Steven Heller

Graphic Designer / United States / Co-founder and co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York

Steven Heller’s Notable Books of 2013

1 book
Simon Loxley
Designed by Jerry Kelly

Many designers know Beatrice Warde’s name because of her oft-quoted “type as crystal goblet” metaphor, while her husband (for a short time), Frederic Warde, a classical American type designer and illustrator, is known only to an ever-decreasing number of orthodox type mavens. But now, designer Simon Loxley, author of Type: The Secret History of Letters, has taken a stab at filling the biographical void with Printer’s Devil: The Life and Work of Frederic Warde, a deeply researched and surprisingly engaging account of Warde’s life within a circle of storied type and book men. Warde led a fascinating if not disturbing life. He was “highly anti-semitic” (he spoke of the Kill-A-Kike-A-Day-Club), writes Loxley. And his marriage was overshadowed by his homosexuality (“Tomorrow morning,” Beatrice Warde wrote to her mother, “...we go straight to Paris: but if F. will continue to ‘go straight’ after he reaches that gay city, I don't know”). Of course, there is also a lot about his collaboration with Stanley Morison and the design of his famed typeface, Arrighi, as well as for being the Zelig of the fine-printing community.

Warde was a troubled perfectionist during a period when fine printing and typography were keys to an exclusive club. He was, notes Loxley in the introduction, “a shadowy figure,” and “a gifted, self-destructive burn-out … [an] ambitious failure” whose “aspirations immolated on the pyre of personality defects.” But there is more than mere melodrama here. “I gradually developed not only respect for Warde’s devotion and commitment to his craft,” Loxley continues, “but also love for much of his substantial body of work.” Warde had his loyal critics. “Nothing he did, to my knowledge,” said George Macy who hired him to design for the The Limited Editions Club, “fails to satisfy the eye: even if it is true that his books often fail to satisfy the soul.”

Jerry Kelly’s elegant book design in the style of the times, set in Minion and Arrighi JK types, might turn off some younger potential readers, but it is a package worth savoring.

How can you ignore a book about a designer who is exposed and celebrated for many flaws and curious triumphs. Or one who “either sought out or bumped up against most of the key players of the period: Bruce Rogers, Daniel Berkeley Updike, Hans Mardersteig, Rudolph Ruzicka, Frederic Goudy . . .” all heroes of the age. If that’s not enough, Loxley proves Beatrice did much of the writing Warde put his name to. “I could write easily, perhaps better than he. So I helped as I could,” Beatrice is quoted as saying. What a juicy read.

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