The Circle of Life Part II

As it’s Election Day, and almost every man in my family line was a politician, I’m posting about someone who went down another path. Chester Alan “Gavin” Arthur III was President Chester Alan Arthur’s grandson. His grandmother, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur is one of the family members who looks exactly like my mother. After President Arthur died, his son, Chester Alan Arthur II withdrew from Columbia Law School and sailed for Europe. He then spent his life mingling with the social elite of Europe and America. He was interested in horses, women, and fine cuisine. He owned a 250,000-acre ranch in Colorado, but never dirtied his hands with actual work. Oddly, I’ve found this to be a pattern with a large portion of family members.

Conversely, his son, Chester Alan Arthur III rejected the elegant living and embraced political and social issues. In his 20s, he joined the Irish Republican Movement. In 1930, he founded the magazine, Dune Forum, which promoted communication between the masses and intellectual elite. He was a member of the Utopian Society of America with John Updike. In the 1950s he taught at San Quentin State Prison.

By the late 1950s, Arthur moved to San Francisco and was part of the Beat Movement, devoting his time to astrology. In 1966, he wrote The Circle of Sex, a book about gay, bisexual, and gender issues in astrology. His life intersects mine in 1967. He used an astrological chart to determine the date for the Human-Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was there. At the end of his life, in 1972, he was a leader in the gay movement, and had been married to three women.

This seems to be the pattern in the family:

Generation 1: Someone works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

Generation 2: Uses the money from the previous generation and enjoys the high life.

Generation 3: Goes counterculture

Generation 4: Works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

And it starts again.

If I could do it again, I’d rather be in Generation 2, than 4. Its sounds like so much more fun to spend life worried about first class tickets on the Queen Mary, than going to meetings and meeting deadlines.

President Chester Alan Arthur I

The Post About Nathan, Andy, and Shoes

One of my favorite people from the old days at AIGA was Nathan Gluck. I never quite understood Nathan’s role. He seemed to be the archivist and keeper of the stories of AIGA’s history. When I met him, he must have been in his 70s. Nathan was like your friendly uncle who knew all the family gossip. When I’m older, I plan on writing a tell-all book. By then everyone Nathan gossiped about will be long gone, and I won’t care if everyone hates me.

We were all star-struck by the fact that Nathan worked with Andy Warhol on his shoe drawings. It was hard to imagine lovable and disheveled Nathan as part of the beautiful people Factory scene, but there you have it. Long before Warhol became a pop icon, he worked as an illustrator. He won awards from the Art Directors Club, and illustrated pieces for AIGA. In the mid-1950s, Warhol made most of his income with shoe illustrations for I. Miller. When he started, the shoes were represented faithfully. As the work evolved, they became increasingly fanciful. Nathan worked for Warhol as an assistant. He drew the shoes, and then Warhol made corrections and refined the illustrations.

In 1955, Warhol published a self-promotional portfolio, A la Recherché du Shoe Perdu. The portfolio capitalized on the increasing fame of the shoe illustrations and combined a shoe poem by Ralph Pomeroy. Warhol’s mother handwrote the poems in a careful and ornate script. When she became too ill to continue, Nathan took over, imitating the style perfectly. I spend a great deal of time explaining that reality is irrelevant, perception is everything. In other words, it doesn’t matter what a shoe actually looks like. That it is presented powerfully and dynamically is more important.

 

 

 

 

The Bad, The Powerful, and The Beautiful

At lunch a few weeks ago, Paula Scher asked me if I had any criminals in my family history. The British considered most of them criminals and traitors during the revolutionary war. During the Civil War, some ended up in Union prisons. The most notorious family member was Lewis Thornton Powell, a distant cousin (we have common ancestors on the Lewis, Thornton, Powell, and Harrison lines). Powell was convicted and hanged with the other conspirators in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Otherwise, the family scandals or rumors of unorthodox behavior were of a romantic nature.

William Christian Bullitt married the noted communist and ex-wife of John Reed, Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds). She slowly went mad, had an affair with Gwen Le Gallienne and died alone in Paris. Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy divorced her first husband; Astor heir Archie Armstrong Chanler, then married Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy. Troubetzkoy was described by the women of New York and Newport society as “a fine specimen of a man.” Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's true love from 1915 until his death in 1945. She was with him the day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The most controversial story is about the nature of cousin Joshua Fry Speed’s relationship with President Lincoln. If nobody ever discussed Lucy Mercer and FDR at dinner, you can imagine that the Lincoln and Speed issue was never mentioned. The facts are these: Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois as a young attorney. Upon his arrival, he went to Speed’s store to inquire about a room. Speed suggested Lincoln stay with him, as he had a large bed. Lincoln moved in and they lived together for seven years. Speed eventually returned to the family plantation, Farmington, in Kentucky to marry Fannie Henning. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown and went to Farmington to recover. He then returned to Springfield and married Mary Todd. Speed and Lincoln remained best friends, although a cooling occurred during the civil war. Speed was a southern Democrat and opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. He made many confidential trips to Washington to visit Lincoln, and saw him two weeks before the assassination (refer to Lewis Thornton Powell above—see how convoluted this all is). Speed’s brother, James served on as Attorney General in Lincoln’s administration.

Now whether this friendship was platonic or more isn’t particularly important to me. Who knows? Who cares? What matters to me is that this is now an interesting anecdote to be told at cocktail parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jealousy and Desire in Book Form

If you are a designer, you’ve had the experience of discovering that the same person or firm designed several of your favorite items. It’s like playing favorites without realizing it. This happens to me repeatedly with work from Volume. I pick up a book at the bookstore, admire it, turn to the colophon and yep, it's a Volume design. Now I could be angry, jealous, and spiteful, which I usually am. But, in this instance, the best recourse is to recognize the great work. I've known Eric Heiman and Adam Brodsley for two decades (yes, we’re all that old). If they were a-holes, then I could simply ignore them. They’re not, unfortunately. They teach at CCA, devote time and energy to AIGA, and are magnanimous genuine people. Damn them.

Several of my favorite books are Volume designed. They have an innate sense of when to stop. The books are true to the subject, never rely on typographic circus tricks, and are remarkably crafted. They present the content in a way that is clear and objective, but never dull or sterile. The commonality is a sense of warmth, value, and cinema. Pacing is the trick with publications. A good publication should be paced like a film: quite moments, crescendo, intimate sequences, and a defined plot. The Volume work does that and injects long shots, details, and close ups. This isn't easy.

There are two emotions that I do my best to avoid, pride and jealousy. Any decision I have ever made based on pride has been a bad one. So what if someone thinks I’m a dingbat? It doesn't cost me anything and investing resources to combat this is often pointless (I’m not talking about Noreen here. I accept her judgment of my dingbat attributes). Jealousy is a hard one to avoid. I’m human; I ask myself, “How come Volume has such great projects? How is it fair that they get to design a magnificent book on Cliff May, but I don’t? I bet they get free Heath ceramics.” But this takes so much effort, and it is so much easier to enjoy their amazing design and relax.

images courtesy Volume, Inc.

 

Which Craft?

I’ve been accused of living in a bubble. Supposedly, the real world is very different than the one I inhabit. One of the issues with my bubble world is that I assume everyone knows the same things I do. Last week, one of my students told me she had read only ten books in her entire life. The week before someone told me they like old movies, especially Clueless. I assumed my Vertigo references and discussions about Ginsberg’s Howl made sense to everyone. A light bulb went off in my head, and I discovered that references I take for granted are not as universal as I thought. Of course, it’s a 2-way street. When someone asks if I like any new music, I say Thompson Twins.

Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman are remarkable artists. I presumed everyone knew their work. But, as I have learned, sometimes that isn’t true. The Ackermans are integral to the fabric of California craft. Since they opened Jenev Design Studio in 1952, they opened the door to the idea of craft combined with modernism. Their ability to swing from ceramics, wood, textiles, metal, and glass is remarkable. And across all these media, the sense of exuberance and joy is apparent. Bad design can sink under the weight of its own importance.

The Ackerman work is incredibly important. It inspired generations of artists in California as well as everyday people who wanted to dabble in craft. Yet, it never is self-important. The work always communicates the idea of the human hand. And it invites viewers to stop whatever they are doing and begin to create.

Many of these images are from one of my favorite sites, http://www.midcenturia.com.

Brilliant Corners

Last week I had lunch with one of my favorite designers, Michael Carabetta. Since Michael is the creative director at Chronicle Books, the subject turned to, yes shocking, books. Michael suggested I look at Paul Bacon’s work. The more I researched Bacon’s work, the clearer it became that this was a remarkable treasure of incredible work. The book and album covers are energetic, surprising, and spontaneous. They never feel forced or overworked. Yesterday, I briefly fell in love with a new cookbook’s design. Then, after looking at Bacon’s work, I quickly recognized how the cookbook was desperately overdesigned.

Bacon’s love for jazz is apparent in the work. It feels open and clear, never rigid or constipated. However, the spontaneity should not be misunderstood as easy. The ideas are big, smart, and beautifully crafted. We can look back and say, “Times were different. You could walk in a room, present a solution and everyone would cheer. The they’d head out for martinis, cigarettes and flirting.” But, like today, I’m sure everyone had an opinion and wanted something different. Bacon’s work is a testament to the ability to express an idea articulately and sell it. There is obvious passion here.

James Victore’s article on aiga.org captures Bacon’s essence beautifully. I love that he can, “tell a joke so dirty that it would singe off yer eyebrows.” This reminded me of my great friend Doyald Young, and that made my day.

The Third Act

My first job was as a designer at The New York Public Library. Beside a major screw up when I handled a business card run for the executive team containing a misspelling, The New York Pubic Library, I had a wonderful time. In 1987, I designed the materials for an exhibition of Truman Capote artifacts. I asked the print and photograph division head for an image of Capote for the poster. He gave me a telephone number and suggested Dick might have a photo. Surprisingly, Richard Avedon answered the phone and asked me to come over to see a photo he took of Capote during the filming of In Cold Blood in Kansas.

I won’t go into Capote’s entire biography. In brief, Capote grew up in a chaotic environment, moving between relatives, an alcoholic mother, and stepfather. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms was a critical success and bestseller in 1948. Over the next decade, he became one of America’s most celebrated authors.

Part of Capote’s success was his genius at self-promotion. He used his sexuality as a counterpoint to the accepted idea of macho masculinity in post-war America. His portraits are clearly gay, often seductive, and always flamboyant. He tackled subjects that challenged polite society. In his short story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is clearly a prostitute.

In 1966, Random House published Capote’s book In Cold Blood. The book is based on the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. During the writing, Capote developed a close relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith. After Smith’s execution, Capote changed. It was as though his childhood terrors caught up with him.

In the 1960s, Capote’s friends were New York society, upper class women who shopped and gossiped. His black and white ball in 1966 was the party of the decade. In 1975 Esquire magazine published excerpts from his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. He based the short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” on the secrets of his society friends. In turn, they rejected him. This led to years of alcoholism, drug use, and endless parties at Studio 54. Capote died in 1984 at 59.

What I find remarkable is the split between Capote’s life pre and post In Cold Blood. The ability to overcome a tragic childhood was lost. We are taught to expect stories of a hard childhood, incredible struggle, success, and a happy ending. In this instance, the narrative took a turn toward tragedy. It was as if his psyche was a sweater, and one thread began to unravel it.

For further reading: Capote: A Biography.

On Fame and Work

Noreen just took on the job of AIGA Los Angeles president for the second time. She served as president over a decade ago, and decided it was time to step back into the role. Of course, there were people who immediately claimed she was doing this for the fame and glory. And to those people I say, “(insert extremely offensive swearing here.)” If any glory is to be had, that happened on the first go-around. The second term is risk. She could just walk away and be remembered as a great president from the past.

As for fame, I don’t understand why anyone would put him or herself through that much work and stress for something so transitory. Over the years, we’ve been called media whores, PR hounds, and the Paris Hiltons of design. I prefer to think of us as the Donny and Marie of design, and just keep trying to make good work.

This is what I think about fame and design: famous designers are like famous dentists. There are famous dentists. I don’t know them. After all, we are designers, not George Clooney. Contrary to common thought, being famous does not translate into people handing you checks or offering sex (well, for some it does).

A couple of years ago at the Academy Awards, we sprinted along the red carpet to reach the Kodak Theater. It’s scary. There are lots of people yelling in the stands and lots of press taking photos. Normal people run from this. Actors wave to the crowd and encourage them, soaking up as much attention as possible. This wasn’t simply, “I love my fans.” It was a extreme version of “LOVE ME PLEASE!” I know designers can be needy, but not like that.

What’s important, the only thing that matters in the end is the work. Matthew Leibowitz is not one of the names design students regularly reference. There are no monographs or critical essays on his work. But, today, almost 40 years after he died, I still show his work as examples of great design. He pulled together a range of forms from minimal geometry to Victorian etching. There is a sense of Dada and Surrealism in his work. It always manages to walk that fine line of European modernism and American eclecticism.

I don’t know what Leibowitz thought about design celebrity. If he was applauded when he entered a room or ignored isn’t relevant. What is left is a remarkable body of inspiring work.

 

If you’d like to know more about Matthew Leibowitz visit some of these fine websites:

http://www.uartsgd.com/GD40/Leibowitz/MatthewLeibowitz.html

http://aqua-velvet.com/2010/09/matthew-liebowitz-general-dynamics-1965/

http://www.thisisdisplay.org/features/matthew_leibowitz_visual_translator/

http://library.rit.edu/gda/designer/matthew-leibowitz

Matthew Leibowitz, 1944

Non uccidere vostra moglie

On this season’s Mad Men, Don Draper has a groovy pad in Manhattan. This is what I thought until I saw How to Murder Your Wife. Jack Lemmon’s townhouse is what it should be. The movie is probably the most misogynistic movie ever made. It’s up there with the racist Birth of a Nation on the offensive scale.

Jack Lemmon plays a confirmed bachelor (not code for gay here) who accidentally marries Virna Lisi after a drunken party. Lisi is Italian and speaks no English, and begins to redecorate the groovy bachelor pad. She also cooks big buttery Italian meals and Lemmon gets fat. As a comic strip artist, he takes out his frustration by making his alter-ego character marry a woman and then kill her. When Lisi sees this she flees, and Lemmon is accused of actually murdering his wife. There is a big courtroom scene that is unbelievably disturbing where he proposes every man be allowed to murder his wife. Scary.

Plotlines and hate language aside, the design of Lemmon’s apartment is fantastic. It’s hip and urban, with a touch of Billy Baldwin (the designer not actor) eclecticism. There is an all white modular kitchen, all black marble bathroom, modern art mixed with Victorian lamps, a brass bed that is a piece of sculpture, and Fornasetti screen bathroom doors. The core by Neal Hefti (of The Odd Couple, and 1966 Batman fame) is sublime. And then, there is Virna Lisi. Let me just say this, “Un#%*!ing beautiful!”

Simpletons

 

When Noreen and I first started AdamsMorioka, the design du jour was busy, layered, and busier. If a poster didn’t have 32 layers, 8 spot colors, 4 varnishes and some type that had been run through a copier 10 times, it couldn’t be serious design. But, since I can’t think that much, we made posters in 2 colors with no layers and easy to read Franklin Gothic. You can imagine the love that we received for this. I recall meeting a well-known designer famous for this type of complex work who refused to shake my hand. Jeez, you’d think we were kidnapping and drowning kittens.

Fortunately, we had some champions who made up for the angry stares. Our great friend, Alexander Gelman, was one of the first designers we met who shared our idea. Gelman takes simplicity and minimalism to its most extreme place. The result is work that is aggressive and almost assaulting in its clarity. Simple does not mean dull or conservative. When I need to make this argument clear, I point to Gelman’s work.

He’s just as direct in person. One year, we all went to the Sundance Film Festival together. A particularly annoying person in our group would not shut up. All day and night she told us what to do, what to see, where to park, and what was good and bad. Finally, Gelman simply said, “No. You are wrong.” This worked; she stopped shouting commands at us. As you see, simplicity in design is good, and simplicity in language is better.

Directions from Right to Left

You might have noticed a “Goldwater in ‘68” sign in a window on the Mad Men premier. This may seem trivial, but is part of a more convoluted story. For those youngsters in the room, Barry Goldwater was a conservative Republican Senator from Arizona. He ran for President in 1964 against President Lyndon Johnson. My grandparents, as life-long Republicans, called Goldwater a true conservative for my entire life. They appreciated his stand on conservative issues while rejecting the evangelical right. Lyndon Johnson was the Vice President under Kennedy. He became President after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Johnson won the presidency in one of the largest landslides in history.

Obviously there are multiple points of view on the campaign and results. But many consider the “Daisy” commercial to be one of the most successful campaign ads in history. Tony Schwartz at Doyle Dane Bernbach created this commercial in 1964. The ad, made for the Johnson campaign, implied that Goldwater would lead the United States into a nuclear war. The ad aired only once and was pulled after it was deemed unfairly inflammatory.

Now, back to Mad Men. This gets complicated. The Goldwater in ’66 sign is in the window of the ad agency Young and Rubicam where water balloons are dropped on African-American protesters below. Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This led to Goldwater winning states in the Deep South, but losing everywhere else. Later in the episode, Henry Francis tells someone on the phone to not appear with Governor George Romney in Michigan. Henry Francis’ character previously used to work for Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller also ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 and refused to support Goldwater. This caused uproar at the 1964 Republican convention. And you thought this bog was just about pretty stuff.

I Hear America Singing

I’ve been re-reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (the 1891 edition). Now don’t think I’ve suddenly become a cultured intellectual. Don’t worry, if you continue reading I’ll prove my pedestrian self. But Leaves of Grass is a wonderful orchestration of words. Whitman paints with the language. The poems are about an earthy passion, lustful and natural. Simultaneously, I began to consider growing a beard.

Now for a complete left turn, to make matters worse, I began to think about the Hilltop Coca Cola commercial. This commercial was created in 1971 by McCann-Erikson. The world was in the midst of the Vietnam War, and conflicts in India and the Middle East. The year before, 4 students were shot by the National Guard at Kent State. While the goal was to sell Coca-Cola, the commercial’s message was about unification and peace. The lyrics to the theme song included these lines:

I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love, Grow apple trees and honeybees, and snow white turtledoves. I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

These may not match Whitman’s eloquent language, but they share the same sentiment: Have you ever loved the body of a woman? Have you ever loved the body of a man? Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth? 

Yes, my mind works in odd ways connecting ideas that are probably best unconnected. And if you are Walt Whitman fan, you are probably revolted by the audacity to compare Leaves of Grass to a Coca-Cola commercial. But there you are.

Walt Whitman

The Graduate

Quite often, I receive notes from designers looking for freelancers or designers to hire. Since my mind is a sieve, I only recall the last person I saw. Typically, I send an email to Petrula Vrontikis and Nik Hafermaas and ask for any Art Center grads who are out there. Now here is the problem: I’m sure they are tired of my relentless harassment. I don’t know who has been hired, and who is looking. I don’t have anyone’s email address after they graduate. The solution is to create an interactive job bank for Art Center alumnus. But, I don’t want to be the person watching the doors to check the quality of employers, or graduates. And I have a full time job, so that’s not going to happen.

As a simpler approach, I’m using this post as a center for a list of recent graduates and their websites. If you are looking for a designer, feel free to peruse the amazing work on each website. If you are a recent grad and are contacted, I’ll let you be the judge about the person contacting you. A good tip: if you are asked to remove your shirt and send in bare chested photos, don’t. This is typically not required for design interviews.

Adam Hale
Alexia Pellegrini
Andrea Lee
Paul Kim
Caroline Kim
Christina Nizar
Dominique Wu
Douglas Chang
Eugene Art Seo
Guea-Yea Lian
Gyum Heo
Jaime Lopez
James Bogenrief
Jeff Han
Jesse Merrell
Jiin Kim
Jinhee Jung
Jeong Youn Choi
Nico Sala
Randi Cheung
Sora Park
Steven Ligatsa
Tracy Hung
Winnie Yuen
Yerina Cha
Also the grad show (showing faces with names) can be seen at:

The Lights of Old Santa Fe

Years ago, I saw a documentary, 901: After 45 Years of Working. This documentary follows the archiving of the Eames studio, as its contents were packed for shipping to the Smithsonian, after Ray's death. It’s incredible, of course. A lifetime of collecting is carefully organized in flat files and boxes. There are flat files filled with thimbles, another drawer of round shells, another with buttons, pieces of kimono fabric, spoons, pebbles, Victorian cards, and anything else you might consider collecting. After an hour of drawers, drawers and more drawers, and boxes of stuff, I found myself getting edgy. Yes, it’s incredible, but stop the archiving, get a Hefty bag.

I bought the new Alexander Girard book by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee. I expected a nice comprehensive publication of Girard’s work, not another catalogue of cute Girard blocks and merchandise. And it is exactly that: smart, comprehensive, beautiful, and well printed. The book is enormous. I felt sorry for the UPS dude. It’s almost as big as the coffee table, is 672 pages, and weighs 15 pounds. It is comprehensive and spectacular.

Girard’s house in Santa Fe is overwhelming. Here, more is not enough. The colors and textures are playful and exuberant. There isn’t a detail overlooked. It gave me permission to paint a mural in the hall, or put out every Mexican and Japanese folk art item I own. Like the Eames studio, there is a lot of stuff. And when there isn’t an object, he paints the surface to invoke a landscape. I was especially interested in the mural that looks exactly like It’s a Small World. Was it zeitgeist? Did Mary Blair visit and copy him? Did he copy from Mary Blair’s drawings? Who cares? It’s extraordinary.

Images from Alexander Girard, by Todd Oldham and Keira Coffee, and the Library of Congress

Tales of Gods and Heroes

Tomoko Miho.

Whenever I see the movie, Two For the Road, with Audrey Hepburn, I think about Tomoko Miho. In the 1960s, she and the remarkable Jim Miho spent half a year touring Europe in a silver Porsche. They visited designers and must have been the chicest people in every restaurant or little village.

Miho’s work is lucid, minimal, true to international style modernism, and speaks with clarity. But it also allows for spontaneity and the unexpected. In her words, she “Joins space and substance. It is that harmony that creates the ringing clarity of statement that we sense as an experience, as a meaningful whole, as a oneness-as good design.”

Why I Design

I learned how to behave by Saul Bass. There seemed to be several options. I could mature into a more seasoned designer and become crankier. I could become bitter and competitive with younger designers. I could desperately try to remain young, wearing clothes better suited for a 14 year old. Or, like Saul, I could be magnanimous and helpful. Saul was enormously helpful to us when we started AdamsMorioka. He provided wisdom I still use. He sat through a long dull lecture at Aspen to wait for our talk. Saul patiently listened to my ambitions, and was always available. Now when I read his recent book, I continue to be in awe.

After Saul passed away, I went to his memorial at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. It was a truly life changing event to see the collection of his titles on a huge screen with magnificent stereo sound. When I show Saul’s title sequences to my students they are impressed, obviously, and hopefully inspired. But they cannot experience the magnificence of Saul’s work on a wide Cinemascope screen. His titles are each wonderful, but the credit sequence for West Side Story is a miracle. It is moving, eloquent, artful, and beautifully crafted. No matter how hard my day is, this sequence always reminds me why I design.

The Danger of Beauty

I’ve been working on a lecture for the AIGA Pivot Conference in Phoenix this week. I’m scheduled to talk about the history of AIGA, which is kind of like a lecture about the history of the United Auto Workers. So I’m working doubly hard to find great images. And now I have them. Charles Dana Gibson was one of the founders in 1914. Charles Dana Gibson is know for creating the “Gibson” girl. He based this illustration on my grandmother’s great-cousin Irene, who was his wife.

This led me to think about all the amazing stories I’ve heard about the women in my family. For instance, one of the earliest distant grandmothers to come to America was Cicely Reynolds, who arrived in 1610 abroad the Swan when she was 14. She was married five times and is credited as bringing “flirting” to the new world. There seems to be a very strong gene that runs along the maternal line. The women all look alike, going back generations. They all seem to be rather intelligent and witty, and dangerously beautiful. Since this is my blog, I can indulge myself and talk about this.

The latest addition is my niece Izabelle. She’s only thirteen, but 5’9” and beautiful. I’ve recommended that my brother and sister-in-law build a closet model on the closet in Carrie, but they are too nice. Like generations before, she will likely break many hearts.

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

Yes, Master. I will do your bidding.

The UCLA Extension Masters of Design program was conceived and managed by InJu Sturgeon. InJu had the genius idea to elevate the utilitarian course catalogue covers working with some of the world’s best designers. Paul Rand designed the first cover in 1990. The program soon became the coveted assignment. Other designers including Saul Bass, Paula Scher, Woody Pirtle, Ivan Chermayeff, and Michael Bierut have tackled the same assignment: education, Los Angeles, the season, and extension. In 1998, we were honored to be asked to design our first cover. This was daunting, solving the same assignment as some of our heroes. Michael Vanderbyl was the encouraging voice for us, and convinced us to have fun. The series could easily have become a hodge-podge of crazed egos. But InJu’s remarkable skill handling designers consistently leads to some of the best work. When working with InJu, it is immediately clear that there is no room for diva-esque behavior. Hence my typical screaming, demanding, and abusive approach was not welcome. And I have never net anyone so adept at motivating me to do better.

Tequila Sunrise

If you were “with it” in 1967 you went to cocktail parties in Malibu, drove a yellow Corvette, made macramé plant holders, and listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You may already know Herb Alpert from Casino Royale (the first one), or Pee Wee Herman’s dance to Tequila. In today’s hustle and bustle world, I find Herb Alpert to be the perfect music for the drive home. It’s relaxing, fresh, and pretty groovy. I have a special weakness for 1960s Victorian revivalist typography. This is the kind of typographic layout seen at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. Alpert’s 1965 album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, is the prime example of this. I tried using this kind of composition on a magazine project recently. I thought it was the hippest thing I’d ever done. The client just laughed and said, “That reminds me of something old timey. Like a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour.” And…