Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 25—The 1960s (Part II: Swiss Style)
This is one in a series of blog posts accompanying Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design 1892–2017, an exhibition that I curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition ran from October 3 to December 15, 2017.
From the early 1960s to the early 1970s Strathmore’s promotional mailings reflected the parallel trends of the “Push Pin Style” and Swiss modernism. While the designs by Milton Glaser, John Alcorn and Simms Taback represented a renewed interest in making paper a physical part of the picture, promotions by Richard Danne (b. 1934) and Ken Kuenster (b. 1931) marked a return to the company’s 1920s emphasis on the interaction of colored inks and colored papers. In Kuenster’s designs Swiss modernism collided with psychedelia.
Kuenster designed two promotional mailers*, the gestalt assault and Color on color on color on color… , which upended Munsell’s color investigations by showcasing “unharmonious” color combinations and fluorescent colored papers. the gestalt assault introduced Strathmore Text Electric Colors (Electric White, Electric Yellow, Electric Pink, Electric Blue, and Electric Green), five “wild new hues in a finish so rich it makes it safe to take a chance.” (Unfortunately, the eye-popping fluorescent colors have faded with exposure to light since the Strathmore Archive was uncovered.) Using the lingo of the day, Strathmore urged its customers to “turn on” with the new papers.
Using a tunneling set of die-cut numbers Kuenster layered the seven colors—the five new electric colors plus the existing colors Mandarin and Citron—in the mailer. The concept was reminiscent of Will Burtin’s Expressive Printing Papers portfolio of 1953, but the effect was totally 60s. The disparate imagery, which ranged from children’s drawings to photographs of Brutalist architecture, was also of the time.
Color on color on color on color… demonstrated how the seven paper colors from the gestalt assault mailer could be combined with layers of transparent and opaque inks to achieve additional color effects. The bold numbers used to illustrate the effects were drawn by Kuenster. The paper was Strathmore Text Duplex, a two-sided sheet that was available in thirteen different configurations—four color-on-color and nine color-on-white versions. Thus, the possibilities of “the Strathmore color game” were as endless as the copy boasted. Amusingly, Strathmore insisted that its new fluorescent colored papers still had “the look and feel of handmade paper.”
Kuenster’s designs for Strathmore referenced several art and design trends of the 1960s. The cover, with its enlarged halftone dots, was both a nod to Roy Liechtenstein’s comics-influenced paintings and to Op-Art. The electric colors, of course, were clearly derived from the psychedelic rock posters of Victor Moscoso (b. 1936), Wes Wilson (b. 1937), and others designed for the Avalon Ballroom and Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. In contrast, the typography was influenced by Swiss design. The text was set in Helvetica—as was a new Strathmore logo.
Strathmore on Opaques, designed by Richard Danne, was the final piece of Strathmore’s early 1970s color trilogy. The portfolio, which consisted of nineteen sheets, demonstrated how opaque inks could work with Strathmore’s colored papers. Although less elaborate, it was in effect, an updated version of A Grammar of Color (1921) for the Pop and psychedelic era. The sheets, with their array of colored circles, inevitably suggest Jasper Johns’ “Target Paintings” as well as Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square series of paintings, both of which were very influential at the time.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Strathmore’s swatch books became more modern with the illustrations of the 1950s being replaced by enlarged letterforms and abstract shapes. Layering is a common tactic. Although the eternal phrase “Paper Is Part of the Picture” is present, it seems to be there more out of duty than a sense of belief in its words. The
The identity of the designer of these swatch books is unknown, but they could be the work of Kuenster. The color play and interest in letters for their formal quality suggests as much. Certainly, he designed the joint promotion for Strathmore Fairfield and Strathmore Impress, entitled hi fi, that has elements similar to the swatch book for Strathmore Impress.
*Kuenster also designed See Spot Run (1970), a promotional piece that is not in the Strathmore Archives at Mohawk and which I have never seen.
Not all American modernism in the 1960s was of the Swiss variety. There was an older homegrown strain, typified by the work of Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig, that was looser and more playful. George Tscherny (b. 1924), whose work oscillated between the two camps, designed several items for Strathmore in the 1960s that reflected both approaches. He used the austere Swiss typographic style for a Handbook of Strathmore Executive and Business Papers in 1965. In contrast, his design for a promotion for Strathmore Chroma, entitled 1derful, is as amusing and enjoyable as anything from the Push Pin artists.
The design of Tscherny’s Strathmore Chroma promotion is predicated on wordplay with the cover and each of its spreads mixing numbers with similarly sounding words or syllables (e.g. “one” and “won;” and “ba[sics]” and “six”) to enumerate the paper’s qualities. Thus, Strathmore Chroma is “3fty” (“for those tight-as-a-burr single impression budget jobs and getting a rich two-color effect at a one-color price”).