Saturday, January 29, 2011

Susan Jackson Keig, a pioneer in the development of graphic design

Photograph credits: Susan Jackson Keig’s c.1982 blind-embossed business card from the collection of David Versluis. The black and white portrait is from 27 Chicago Designers. 27 Chicago Designers. Vol. 34. Chicago: 27 Chicago Designers, 1982. Print. The late Morton Goldsholl was posthumously honored as a recipient of a 2009 AIGA Fellow Award. Photograph of Ms. Keig accepting the award on Goldsholl’s behalf. Ms. Keig received the 2002 AIGA Fellow Award.

“Once they find out what you can do, they can’t do without you.”
—Susan Jackson Keig, Designer

Susan Jackson Keig design consultant, Chicago, is listed by R. Roger Remington in his Graphic Design History Resource as a woman pioneer in the development of North American design. Currently, at age 92, Keig still manages her design practice.

I first heard Susan Jackson Keig speak in 1982 at the annual STA (Society of Typographic Arts) fall conference in Chicago, where she and Bruce Beck gave an presentation on the history of the STA. The duo recalled memories with first-hand anecdotes, presenting a commendable early history of Chicago graphic design. They focused primarily on the charter members of a group called “27 Chicago Designers.” The STA was a professional association of graphic designers based in Chicago and founded in 1927. Keig and Beck were both STA Fellows, interestingly—Keig was conferred in 1964 and Beck a year later in 1965.

In 1983 I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Keig at an evening STA event featuring a guest design manager (I think it was Christopher Pullman, WGBH). As I introduced myself she was friendly and gracious, with a sense of Southern hospitality—perhaps a reflection of her Kentucky roots. I still have the business card that she gave me that evening. I was teaching at the time at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois and Ms. Keig seemed interested in the school’s part of the family tree of the Dutch Reformed Church. At that time she was involved in the graphic identity for Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District.

Ms. Keig has been honored as a Distinguished Alumna of the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts where she graduated with a BA in art in 1940. In addition, in 2010 she was honored as an inductee into The University of Kentucky Hall of Distinguished Alumni. For the occasion the UK alumni association wrote a brief biography:

Susan Jackson Keig is an internationally recognized art designer in private practice. She also is a Fellow and past-president of the Society of Typographic Arts/American Center for Design, and she has lectured at Yale University, Heritage of the Arts SUNY and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Some of her design projects include an LP record and album for Buckminster Fuller, a medallion from the Free Congress Foundation for Margaret Thatcher, and the Clare Booth Luce medallion from the Heritage Foundation for Ronald Reagan.

She is a leading authority on the Shakers, their village at Pleasant Hill, and has more than 3,000 photographs of Shaker Village. This is her 40th year of designing and producing the Shaker calendar for Pleasant Hill.

She taught at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, has had one-woman exhibits in Louisville and New York, and is a Distinguished Alumna of the UK College of Fine Arts.
A few years ago at an AIGA Chicago evening event called “Fresh Talent 2008”. Ms. Keig, speaking to the audience, optimistically and wisely said, “Once they find out what you can do, they can’t do without you.” These are indeed encouraging words to take to heart as graphic designers.

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