Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 1—Preface
This is the first blog post in a series intended to accompany Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design 1892–2017, an exhibition that I have curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition runs from October 3 to December 15, 2017.
In mid-April of this year Chris Harrold, Vice President Creative Director of Mohawk, asked me if I would like to curate an exhibition of Strathmore Paper ephemera at The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Several years ago Chris discovered several bins of archival Strathmore Paper material—sample books, swatch books, promotional pieces, advertisements, scrapbooks, issues of The Strathmorean, and more—in one of Mohawk’s warehouses near the company’s headquarters in Cohoes, a small town just north of Albany. This material had been unknowingly acquired as part of Mohawk’s purchase of the Fine Papers brands (Strathmore, Beckett, Via, BriteHue and Strathmore Artist Papers) from International Paper Company in 2005. Some of it made its public debut as part of AIGA 100: A Century of Design exhibition in Atlanta and New York in 2014. Although still not fully sorted out and catalogued, the Strathmore Archives—as the material is now known—was completely transferred to a dedicated room at Mohawk’s main office building by the end of last year.
In 2014, while the Strathmore Archives were still in transition from the warehouse to the office, Chris invited me to dig through the bins as part of my research into the work of W.A. Dwiggins.  That trip led, a year later, to Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Promotion of Paper from the Arts & Crafts Era to the New Deal, a brief introduction to the Archive that I wrote and Jennifer Wilkerson designed. Intended for the 2015 How Conference in Chicago, it was written, designed and produced in three weeks as a print-on-demand book through Blurb. It was the experience and knowledge that I gained in preparing that book that paved the way for Chris’ invitation to curate the exhibition at Sage.
Initially, the exhibition was conceived as a celebration of Strathmore’s 125th anniversary. But in discussions with Jean Dahlgren, the Dean of the Sage College of Albany who taught graphic design for nearly three decades, it was decided that the emphasis should be on Strathmore’s role in the evolution of American graphic design during that century and a quarter. It was a decision that made a lot of sense since the Strathmore Archive includes work by many of the best-known names in American graphic design: Will Bradley, Frederic W. Goudy, Bruce Rogers, W.A. Dwiggins, Oswald Cooper, Walter Dorwin Teague, Lucian Bernhard, Lester Beall, Milton Glaser, and Pentagram. Yet, at the same time, the great majority of the work is either by lesser-known figures such as T.B. Hapgood, T.M. Cleland, Fred G. Cooper, Helen Dryden, Guido and Lawrence Rosa, Cornelia Hoff, Richard Bartlett, George Samerjan, and Ken Kuenster or by unidentified individuals. Thus, a survey of Strathmore promotional efforts is a means of telling an alternative history of American graphic design, one that loosely coincides with the standard view for the first forty years, but then diverges for large portions of the final eighty-five years. 
The Strathmore Archive is a remarkable resource since sample books and other items survive from the late 1890s, but it was a working archive, intended for the use of advertising managers and salesmen. The material was not saved with company history in mind. And thus known items by Bradley, Dwiggins, Cleland and Designframe are missing. More unfortunately, there are no copies of work done for Strathmore by Paul Rand, Saul Bass, George Tscherny, Seymour Chwast, Noel Martin, S. Neil Fujita and Anthony Russell. A few of these missing items have been borrowed for the exhibition from institutions and individuals: the Carey Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives at the School of Visual Arts, Special Collections at Syracuse University, the Herb Lubalin Center of Design and Typography at Cooper Union, This Is Display, and Russell Design. 
Thus, the exhibition Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design is not about the archive, but is instead about Strathmore the company and how paper was promoted over time to the printing trade, the business world, and the graphic design profession. In keeping with the slogan that gives the exhibition its name, much of the material on display is illustrative. The great majority of the individuals responsible for the work are illustrators, artists, artist/designers, letterers and ornamentalists. Only a few are printers, photographers or pure graphic designers. The exhibition makes it clear why their work prior to the 1970s was widely called commercial art, rather than graphic design.
1. W.A. Dwiggins did design work for over thirty paper companies during his career. Although the great bulk of it was for S.D. Warren, he did at least fifteen jobs for Strathmore between 1914 and 1933. Four of them are in the exhibition.
2. The standard view of American graphic design history can be found in Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (6th ed.) by Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016). Although many of the artists and designers who worked for Strathmore appear in Meggs, none of their work for the paper company does. In fact, paper promotions are entirely absent from the textbook and its competitors. Meggs focuses on modernism in American graphic design from about 1930 through the 1970s while the Strathmore material emphasizes illustration. The two coincide for part of the 1950s when the paper company hired designers such as Beall, Will Burtin, and Saul Bass as part of their Famous Designer series of paper portfolios. For a contrast to American graphic design history as seen through the Strathmore Archives, see American Modernism: Graphic Design 1920–1960 by R. Roger Remington (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003) or The Moderns: Midcentury American Graphic Design by Steven Heller and Greg D’Onofrio (New York: Abrams Books, 2017).
3. Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, Associate Curator at the Carey Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, kindly loaned both the first issue of Bradley: His Book and The Strathmore Quality Book Papers specimen book of 1906 printed by The Munder-Thomsen Press of Baltimore. Nicolette A. Dobrowolski, Assistant Director of Collections and Access Services at the Special Collections Research Center of the Syracuse University Libraries, graciously provided a copy of “How to Advertise Luxury” by T.M. Cleland (1918). Beth Kleber, Archivist of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center at the School of Visual Arts, kindly sent two Seymour Chwast items from the Irrational Fears series (c.1970) and 1nderful by George Tscherny (1966). Alex Tochilovsky, Curator of the Herb Lubalin Center of Design and Typography at Cooper Union, loaned the Strathmore Expressive Printing Papers portfolio (1952) by Will Burtin while This Is Display leant the Strathmore Expressive Printing Papers portfolio (1957) by Noel Martin. Finally, Anthony Russell of Russell Design provided a copy of Fathoms (1989/1990).