The Hideous Hermaphroditic Character

“A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 

A relative on my mother’s side said this about another relation on my father’s side. Thomas Jefferson said this speaking about John Adams in the presidential campaign in 1800. During the election cycle of 2015–16, we’ve seen and heard things we never believed a presidential candidate would say. But, are any as shrewd as the toothless hermaphrodite quote?

As for scathing and blunt political statements, one only need turn to fact: magazine. During 1962, Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg collaborated on Eros magazine. It was groundbreaking design but lasted only four issues. In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy indicted Ginzburg under federal obscenity laws.

In 1964, they collaborated again on fact:. This time, Ginzburg moved away from sex and focused on biting commentary about culture and politics. To retaliate against Kennedy, the cover of Issue Four is a simple typographic message, “Bobby Kennedy is the most evil _ _ _ _ in American politics today,”

I’ve long admired Lubalin’s use of Times Roman and Tom Carnase’s logo. Recently, I actually read an issue rather than simply examining the tight kerning and beautiful “f”. The September-October 1964 issue is a remarkable hate-fest about 1964 Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. This isn’t a thoughtful examination of Goldwater’s policies or proposals. This is closer to the “toothless hermaphrodite” variety of language.

The cover is, like most of the fact: covers, to the point and unapologetic. The issue has one article, “Goldwater: The Man and the Menace,” and a section dedicated to “What Psychiatrists Say About Goldwater.” The tenor of the article is aggressive and acrimonious with sentences such as, “Those psychoanalysts who find a connection between sadism and an anal character will not be surprised that young Goldwater was fascinated by bathrooms.” 

The design of the magazine relentlessly hammers Ginzburg’s text with plain and unadorned columns of text. The black and white color palette on uncoated stock, using Times Roman, is an undeniable reference to newspaper design. The communication goal is clear: this information is a fact and true.

The fascinating point here is the vast amount of acerbic text and imagery contained in only sixty-four pages. It is unremitting. Even the back cover is filled with derogatory quotes from psychiatrists.

Like Eros, this did not end well for Ginzburg or Goldwater. Goldwater lost the election (in one of the largest landslides in US history). He sued Ginzburg and won. Ginzburg didn’t help his case when he stated he intended to continue the same conduct in the future. He had undertaken a similar poll of psychiatrists with respect to President Johnson, in preparation for the 1968 campaign. He had reason to also doubt Mr. Johnson's sanity. 

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Time Machine

Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Walker 1780

MOO recently did a survey on handwritten communication. It turns out that 56% never sent anything handwritten. Forty-one percent valued handwritten letters over digital, and fifty-one percent never threw out the handwritten notes. So we thought it was about time to print a batch of postcards with MOO. I like the MOO people; they understand paper and design. They make the beautiful, heavy, wonderful cards like the one in American Psycho.

Call me a materialist, but I like things. I like to keep things. I don't have a little box of websites, but I have one with letters, cards, and bits of paper.

Why do we care about these sheets of paper? They define us. They tell us who we are and where we came from. Not surprisingly, I have copies of many letters written by family members, the originals long ago donated. These letters tell me these things: work hard, be prudent, serve your country, and you'll never be as good as we were in the 18th century. They aren't beautiful. They don't have fabulous handwriting. But they have survived and have the power to help me determine who I am.

Dr. Thomas Walker to Elizabeth Thornton, 1780

When my distant grandfather, Dr. Thomas Walker, sent a letter and marriage agreement to his first wife's cousin, Elizabeth Thornton, I doubt he thought I would read it 240 years later. There is a note from Thomas Jefferson, appointing his guardian and father's best friend, Dr. Walker as a Captain during the Revolutionary War. Another letter serves as a legal document signed by Elizabeth Thornton's cousin, Meriwether Lewis and annotated by William Clark a year after Lewis was murdered or committed suicide. These items transcend their physical presence and describe the complexities of relationships that I could never find in a history book.

Mary Walker Cabell 1863

Mary Walker Cabell 1863

I find two letters rife with unstated content. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, while her southern culture was collapsing, Mary Walker Cabell created a family tree to share with another cousin. There is something more here than a genealogical study. This is an attempt to capture Cabell's history and values and preserve them for others. She was raised in a world of privilege and her status in society was clear. Now, as this life disappeared, she used pen and paper to anchor herself to another time.

Hugh Walker Fry, application for pardon, 1865

The correspondence that carries the most emotional weight, however, is a note from Hugh Walker Fry in 1865. After the war, Confederate leaders and wealthy planters needed to apply for a pardon to restore their American citizenship. The letter itself is mostly boilerplate wording, but the exterior of the letter, addressed to "His Excellency Andy Johnson" is the most salient part. Andrew Johnson was the President of the United States. Did Fry intend "His excellency" as a slur or was he simply unaware of proper protocol when addressing the President? Again, his fortune was lost and way of life radically changed. What is left of this dramatic and intense experience is a piece of paper with three words.

These written letters may have seemed irrelevant, or simply part of everyday life, when created. But due to their intense personal connection and the evidence of the writer's own hand, they serve as a time machine.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Walker Gilmer

Meriwether Lewis signature 1809

Meriwether Lewis letter annotated 1810

Declaration of Independence signatures, 1776

Benjamin Powell letter

Survey by George Washington, 1749

Pistol Packin' Mama

Every family has tales of courage and great achievements. Mine is no different. But it’s interesting that everyone ignores the bad. If you spend time at a Thanksgiving with us, you will hear about my grandmother shooting the biggest bear in Colorado, how Rev. Henry Fry introduced the Emancipation Bill in Virginia in 1785, and how John Christian Bullitt created the city charter for Philadelphia. You won’t hear stories about Captain William Tucker's retaliation for the 1622 Jamestown Indian massacre. He negotiated a peace treaty and then poisoned the liquor at the treaty celebration. This killed about 200 Powhatan Indians. Nobody uses this as a nighttime story.

One of my favorite ancestors is Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks.

Lucy was born in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1752. In his book Lewis and Clark: Partners in Discovery, John Bakeless, describes Lucy as “a Virginia lady of the patrician breed, a benevolent family autocrat, with a character so sharp and definite that her twentieth-century descendents still refer to her as Grandma Marks.” The stories, filtered down to me are about her intellect and undaunted courage. She owned a large library, which was unusual for a woman at that time. She was an herb doctor which was probably better than doctors who believed in "bleeding.". And she was tough. Supposedly, during the Revolutionary War, she saved the plantation by wielding a rifle and driving away a party of drunken British soldiers. And, like my grandmother and her bear story, she was a great marks-woman. A tale often told is about a group of men who left Locus Hill on a deer hunt. They returned at the end of the day empty handed and exhausted. Fortunately, while they stalked the woods, Lucy shot a large buck in her front yard, and it was dressed and cooked when they returned.

Lucy’s life was filled with war, deaths, marriages, and scandal. Her son, Meriwether Lewis died, supposedly, from suicide. Until her death she maintained that he had been murdered. As an aside, most of the family continues to believe in the foul-play theory. John Hastings Marks, another son, died at a “retreat” for the mentally ill. Even after these deaths, and the deaths of her two husbands, Lucy continued to ride horseback, serve as an herb doctor, and run the farm. She was 85 when she died in 1837. Her stories have become part of the family yarn. Strangely, there are quite a few stories that involve women and guns. Hmmm.

Many thanks to Christine Adreae’s website on Lucy Merwiether Marks

Family tree courtesy of Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies © 2009 Jefferson LibraryMonticello

How to Behave when Facing Frustration

I’d like to believe that I am a product of both sides of my family. Which, coincidentally, supposedly mirrors the national character. Let me explain. My father’s side, Adams, is Massachusetts, Mayflower, Yankee stock. They are good at following Puritan ideas: working hard gets you closer to God, patience is a virtue, and we show God how pleased we are with Him by not procrastinating in our tasks. My mother’s side is Virginia, Jamestown, and southern gentry stock. They were good at living well, hosting parties, and maintaining the class structure.

I do fine hosting a barbeque and pool party, but I tend to be hard on myself and insist on working hard, being patient, and never procrastinating. When I’m frustrated, or concerned, I handle it, hopefully, with patience and fortitude. This, however, is wearing thin as I get older. When I’m missing critical content and a deadline is approaching, or driving behind someone who is texting and going 12 miles per hour, I’d like to pitch a fit. Not a good WASPy fit, as in, “Gosh darn. Well that’s just wrong,” said quietly, but like our example above. This woman missed her flight. I recommend this example for anyone when you don’t get your way.

My Battle with Kathy Griffin

I feel sorry for my trainer, Bobby Solorio. He’s a fantastic trainer, always on time, and always changing things around to keep me interested. He also trains Kathy Griffin, hence the issue. I’m sure Kathy keeps him entertained with hilarious stories and tales of her exciting travels. I tell Bobby about speaking engagements at conferences and try to explain something wonderful I’ve seen, like a new typeface. And I endlessly tell him stories about my family and American history. These are wildly interesting to me, but I’m sure Bobby feels like he is trapped in a terrible American History class in high school.

Here’s an example: Kathy tells a great story about working with Anderson Cooper. I tell Bobby about visiting Colonial Williamsburg and actually meeting historians who knew about distant grandparents and other relatives at each of the buildings. Then, I excitedly tell him about the paint colors of the buildings. “Bobby,” I say, “I can actually get the same paint color that was used on the Peyton Randolph House, or the wallpaper color of the George Wythe House. George Wythe was married to two of my distant great-aunts, not at the same time, and then was murdered by a trashy nephew.” Then I recount the entire George Wythe story starting with Thomas Jefferson’s law studies. How does that compare to meeting Liza Minnelli?

However, someone out there might care about our country’s glorious history and the amazing colors at Williamsburg. And I, frankly, would much rather paint a wall with Wythe House Gold, than hang out with fabulous celebrities at glamorous galas.

Grandpappy Walker

Since it’s almost Independence Day, I decided to post about someone in my family who was involved with the revolution. Sure, there are the likely suspects: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. And, they are indeed family members on either my mother of father’s side. But we all know those stories. One of my favorite distant grandfathers wasn’t as well known as the these others. Dr. Thomas Walker was born in 1715. He was Thomas Jefferson’s guardian, the first white man to explore Kentucky, and did a whole batch of impressive things.

But I like him because he risked everything for the revolution. By 1776, Dr. Walker was 61 years old and one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. He wasn’t a destitute revolutionary; he was firmly set as a member of the gentry. It would be as if a comfortable CEO of a Fortune 500 company decided to join a revolution today. Typically comfortable old white guys don’t do this. 

In 1781, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton marched on Charlottesville with the intent to capture then Governor, Thomas Jefferson. When the British Army reached the family estate, Castle Hill, my distant grandmother and Dr. Walker delayed them by preparing a fine breakfast. Legend has it they also supplied liquor. This gave the patriot Jack Jouett time to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislators of Tarleton's plan to capture them, and they escaped.

Just after the American Revolution, a traveling author visited Castle Hill and wrote an account of his interview with Dr. Thomas Walker:

"One day, in a chat, while each was delivering his sentiments of what would be the state of America a century hence, the old man [Walker], with great fire and spirit, declared his opinion that, 'The Americans would then reverence the resolution of their forefathers, and would eagerly impress an adequate idea of the sacred value of freedom in the minds of their children, that if, in any future ages they should be again called forth to revenge public injuries, to secure that freedom, they should adopt the same measures that secured it to their brave ancestors.'"

Thomas Anbury (Travels Through the Interior Parts of America, 1776-1781)

Castle Hill, Virginia

Castle Hill, Virginia