July 5, 2013
A show of my father's book designs opens at Columbia University on Monday, at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. During the last few years of his life Dad spent weekends going through his library, annotating the thousands of books he had designed (his career started in 1926 and he was still working on the day he died in 1980). He put down everything he could remember about the design decisions, the author's reactions… anything that came to mind.
The cards have been digitized now, so you can read about Gertrude Stein's response when he put her photograph right on the cover of the book (not the jacket). I believe that was the first time photo offset printing was used in that way. You can find out Kurt Vonnegut's reaction to Dad's design for Cat's Cradle (Dad loved that book), and how he took litle scraps of notes from Marshall McLuhan's to design The Mechanical Bride. And, of course, there's Ulysses.
Although Dad designed both the book and the jacket early in his career, it continues to be his most famous design.
My father was a modest man; he revered authors and writing, and thought of himself as "a mere craftsman." But I think he'd be very proud of this show. Curator Martha Scotford has done a remarkable job. Wandering through the books, I just kept thinking how much I miss him.
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