Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 9—The Golden Era 1921–1930 (Part I)
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 have curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition runs from October 3 to December 15, 2017.
The 1920s can fairly be called The Golden Era for the Strathmore Paper Company. During that decade the company published A Grammar of Color (1921), created the slogan “Paper Is Part of the Picture,” invented the fictitious Strathmore Town, inaugurated the Strathmore Advisory Council, launched the Strathmore Handbook, and undertook the first reorganization of its paper lines since 1912. It was also the period when Strathmore began to regularly employ famous artists and designers to create its sample books and promotional material. The Jazz Age was the moment when Strathmore fully succeeded in linking its advertising, promotional pieces, and sample books together.
Strathmore’s reliance on famous designers had actually gotten underway in 1919, the year of the Concentration and Papergraphic campaigns. Fred G. Cooper (1883–1962) carried out the advertisements for the former while Frederic W. Goudy (1865–1947) and T.M. Cleland (1880–1964) were tapped to design mailers showcasing Strathmore De Luxe and Alexandra Japan papers respectively for the latter. Cleland and W.A. Dwiggins (1880–1956) were hired to design sample books (see above) that rivaled any Will Bradley had done.
During the 1920s Strathmore continued to commission sample books and promotional items from the best artists and designers of the day. The list includes (in alphabetical order) Ralph Barton (1891–1931), Cleland, Walter Cole (1881–1965), Fred G. Cooper, Oswald Cooper (1879–1940), Helen Dryden (1882–1972), Dwiggins, Carlton D. Ellinger (b. 1888), Charles B. Falls (1874–1960), Clarence Hornung (1899–1997), George Illian (1894–1932), Bruce Rogers (1870–1957), the Rosa brothers (Guido 1891–1978 and Lawrence 1894–1929), Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978), Walter Dorwin Teague (1883–1960), Adolph Treidler (1886–1981), George F. Trenholm (1886–1958), and Edward A. Wilson (1886–1970). There were also lesser lights, talented illustrators of whom we know little beyond their names: Harry Cimino (1898–1969), E.C. Davenport, C.P. Heick, R.F. Heinrich (d. 1944), Winifred Murphy, and F.A. Mutz (b. 1893).
Between 1913 and 1919 the design of Strathmore’s sample books, with the notable exception of the two done by T.B. Hapgood, were lackluster. Dwiggins’ design of the Alexandra Japan sample book in 1919 signaled the change to come in the 1920s as the company embraced the leading commercial artists of the time. That meant individuals whose style was influenced by the past, not by the new trend we now call Art Deco. Below are five examples of sample books that were simultaneously fresh and fusty.
Strathmore launched Strathmore Bay Path Imperial, a new paper line, with this sample book designed by W.A. Dwiggins. The paper line was discontinued in 1929. Surprisingly, Dwiggins’ illustration does not include a thistle.
Strathmore Deckle Edge, the company’s signature paper, was given a classical makeover by Walter Dorwin Teague. This was a sharp departure from the Colonial look of the sample books designed by Will Bradley in the late 1890s. Note the thistle in the landscape at lower right.
The work of the Rosa Brothers is marked by elegance. The sample book for Strathmore Charcoal Book is no exception with its flared serif roman capitals and delicate decoration.
Although it is not signed with his customary C, the graceful French Renaissance decoration on the cover suggests that this Strathmore Deckle Edge sample book is by T.M. Cleland who was well known for work in this manner.
The design of the sample book for Strathmore Bay Path Book Papers by George F. Trenholm is more neoclassical in its ornamentation. His refashioning of the thistle in the center is part of a new trend of artists experimenting with the company symbol.
The United States did not take part in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes de Paris in 1925. Thus, France’s “moderne” influence did not reach the United States until two years later. Strathmore Cockatoo, a new paper line, introduced in 1927, reflected that influence. The sample book was not “moderne” in style, but its vibrant colors were a shocking departure from Strathmore’s previous palette. The illustrations, although uncredited, are probably the work of Edward A. Wilson since they employ his signature bright colors and have his vigorous drawing style. The thistle has been ingeniously included in the tropical scene.