” does get a bit pedantic as time goes on, even though I would like to live in their well-crafted and orderly world much more than in our disposable and disorderly one! But as soon as I saw Kaiser Wilhelm II depicted in a rather romantic fashion by the “new” German artist Arthur Kampf my browsing grew increasingly melancholy: I knew that the twentieth century would obliterate all opportunities for “Craftsman World”, and transform all those hand-crafted bungalows into cookie-cutter ranches.

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Images from The Craftsman, 1901-1916, including the first cover and Stickley’s device, “Als Ik Kan” underneath a joiner’s compass, borrowed from Jan Van Eyck (Flemish for “All that I can do”), a Craftsman door and two-family house, “affording an opportunity for economy of construction without loss of architectural beauty”, living room, dresses “designed for comfort with a purpose in their ornamentation”, hexagonal urban planning, bookcases, urban villages, 1914 cover, and the foreboding Kaiser.


Signs, Signs, everywhere a Sign

This summer I have given several thematic walking tours around Salem to various groups and have found myself looking at the city as a tourist might. One gets the impression of a very busy place, not just in terms of activities and traffic on the streets (which are nearly all torn up!) but also because of superfluous signage: I think Salem has a mild case of sign pollution. Recent efforts to streamline and standardize signs have resulted in some very nice “official” signs throughout the city, but many of the older signs from a more haphazard era still remain, and then we have the customary cases of Witch City exemptions. Here is a great illustration of what I mean: I took this photograph, but it was 100% inspired by a Salem Instagrammer who often captures interesting perspectives.

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A mixture of private and public signs on one Salem corner, and on one Salem street sign!

Attempts at sign conformity, emphasizing both information and aesthetics,are represented by the “Great Stories Begin Here” banner signs scattered throughout the city–which enable advertising through sponsorship–and the official signs which direct visitors to established heritage locations and neighborhoods.I think these stand out for the most part, except at certain locations where there are simply too many signs in close proximity.

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The worst cases of sign pollution by far are when public street signs have signs for private institutions affixed to them, as in the first photograph above. What are the signs for the Salem Witch Dungeon (which again, for the 99th time, I feel compelled to point out is not situated on the actual location of the former Witch “Dungeon” or jail) and the Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre (which is neither located on Gallows Hill or a “museum” or fully-functioning theatre) doing on public street sign? This is the Witch City exemption of which I spoke above: apparently witch “attractions” are allowed to affix their signs anywhere.

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A lot of information here, but we always know that all of the streets of Salem lead to the Salem Witch Museum!

Apart from these unfortunate mishmashes, there are quite a few notable business signs in Salem, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But I’ll leave you with my favorite old and (relatively) new signs, for Bunghole Liquors on Derby Street and Turner’s Seafood on Church Street. The Bunghole sign reminds me of days gone by, when a sign was the only way for businesses to draw businesses in, and subtlety was not an option.

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Witch City Vulcanizing Company 1917 SSU

Bunghole and Turner’s Seafood signs in Salem today, and the Witch City Vulcanizing Company on lower Lafayette in 1917, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.


Marked by a Witch

I have featured maps on this blog many times: maps allegorical, anthropomorphic, and antique, maps featuring octopuses, spiders, relationships and myriad places and perspectives. An ongoing exhibition of pictorial maps at the University of Southern Maine’s Osher Map Library has inspired me to examine this particular cartographical creation yet again–along with a recent ebay score of one of my favorite local pictorial maps, Alva Scott Garfield’s “Scott-Map of Salem, Massachusetts”. Maps with pictographic elements go way back, but the Osher exhibition is focused on the mid-twentieth century, identified as “The Golden Age of American Pictorial Maps”. I wanted to confirm this chronology in my own mind, so I began perusing the larger collection of pictorial maps at the David Rumsey Map Collection: casual browsing led me down the virtual rabbit hole, of course!  Clearly you can map anything in a pictorial way: plants, animals, commodities, imaginary places, infrastructure and material culture, the past and the present: one of the major reasons the Osher exhibition identifies the mid-twentieth century as a golden age for these maps is the production of so many maps related to the campaigns of World War II, and these are among the most striking maps of this genre. I love global and national pictorial maps (a particular favorite is pictorial-map pioneer MacDonald Gill’s “Tea Revives the World”, produced in the darkest days of Britain’s World War II experience and pictured below), but the more I looked at the Osher and Rumsey maps and my newly-acquired ScottMap of Salem the more parochial my perspective became. Since the golden age of pictorial maps was roughly coincidental with the Salem’s increasing identification as the Witch City, I wondered if this would be apparent on regional and local maps. How often did a witch mark Salem’s place on the map?

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Pictorial Map America 1940 Osher

Two Patriotic Maps from 1940: “Tea Revives the World” by MacDonald Gill and “America–A Nation of One People from Many Countries”, published by the Council Against Intolerance in America, Rumsey Map Collection and Osher Map Library.

Quite often, it seems, though the struggle between Salem’s divergent commercial and cultural identities is also evident on local pictorial maps from the mid-twentieth century. Situated between the big shoe representing Lynn’s characteristic industry to the south and the fishermen of Cape Ann to the north, Salem is represented alternatively by either the House of the Seven Gables or a broom-mounted witch, and sometimes both. Coulton Waugh’s beautiful map of “Cape Ann and the North Shore” (1927) identifies Salem with the Gables and the famous ship Hazard, but over the next several years the witch appears on Griswold Tyng’s illustrated Map of the Eastern United States (1929), Harold Haven Brown’s Picture Map of Massachusetts (1930) and Elizabeth Shurtleff’s very detailed map of Massachusetts, “the Old Bay State” (1930). One of my very favorite pictorial maps, Raymond Lufkin’s “Old Massachusetts” produced for The House Beautiful in 1930, is focused on the state’s architectural heritage, so witchcraft is literally marginalized (along with another notable event in Salem’s history, the landing of the first elephant in North America). Surprisingly there is no witch on Paul Spener Johst’s 1931 picture map of Massachusetts (just a BIG pilgrim), but the increasingly-familiar figure returns on Elmer and Berta Hader’s cartoon map of Massachusetts published in 1932, from their Picture Book of the States. From that point on, the flying witch marks the spot of Salem on most pictorial maps. By the time we get to the end of the “golden era”, Salem is firmly established as the Witch City on Ernest Dudley Chase’s official travel map of Historic Massachusetts, and the “Scott-Map of Salem” can make the rather whimsical claim that “aviation started in Salem”.

Pictorial Map North Shore 1927 Osher

Pictorial Map US Tyng 1929 Rumsey Map Collection

Pictorial Map Massachusetts Brown 1930

Pictorial Map Shutleff 1930

Pictorial Maps House Beautiful 1930

Pictorial Maps House Beautiful detail Salem 1930

Pictorial Map Massachusetts Johst 1931

Pictorial Map Haders 1932 Rumsey Map Collection

How Salem is marked on the map, 1920s-1960s: ABOVE: Coulton Waugh’s map, 1927; details of Tyng US Pictorial map, 1929, Brown “Picture Map“, 1930, and Shurtleff map, 1930; “Old Massachusetts” published by The House Beautiful, 1930; Johst map of Massachusetts, 1931; Hader pictorial map of Massachusetts, 1932; BELOW:  Ernest Dudley Chase’s Historic Massachusetts, “A Travel Map to help you feel at home in the Bay State”, 1957 (published by the Massachusetts Department of Commerce) and Alva Scott-Garfield’s “Scott-Map of Salem, Masschusetts”, 1960.

Pictorial Map Mass 1957 Chase

Pictorial Map Scott-Salem 1960

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Lincoln’s Laboratory

I’ve been digging around in bins and folders for scraps of paper for as long as I can remember, and I do recall one item that caught my attention years ago: it was an envelope with a still-bright print of Abraham Lincoln depicted as some sort of wizardly chemist, an alchemist, I also recall thinking, in the midst of a rather wordy laboratory. It had a sticker marked $5 on it which struck me as quite steep at that time. Now I see that this same envelope fetched $2600 at a recent auction! The envelope, produced by the Salem stationery and publishing firm of G.M. Whipple and A.A. Smith (1860-1875), has become a highly-coveted example of Civil War propaganda, and I clearly missed out.

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Whipple and Smith were not only showing their colors; they were marketing a relatively new product: the envelope itself. Before 1851 U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letters with sealing wax and mailed them off. In that year a flat postage rate was introduced for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles, so protective “covers” were introduced, which became patriotic covers a decade later. More than 10,000 embellished envelopes were produced in the North during the Civil War, much less in the South. They became collectible items even during that time, as many survive unaddressed—like the one I saw some time ago and those below. I can see why the “Union Alchemist” envelope is coveted today: its image and message is a bit more intricate than the majority of pro-Union covers I have seen–many featuring Jefferson Davis swinging from a rope (actually he is there, in the upper left-hand corner, in a specimen jar, next to General Beauregard).

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Lincoln is writing prescriptions in a laboratory full of his distillations, including pure refined national elixir of liberty and metallic soap for erasing stains..for the southern market; he is not only the Great Emancipator (and the Great Distiller) but also the renowned rebel exterminator. It’s such a great image and item: what was I thinking years ago when I passed it by? I’ve found quite a few more in auction and historical archives, but none available, for $5 or $500: this is definitely one that got away, but I did catch a Salem octopus!

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Whipple & Smith’s “Lincoln’s Laboratory or the Union Alchemist” covers, from Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, The Helfand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John A. McAllister Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Cowan’s Auctions, PBA Galleries, and the Bangor Historical Society.


Recovered

I enjoyed clicking around a crowdsourced graphic design project called Recovering the Classics the other day featuring new covers for old classics produced by anyone and everyone who had the inclination. Bibliographic art is always interesting to me, and I think it is a dynamic genre as interest in things that appear to be fading naturally and conversely escalates. Even though some of the cover designs are a bit simplistic (or confusing, or not particularly representative of what’s inside), it’s interesting to compare them: just click on a big image and you will see all the other submissions for the same title. I am naturally drawn to the starker, more symbolic designs as well as those which are slightly retro or antiqued in some way, and I am a sucker for nearly every new cover of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter that I encounter: they are always an easy A in my book.

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RTC Kafka Collage

RTC Jekyll Hyde Covers

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Book covers by MrFurious (The Scarlet Letter), Huy Ho (Jane Eyre); Ji Sug Kang (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz); J.R.J. Sweeney and Roberto Lanznaster (Metamorphosis); Ioannis Fetanis and MrFurious (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde);  Michelle Kondrich (The Jungle); Nick fairbank..f9 design (The Jungle Book); Steve St. Pierre (Dracula); and Luis Prado, Alexis Tapia, and Ed Gaither–Modern Electrographic (Frankenstein). I don’t know why no one has caught the prominent typo yet!

More covers on view at Recovering the Classics.


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