The Definitive Dwiggins no. 30—The Architect and the Industrial Arts

Entrance to The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1929). Designer uncredited. Note the poster by W.A. Dwiggins at right. Image Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Entrance to The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1929). Design by Joseph Urban. Note the poster by W.A. Dwiggins at right. Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Richard F. Bach (1887–1968) organized fifteen annual exhibitions of contemporary industrial art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1917 and 1940. [1] With them he attempted to promote good design and good taste in manufactured goods. The annuals displayed examples of good design in home furnishings, textiles, rugs, jewelry, glass, ceramics, metalwork, and lighting. Bach described the exhibitions as “an indorsement [sic] of the Museum’s policy in maintaining close contact with the important field of current production which represents the objects of daily need and comfort, the things daily bought and used, and those in which… the factor of design plays a rôle daily increasing in importance.” [2]

The biggest of the annuals was the Eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary American Design, titled “The Architect and the Industrial Arts,” which showcased American Art Deco design. In the The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bach asked the following questions:

What is the tempo of our day? What are the dominant elements of our culture, our activities, our thinking? Is this a speed age or are we sedate? Have we time to be dignified and stately about frills or are we air-minded?… And is this the mechanistic millennium which shrivels the soul and makes mockery of imagination, or are these fabulous industries, these automatic instruments of production, the means of bringing within range of vision the real potentialities of our crowded lives and of interpreting our aspirations and achievements? [3]

He viewed the answers to these questions as providing the groundwork for a representative modern style of design, with the Metroplitan Museum of Art playing a role in bringing it to the attention of the American public.

These exhibitions are in effect the Museum’s contribution toward the formulation of a style of design, for under its aegis moot points will find decision and trends be given directions, without too many concessions to the exuberance of novelty and with never too strong a regard for sale value. The Museum gallery is neutral ground and all other considerations must yield before that of a sincere effort in favor of contemporary design. [4]

In 1929 the contemporary design aesthetic was art moderne (now commonly referred to as Art Deco), inspired by the 1925 Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Although the United States had declined to participate in the exposition its influence reached the country two years later. Works from it were displayed in American department stores, including Filene’s in Boston, in 1927 and 1928. [5] The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was riding this new wave.

Dining Room by Eliel Saarinen from The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1929). Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dining Room by Eliel Saarinen from The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1929). Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary Design focused on interior architecture, both domestic and retail. Its contributors were architects Raymond M. Hood (1881–1934), Ely Jacques Kahn (1884–1972), John Wellborn Root, Jr. (1887–1963), Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), Eugene Schoen (1880–1957), Joseph Urban (1872–1933), and Ralph T. Walker (1889–1973); landscape architect Armistead Fitzhugh (1895–1975); and Léon V. Solon (1873–1957), the artistic director of the Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Nearly all of these men were leaders in American Art Deco at the time. Hood had designed the American Radiator Building in 1924 and was in the process of working on the Daily News Building at the time of the exhibition; Kahn had designed 2 Park Avenue in New York in 1927; the firm of Holabird & Root had recently designed the Palmolive Building in Chicago; Saarinen was the designer of the Cranbrook Educational Community in suburban Detroit; Urban, best known for his theatre and stage designs, was beginning work on the New School for Social Research building; and Ralph Walker had designed the Western Union Building.

The Cooperating Committee for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition (1929). Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Cooperating Committee for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1929). Standing (from left to right): Raymond Hood, unidentified, Ely Jacques Kahn. Seated (from left to right): unidentified, John Wellborn Root, Jr., Eliel Saarinen, Joseph Urban, and unidentified. Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Architect and the Industrial Arts was a blockbuster exhibition for the museum. Approximately 60,000 people visited it in the first three weeks, including a single day described as the most crowded in the museum’s history. The popularity of the show prompted the museum to extend it to September 29. The crowds continued to swell over the next six months. The final tally was 185,256 visitors in total for the exhibition. [6] The Architect and the Industrial Arts contributed to 1929 as the turning point in the development of industrial design as a profession. In Jeffrey Meikle’s view, Art Deco—with its bright colors, glorification of geometry, and geologic shapes—”broke the spell of period design” that had dominated American products. [7]

W.A. Dwiggins was responsible for the graphics for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition. He designed the poster, the exhibition labels, and contributed a cover design and ornaments to the catalogue. His work was thoroughly in keeping with the Art Deco aesthetics of the designs created by the Cooperating Committee members. It had already been moving in that direction since 1926, spurred by an exploration of the possibilities of designs built out of celluloid stencil elements. [8] Examples of Dwiggins’ new-found Art Deco designs—what he called “his ‘concrete-mixer’ abstractions”—are the ornaments for Veni Creator! by Humbert Wolfe (privately printed, 1927), Paraphs by Hermann Püterschein (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928), Good Morning, America by Carl Sandburg (New York: Crosby Gaige, 1928), Clothes (Summer 1928), and Warren’s Standard Printing Papers (S.D. Warren Co., 1929). [9]

Stencil ornament from "Scrapped" in Paraphs by Hermann Püterschein (pseud.) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Stencil ornament from “Scrapped” in Paraphs by Hermann Püterschein (pseud.) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

The poster for The Architect and the Industrial Arts was designed in late 1928. It is set in Futura Medium, which had reached the American market earlier that year. [10] The typography, with the text  letterspaced, justified (except for the top line which is centered) and placed within rules, is typical of Art Deco in its emphasis on symmetry. Dwiggins’ “concrete-mixer” abstract stencil ornaments—actually one design and a variant—in blue, orange and olive complete the moderne look. Dwiggins rarely designed posters and the few of them that he did, including this one for The Architect and the Industrial Arts, are all relatively small. It is unclear if the poster was distributed in the city or if it was only used internally at the museum. It can be glimpsed in a photograph of the exhibition at the entrance to the galleries (see above). [11]

Poster for exhibition Art Resources.

Poster for The Architect & The Industrial Arts: 11th Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Metropolitan Museum of Art (February 12–September 29, 1929). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

Although there are no documents pertaining to the development of the poster for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition, there is a surviving comp in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The design is significantly different—and inferior. The text is sketched in a neoclassical letter, probably intended to be Bodoni if not hand drawn. The ornament (in six bright colors) uses two of the same stencil elements that are part of the lower ornament in the final poster.

Comp for poster

Comp for poster for The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1928. Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

All five of the stencil elements in the poster comp were recombined far more successfully by Dwiggins to form an ornament that was used in color (dusty rose, orange and black) for exhibition labels and in black-and-white for the exhibition catalogue. [12] Photographs of the installation of The Architect and the Industrial Arts show the ornament in use, but unfortunately not in full color. While it is clear that Dwiggins was entirely responsible for the poster, it is less so for the exhibition labels. In the “Notes” to the catalogue for The Architect and the Industrial Arts it says: “Designs for the poster and labels used in this exhibition are by W.A. Dwiggins; typography by David Silve [sic].” [13] Perhaps Dwiggins handled the ornament and the heading while Silvé executed the text typography. The typefaces are Futura, Futura Bold, and ATF Garamond. [14]

Original stencil ornament (1928) for exhibition labels for The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource NY.

Original stencil ornament design by W.A. Dwiggins (1928) for exhibition labels for The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

The only photograph of an exhibition label by itself is the one for Apartment House Loggia by Raymond M. Hood (see below). [15] Presumably, the labels and the posters were printed in-house by the Printing Office established by Henry Watson Kent (1866–1948) in 1905.

Exhibition label for The Arh=ch=t and the Industrial Arts

Exhibition label for Apartment House Loggia by Raymond M. Hood. From The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929. Design by W.A. Dwiggins; typography by David Silvé. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

Apartment House Loggia by Raymond Hood from The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition (1929). Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Apartment House Loggia by Raymond Hood from The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition (1929). Image source: Digital Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The catalogue for The Architect and the Industrial Arts was designed by David Silvé. Dwiggins contributed the cover design, a set of ornaments for each entry, and a vignette on the colophon page. And, I suspect, he was responsible for the title page since it mimics the poster. According to the colophon, ten thousand copies were printed by the Plandome Press, Inc. in February 1929. [16] However, at least two more editions were made due to the exhibition’s popularity. The University of Michigan copy has an amended title page with the exhibition’s extended dates added to the title page and a changed colophon that says 2500 copies of a second edition were printed in May 1929. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Watson Library copy has the same altered title page but no colophon, suggesting that at least a third edition was printed, if not several more. After all, over 185,000 people visited the exhibition during its seven month run.

Title page of The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Typography by David Silvé; ornament design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Title page of The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Typography by David Silvé; ornament design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

David Silvé (b. 1889) is a bit of a shadowy figure which is surprising given how prominent he was in graphic design circles during his lifetime. I have been able to reconstruct only portions of his life. Apparently his first job in the printing field was with The University Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts sometime before 1911. That year he is recorded as living in Jersey City, New Jersey and working in the printing department at American Type Founders. Before 1916 he had also worked in New Orleans as well as for the McGraw-Hill Company, Inc. and Scientific American as “typographic expert.” In 1916 Silvé won a catalogue title page competition sponsored by The Printing Art. From at least 1916 to 1918 he was in charge of the print shop at The Marchbanks Press in New York. From there he went to work for the Bartlett-Orr Press, also in New York, before joining the advertising agency Street & Finney, Inc. in 1920. Two years later, Silvé was one of the four founding partners of Pynson Printers along with Elmer Adler, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Hubert L. Canfield. But after a year, Silvé—described as the firm’s “consulting typographer”—was gone as was everyone else but Adler. However, as late as 1927 he was described as being associated with Pynson Printers. His next known place of employment was with the Blackman Company, a New York advertising agency, in 1928. That may have been where he was when he and Dwiggins collaborated on the catalogue for The Architect and the Industrial Arts. Two years late, in 1931, Silvé was working for the magazine department of the Thomas Y. Crowell Publishing Company, where it is very likely he hired Dwiggins to contribute to a Christmas issue of Woman’s Home Companion. In 1947 he was still working for the company’s successor, the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. I do not know when he died.

Silvé was very active in the American Institute of Graphic Arts. In 1929, the year of The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition, he not only served on the jury for the AIGA Fifty Books competition, but was one of the organizers along with Elmer Adler and Laurence B. Siegfried of an exhibition of Dwiggins’ work. The exhibition, which was held at The Art Center in New York, was part of the celebration that accompanied Dwiggins receiving the AIGA’s Gold Medal.

David Silvé. From The American Printer (May 27, 1916).

David Silvé. From The American Printer (May 27, 1916).

The catalogue for The Architect and the Industrial Arts is set in Scotch Roman with Futura Medium for the title page and chapter titles. Each of the chapters devoted to an installation in the exhibition opens with a stencil-based ornament by Dwiggins. Ornaments also grace the title page, the preface, introduction, and “Notes” page. In all Dwiggins designed seven ornaments for the catalogue, but several were used more than once, sometimes flopped. The upper ornament from the poster is repeated in the preface in black-and-white with the central element in hatching to create tone and then on the “Notes” page with the flanking elements in hatching. The ornament from the labels is reused on the title page in solid black. Dwiggins also designed a “vignette” for the colophon page. [17]

Front cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Front cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Back cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Back cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). Design by W.A. Dwiggins (signed WAD). Collection of Paul Shaw.

But Dwiggins’ most eye-catching contribution to the exhibition was his wrap-around design for the catalogue cover in pea green and black on spring green paper. He created a single stencil design but cropped it in two different places so that the front and back designs are not identical. The excess portions of each version are continued on the glued-down front and back flaps. The complete design incorporates the various elements that make up the ornament for the labels. Furthermore, the ornament used for the “Acknowledgments” page is taken from cover, though with several parts converted from solid to hatched. The cover design and the majority of the smaller stencil ornaments for the poster, labels and catalogue interior are all botanical in nature. Only two of the smaller ornaments can be considered geometric. In that regard Dwiggins’ work for the exhibition was more biomorphic than part of the era’s emerging “machine aesthetic.” In the view of Richard Guy Wilson, biomorphic designs were intended to humanize the machine, which accurately describes Dwiggins’ philosophy. [18]

One way that Dwiggins achieved this was by cutting his stencil elements, both botanical and geometrical, out of celluloid by hand. His use of stencils to build ornamental designs was a compromise between ornament that was hand drawn and ornament that was composed of fleurons (type elements). The human aspect was reinforced further as Dwiggins often redrew elements of his constructions in ink or retouched them with white paint.

Original pen-and-ink stencil design for cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts catalogue (1928). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Original pen-and-ink stencil design (1928) for cover of The Architect and the Industrial Arts catalogue. Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

W.A. Dwiggins’ work for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition was part of a period when he had gained mastery over his stencil process of ornament and pattern design. The poster, label ornament and, especially, catalogue cover reflect this. Along with several other designs created in 1929 (e.g. an exhibition announcement for the painter Charles Hovey Pepper [see below], the cover of the September 1929 issue of Clothes magazine from Filene’s Department Store, and a boxed set of paper specimens from S.D. Warren Co.) they represent Dwiggins at the moment when he absorbed Art Deco and broke entirely free from the conservative influences of his teacher Frederic W. Goudy and his mentor Daniel Berkeley Updike. [19] It was a moment that did not last as he went on in the 1930s to find ways to meld the new style with his old aesthetic.

Notes
1. Bach worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1918 to 1952. During the years of the industrial arts exhibitions he had the titles of Associate in Industrial Arts (1918–1989) and Director of Industrial Relations (1929–1941). For more on Bach and the annual industrial arts exhibitions see “Digitizing the Libraries’ Collections: Industrial Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, 1917–40″ by Antoinette M. Guglielmo (July 30, 2012).
2. The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. XXIV, no. 1 (January 1929), p. 6.
3. The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. XXIV, no. 2 (February 1929), p. 40.
4. ibid.
5. ”Selling the Machine Age” by Richard Guy Wilson in The Machine Age in America 1918–1941 edited by Richard Guy Wilson, Dianne H. Pilgrim and Dickran Tashjian (New York: The Brooklyn Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1986), p. 65.
6. For running visitor totals see The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. XXIV, no. 3 (March 1929), no. 5 (May 1929), no. 8 (August 1929), and no. 10 (October 1929).
7. Twentieth Century Limited: Industrial Design in America, 1925–1939 by Jeffrey L. Meikle (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), p. 23. Although 1929 was a turning point for the industrial design profession, its heyday was 1933 as the Depression provided manufacturers with an excuse to take risks (p. 68).
8. For information on Dwiggins’ development and use of stencils see Stencilled Ornament & Illustration: A Demonstration of William Addison Dwiggins’ Method of Book Decoration and Other Uses of the Stencil by Dorothy Abbe (Hingham, Massachusetts: Püterschein-Hingham, 1979).
9. The “concrete-mixer” reference is from W.A. Dwiggins to Alfred A. Knopf 9 October [1943] in Folder 4, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Files, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
10. See “The Bauer Type Foundry in New York” by Wolfgang Hartmann in Futura: The Typeface edited by Petra Eisele, Annette Ludwig and Isabel Naegele (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2017). Dwiggins did not use his own Metro typeface because he did not begin work on it until March 1929. It is possible that the job for the Metropolitan Museum of Art was one more factor pushing him towards designing his own sans serif type. For other factors behind the design of Metro see “The Evolution of Metro and Its Reimagination as Metro Nova” by Paul Shaw (2016).
11. Neg. MM 2322 is also online at the Digital Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.
12. The labels are large. They can be seen in situ in several photographs of the exhibition in The Photographic Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art: Sales Room by Ralph T. Walker (neg. L 11252), Conservatory by Joseph Urban (neg. L 11245), Central Garden by Armistead Fitzhugh (negs. L 11242 and L 11275), Bath and Bedroom by Ely Jacques Kahn (neg. L 11294), and negs. L 11247 and L 11284. The first four of them are also online at the Digital Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.
13. “Notes” in The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929), p. 83.
14. Futura Medium was released in 1927; Futura Bold in 1928. See Futura: The Typeface edited by Petra Eisele, Annette Ludwig and Isabel Naegele (London: Laurence King Publishing, Ltd., 2017), p. 368. Futura Book was not issued until 1933. ATF Garamond was released in 1919. “There have been two ‘gothics of good design’ furnished us—the Kabel and the Futura…” Dwiggins wrote to Harry Gage 27 February 1929. Metroblack Folder, Box 6, C.H. Griffith Papers, Margaret King Library, University of Kentucky.
15. Neg. MM 23213 in The Photographic Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art is not online.
16. The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929). The Watson Library copy is call number 159.4 N486.
17. All seven of the stencil ornaments that Dwiggins designed for The Architect and the Industrial Arts catalogue can be seen at The Definitive Dwiggins no. 32—The Architect and the Industrial Arts, continued.
18. Wilson describes four basic aesthetics of the interwar period: streamline, machine purity, moderne and biomorphic. See “Machine Aesthetics” by Richard Guy Wilson in The Machine Age in America 1918–1941 edited by Richard Guy Wilson, Dianne H. Pilgrim and Dickran Tashjian (New York: The Brooklyn Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1986), pp. 45 and 58. Dwiggins’ push/pull attitude toward machine aesthetics was articulated several years later in the specimen booklet for Electra where he said his goal was to make a type that was full of electricity—”sparks, energy—high-speed steel—metal shavings coming off a lathe”—but also “full of warm animal blood”. See Emblems and Electra (Brooklyn: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1935).
19. “I seem to have graduated from the ‘style’ department and entered upon a career of rank ‘presentism’,” Dwiggins wrote to C.H. Griffith of Mergenthaler Linotype. n.d. November 1929 in Box 14, C.H. Griffith Papers, Margaret King Library, University of Kentucky.

"Charles Hovey Pepper North Country" exhibition announcement (1929). Design, lettering and ornament by W.A. Dwiggins.

“Charles Hovey Pepper North Country” exhibition announcement (1929). Design, lettering and ornament by W.A. Dwiggins. Note the stencil elements that also appear in the cover design for The Architect and the Industrial Arts.