Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Society of Typographic Arts (STA–Chicago) 2013 Winter Retreat: “The Architecture of Letterforms”

STA Promotion Materials
L–R credits starting at the top:
Aaron Siskind, 1951; Norman Ives, 1967; Walker Evans, 1973; Dennis Ichiyama, 1991; Candice Martello, 2010; Renata Graw, 2011; Jack Weiss, 2011; Peter Fraterdeus, 2011

Recently, January 19–20, 2013, the Society of Typographic Arts Winter Retreat was held at the Eaglewood Resort, Itasca, Illinois. The STA was founded in Chicago in 1927. The theme of the retreat was, “The Architecture of Letterforms” and the list of enthusiastic conference attendees ranged from Chicago design luminaries to distinguished design practitioners and acclaimed design educators.

The events began on Friday evening the 19th with Rick Valicenti leading off with an enjoyable, keen and jam-packed keynote presentation titled Talking Type. Rick is a master at observing and understanding correlations of a particular topic. Valicenti is the founder and design director of Thirst, a communication design firm based in Chicago.

Valicenti’s presentation highlighted the necessity of having conversations about type (“We need to talk”) and the aspect that “We’re all in this together.” It presaged the eleven or twelve presentations that were given the next day at the conference. Using the metaphor of “rhizome” as community and continuum, Valicenti summarized the history of communication design starting with the Texturalis (1190–1407), to Gutenberg’s Bible (1455), to Bradbury Thompson (Rock and Roll), to Paul Sych (Toronto) and the present.

Valicenti’s Talking Type presentation initiated a dialogue and was a wonderful celebration of the art and function of typography. Conference presentations on Saturday continued with thoughtful conversation.

Thought-provoking conversation can bring out the paradoxical. For instance, while not incongruous to Rick’s message and other presenters was Joseph Michael Essex (SX2) who expressed in his presentation, “What separates art from design is typography… a highly manipulative process… and an element of communication—not art… typography is the language of [visual communication] designers….”

Discussing the differences and similarities of the art of typography in communication design is fascinatingly and relevant for today’s designers. We need to talk about type.

At the conference, Jack Weiss, who was proud of his students efforts and accomplishments, presented student portfolios of typographic work in which his students were asked to cut-down letters to the esence of form and yet still retain the identity of the letter. In addition to his design practice Jack teaches in the graphic design program at Columbia College Chicago and organized the 2013 STA Winter Retreat.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

“Transcending the Bars of Prejudice: Nelson Mandela”

David Versluis
Transcending the Bars of Prejudice: Nelson Mandela
Mixed Media Collage (hand-drawings) on canvas board, 1999
16 x 20 inches
Image © David Versluis, all rights reserved

This piece from the past was selected for the 1999–2000, Transforming Visions ’99, an international biennial competitive show organized by Swords into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery, Detroit, Michigan. The exhibition theme was “Peacemakers Past and Present” and featured artists from the state of Michigan and province of Ontario.

Research included reading the 1995 Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela and Mandela: The Authorized Biography by Anthony Sampson, published in 1999.

Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center & Gallery, which is a ministry of Central United Methodist Church, Detroit, was founded by peace activist and pastor James W. Bristah (1919-2001). Swords Into Plowshares “Brings together the arts and the need for world peace.”  The Center has been recognized by the United Nations as a Peace Gallery.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sculptor Lyman Kipp: a master of trabeated structures

L: Lyman Kipp (b. 1929), Muscoot, 1967, Calvin College Campus, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Painted steel 168 h x 72 w x 48 d
This piece, characterized as a dolmen, was featured in a 1979 solo exhibition titled, The Work of Lyman Kipp, at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is now in the Calvin’s permanent collection.
©Lyman Kipp, all image rights reserved. photograph by versluis 2013.
R: Muscoot (maquette), 1966, painted wood in original color scheme from a work included in the 1967 American Sculpture of the Sixties show in Los Angeles, 14 x 6 x 4 in. Image from Minus Space.

Earlier we published a piece about minimal sculpture and mentioned the 1966 exhibition, Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors, Jewish Museum, New York. This seminal exhibition of the “New Art” featured the works of Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Dan Flavin, Judy Chicago, Robert Smithson, and Lyman Kipp, to name just a few.

L: Lyman Kipp, Zephyr, Sculpture Off the Pedestal Show, 1973, Grand Rapids
R: Study for Zephyr, 1973, Grand Rapids Art Museum
This rendering indicates the red and blue, automotive paint, color scheme of Calvin College’s Muscoot. Images from the Lyman Kip website.

This is the Sculpture Off the Pedestal exhibition catalog cover design (9¾"–12"), which is indicative of the International Style graphic design (so-called Swiss Style) and was the predominant graphic design style of corporate culture of the period. The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) published the catalog in 1973 as a didactic and guide for the exhibition. The catalog’s introductory essay was written by Barbara Rose. The catalog contained biographical notes about the artists and their exhibition histories and collections as well as 51 b&w illustrations and a map of the various sculpture locations throughout downtown Grand Rapids.

One of the reasons it was exciting being an art student in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the early 70s was because of this major outdoor sculpture exhibition displayed around the city. “In 1973, [the ambitious exhibition] Sculpture Off The Pedestal was organized by the Women’s Committee of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. This innovative exhibition installed contemporary large scale outdoor sculpture, by thirteen American artists, in public places throughout the city. The exhibition was supported by a grant from the NEA and won regional and national attention.”

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is currently displaying a few maquettes from the exhibition. The Sculpture Off the Pedestal exhibition offered a foretaste to the Meijer Sculpture Gardens and to the ArtPrize competition as public art venues.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Peoples Savings Bank (1909–11), Cedar Rapids, Iowa—Louis H. Sullivan and Parker Noble Berry, architects (1)

Peoples Savings Bank (1909–11) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Louis H. Sullivan (1856–1924) and Parker Noble Berry (1888–1918), architects (1)
photograph by versluis 2012

After a marvelous restoration project that was completed in 1991 the Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa now occupies its corner lot across the street from the bridge over the Cedar River rather sadly. The structure received heavy interior damage from the historic flood waters of 2008. Now the building, much like its architect Louis H. Sullivan, seems to reflect the loneliness Sullivan experienced in 1924, at the end of his life, very sick, under-appreciated, and living in a single room in Chicago.

Pictured above is one of the building’s repetitive identity motifs, which are located on the street level just above the water table. This terra cotta insignia is replicated on each of the “corner stones”. The crest carries the Bank’s initials, P.S.B., simulating an applied interlaced typographic design suggesting a Chicago Arts and Crafts style. Additionally, the impact of this monogram suggests inspiration based on Celtic designs.

North facade
photograph by versluis 2012

Peoples Savings Bank construction drawing, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
North and South Elevations, 1909–11
Black and red ink on linen
From the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William Gray Purcell, 1988.410.5

West facade
photograph by versluis 2012

Peoples Savings Bank construction drawings, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
Longitudinal Section Looking East, 1909–11
Black and red ink on linen
From the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William Gray Purcell, 1988.410.7

Other Sullivanesque bank symbols include the griffin (guardian) and in this project they ceremoniously occupy the top of structural columns (pedestals) visible on the second level and initially at the entry and missing. The formal entryway, now boarded-up, is deep but modest and contributes to and reinforces the perfectly balanced symmetry and geometric program of the building.

Interestingly, Sullivan’s design seems very 20th century modern and minimal (without Sullivan’s quintessential ornament), yet classical as well. The structure seems to reiterate what Sullivan did with some of his tomb designs (vaults) for prominent Chicagoans where the second level protrudes up from a substantial ground level base.

The current condition of the building is a reminder, in another context, of a passage from Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats as referenced from an endnote in Jeffery Plank’s wonderful book, Aaron Siskind and Louis Sullivan: The Institute of Design Photo Section Project:

For Sullivan’s “organic architecture,” the birth and death of architectural forms and functions, and, by implication, of particular buildings, is an ongoing process: “And decay proceeds as inevitably as growth: Functions decline, structures disintegrate, differentiations blur, the fabric dissolves, life disappears, death appears, time engulfs–the eternal night falls. Out of oblivion into oblivion, so goes the drama of created things–and of such is the history of an “organism” (Kindergarten Chats, p. 48; this passage was omitted in the 1947 reprint. … In 1901, when he first published the Kindergarten Chats essays, however, Sullivan was interested in the “hey-day [sic],” the “NEW ARCHITECTURE” that would replace the decayed forms and functions of “contemporaneous American architecture” (pp. 48-49). (2)
Perhaps from a more objective perspective regarding Sullivan’s late period work here’s a passage from art historian James F. O’Gorman, who writes:
The best of the banks [Sullivan’s so-called “jewel boxes”] is the National Farmers’ in Owatonna, [Minnesota] (1906–08), a work which, like the People’s Savings and Loan in Sidney, [Ohio], of a decade later….

The awkward People’s Savings Bank of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1911), on the other hand, seems a squat, trabeated variation on the earlier synagogue [Kehilath Anshe Ma´ariv (K.A.M.) Synagogue, Chicago, 1889–91]. Although these small, out-of-the-way buildings do contain some of Sullivan’s most characteristic and breathtakingly beautiful ornament, they in fact represent the afterglow of a career whose sunset had occurred near the turn of the century. (3)
  1. Wilson, Richard Guy. “Prairie School Works in the Department of Architecture at The Art Institute of Chicago.” The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest 21.2 (1995): 107-09. Print.
  2. Plank, Jeffery. Aaron Siskind and Louis Sullivan: The Institute of Design Photo Section Project. San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2008. 77. Print.
  3. O’Gorman, James F. Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865–1915. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. 111. Print.

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