The Definitive Dwiggins no. 66—Modern Color
Modern Color by Carl Gordon Cutler and Stephen C. Pepper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923) is a book that lies at a crucial juncture in the life and career of W.A. Dwiggins.  It was published in 1923, the year that Dwiggins made the decision to shift his work from advertising design to book design.  It was a time when he was in the midst of his experiments with using wooden stamps to create decorations and other designs; experiments that eventually culminated in his discovery of celluloid stencils as a design process. Finally, it was the moment when Dwiggins’ work begins to explode with color.
Modern Color was designed by Bruce Rogers (1870–1957) who, following his return from England, had begun working for the Harvard University Press at the beginning of 1920.  The book is set in Caslon with Goudy Open used for chapter headings and initial letters. Dwiggins contributed the jacket and binding designs along with headpieces for each of the ten chapters and four diagrams. This was the second time that he had worked with Rogers on a book.  But it was not Rogers who had invited him to be involved with the book. Apparently it was co-author Stephen C. Pepper (1891–1972), who Dwiggins had met sometime around 1916 through his cousin Laurence B. Siegfried. Siegfried and Pepper had known each other as members of the Class of ’13 at Harvard University. 
Pepper was a philosopher with a keen interest in aesthetics. His father was Charles Hovey Pepper (1864–1950), a landscape and portrait painter best known for bringing modern art to Boston.  Dwiggins had met the elder Pepper through his son and the two men had become good friends. Charles Hovey Pepper invited Dwiggins to become a member of the Boston Art Club, convinced him to try watercolor painting, and several years later influenced him to move his studio from Boylston Street to the Fenway Studios on Ipswich Street. The elder Pepper had his own studio there as did his colleague Carl Gordon Cutler (1873–1945), the co-author of Modern Color. 
“The aim of this book,” wrote Stephen C. Pepper and Carl Gordon Cutler, “is to explain in a compact way a method of painting color.” Their emphasis was on explaining “how to paint light accurately.” They wanted to replace an artist’s experience with a set of rules, “a simple mechanical method of finding out accurately what the colors of shadows and highlights really are”. 
There is no suggestion of Pepper and Cutler’s intent in the design of either the jacket or the binding of Modern Color. Both are monochromatic—the jacket being printed in red on tan paper and the binding in black on yellow paper over boards—and each sports a different elaborate decorative design. The ornament on the jacket has a floral aspect to it, while the one on the binding is more abstract though still organic. The single color printing was undoubtedly an economic necessity. But the lack of a design on either the jacket or the binding in tune with the contemporary avant-garde world is evidence of the generally conservative nature of the book as a whole.
Although the book was titled Modern Color it was not about the work of the Fauves, the Cubists or the De Stijl artists. The modernism of Cutler and Pepper was that of the late 19th century and the innovations in painting made by the Impressionists. Although this is not stated by the authors, their emphasis on the effect of light on color in painting is an unmistakeable indication. However, they insisted that the rules put forth in their book were applicable to painters of any school or tendency: “Every artist no matter what his style may turn out to be, even a cubist [sic], perhaps most of all a cubist, ought to know how to draw accurately” and how to paint light accurately.  Pepper “is more or less in touch with the cheerful modern anarchistic note, though not swamped by it,” Dwiggins told Carl Purington Rollins. 
Despite the fact that neither the jacket nor the binding was au courant, the decorations were not traditional. They reflected Dwiggins’ shift toward making original forms of ornament as opposed to the historically-influenced ones he had learned as a student of Frederic W. Goudy and in his work with Daniel Berkeley Updike of The Merrymount Press. This shift had begun around 1918, but it did not begin to materialize on a broad basis until the early 1920s. One important instance of it is the headpieces that Dwiggins designed for each of the ten chapters of Modern Color.
The headpieces are the one aspect of the interior design of Modern Color that stands out. The typography is predictably staid, given that there was no compelling reason to give the text a “modern” looking dress. Rogers avoided using any of his pictorial fleuron tricks and allowed Dwiggins to provide a bit of dazzle to the design, including adding ornaments flanking the Harvard University Press seal on the title page.
In the late 1910s Dwiggins had begun to experiment with hand carved wooden stamps as a method for creating ornamentation. Exactly when he began this new tack is unclear, but a scrawny tree appears stamped as part of the wallpaper in the background of a 1918 watercolor painting titled “The Incandescent Cheese”. That tree reappears in 1922 as part of a landscape inside the announcement for “North Country,” an exhibition of paintings by Charles Hovey Pepper at Doll & Richards in Boston, and then the following year as the headpiece for Chapter 8 in Modern Color. It is one of 87 wooden stamps that Dwiggins showcased in Transactions of The Society of Calligraphers Bulletin No. 2 (February 3, 1925).
Other wooden stamps were used to design the Chapter 8 headpiece: the four ogee curves, the eight smaller curves, and most of the elements that comprise the pagoda. Some parts of the headpiece do not exactly match the wooden stamps shown in Transactions No. 2. But once printed it is always difficult to tell how much of Dwiggins’ ornamental designs are made directly from a stamp and how much has been redrawn with white paint or black ink.  The headpieces in Modern Color were printed from photoengraved zinc blocks which still survive at the Houghton Library, Harvard University (see below).
The moth in the second line of Dwiggins’ display above appeared in the headpiece for Chapter 4: Painting in Studio Light (Cutler’s Technique), while the man in a rowboat in the same line is part of the Chapter 9 headpiece. The ogee curves found in the Chapter 8 headpiece also show up in the headpieces for Chapters 2, 5, 6, 9 and 10. The floral elements Dwiggins used on the title page (line 4 above) can be found in the Chapter 4 and 9 headpieces. The kidney-shaped stamps on the bottom line toward the left are found in the headpieces for Chapters 1, 5, 6 and 9. The simple small circle with a dot inside (line 2 above) is part of the headpieces for Chapters 1, 5, 9 and 1o. And so forth.
Dwiggins is well-known for his stencil designs built up from elements cut of celluloid. But they were preceded by his experiments with wooden stamps in Modern Color and other outlets at the outset of the 1920s. In Transactions No. 2, he wrote (in the guise of his alter ego Hermann Püterschein):
The system of design exploited on the accompanying pages is naive enough to disarm the most bellicose critic. It is indeed too childlike and bland to be weighted down with the word system. A real aesthetic “system” is a much more sophisticated affair, involving a knowledge of Euclidean formulae and calling for considerable proficiency in the use of the globes. This is nothing like that.…
This method, then,—we will call it a method,—is the by-product of an enthusiasm suffered by the honorable secretary of the Society, Mr. Dwiggins, for the stamped congeries of sprigs and flowers that embellish old Indian printed cotton. It suggested itself to him that a like naive effect might come from cutting single leaves and buds on wood and stamping them in drawing-ink on paper.…
These proofs [see the array of elements shown above] are reduced from the size of the originals by the amount shown on the scale. They are cut on bits of maple-wood “on the plank” and are manipulated as rubber stamps are manipulated—inked from an extemporized pad (say a pen-wiper) saturated with the ever-reliable Higgins Waterproof and stamped as accurately as may be into the contemplated positions.
I am informed that the uncertainties incident to the process are maddening. 
I do not know exactly what Dwiggins specifically had in mind when he spoke of “old Indian printed cotton.” He had never been to India, so his knowledge of them had to have been acquired in Boston. But the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston does not have a significant collection of such cloths. Perhaps Filene’s, the House of Manahan or another Boston store imported Indian fabrics.  This is a topic that I intend to continue investigating. For now, I am attaching Internet-sourced images of Indian block-printed cloth and the wooden blocks themselves that seem to me to be what Dwiggins was thinking of when he was inspired to make his wooden stamps. One thing is certain: he loved the tear-drop shape and decorative quality of paisley during these years (see the cover design above).
Dwiggins’ use of wooden stamps to create ornamentation lasted for only a brief while (c.1918–1925). During that time he employed the technique principally for ephemeral work. The headpieces in Modern Color are the only instance of him using the wooden stamps in a book. It is instructive to compare them to the stenciled headpieces designed several years later for Paraphs by Hermann Püterschein (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1928). 
As indicated at the top of this post, Dwiggins not only designed the jacket, binding and headpieces for Modern Color, but he also created six diagrams in the text. The most notable of them is the only one not numbered, an illustration showing the changing effect of sunlight on color during the course of a day. 
What impact did Modern Color have on Dwiggins’ own use of color? There is clearly a radical difference in the colors found in the two halves of his career (advertising design and book design), but the dividing line is not 1923. More likely, the impact of Modern Color occurred during the book’s gestation rather than after its publication. Dwiggins’ friendship with Charles Hovey Pepper in the mid-1910s must have involved conversations with him, his son, and possibly Cutler as well, about color in painting. For it is around that time that a greater liveliness begins to creep into his work.
Prior to becoming friends with the elder Pepper, Dwiggins’ use of color in his printed work was conventional. Red (or vermilion) was predominant as a second color with blue used on occasion as a third color. It was only when he hand-colored greeting cards that a wider range of colors appeared, but even then they were fairly predictable as they hewed closely to the natural colors (greens, oranges, browns, etc.) associated with the clothing, flowers and landscapes being treated. The earliest example of a more expansive use of color in Dwiggins’ printed work is the cover design for an Alexandra Japan sample book for Strathmore Paper Co. in 1919. 
Dwiggins’ work for paper companies and Direct Advertising in the 1920s provided him with the production budgets and material (e.g. colored papers) that made possible his experimentation with secondary and tertiary colors as well as with unusual combinations of them.  These experiments (most notably the covers of Direct Advertising from 1919 to 1928 and the Old Hampshire Bond campaign for Hampshire Paper Co. between 1922 and 1925) were surely stimulated by his contact with the two Peppers and Cutler.  I believe that they gave him permission to be adventurous, to go beyond the safe colors endorsed by the Arts & Crafts movement and clients like Updike.
This passage from the final chapter of Modern Color seems apropos to this notion of Dwiggins being encouraged to throw off the shackles of good taste in color that had characterized his earlier work:
The thing for an artist to do is to throw over all these theories [of color] once and for all, discard them and forget them, and listen to no new theories. And then let him keep in mind just this one fact, that every color combination no matter how simple, no matter how complex, is an emotion. Some combinations are sad and mournful, some are jubilant and exhilarating, some are funereal, some are boisterous, some are courageous, some are timid, some are plaintive, some are impudent. There are as many emotions in colors as in sounds, and a man is as much at the mercy of a painter’s palette as of a violin, if the two are only used with the same skill.
…Some combinations are sweet and some combinations are sour and bitter.… There is no color combination that under proper conditions of time and place and circumstance could not be the best combination. When people first saw the oriental combinations, they did not care for them, but now they admire them. They have become educated to them, and so with all combinations. There are no such things as inherently bad combinations. But every combination is an emotion, and every combination even to minute changes in the proportions of the colors used is a different emotion, and art could not dispense with one of them. 
One reason that Modern Color may not have been directly useful to Dwiggins is because it was aimed at painters rather than commercial artists. The book’s emphasis on the effects of light on color applied to paint, not to printed ink. A more relevant book, and one that may have had a bigger influence on him, is A Grammar of Color (Mittineague, Massachusetts: Strathmore Paper Co., 1921) which stressed the interaction of ink color and paper color. Although its samples are adventuresome compared to the usual output of American printers, they are still tamer than what Dwiggins was in the process of concocting. With or without the Cutler/Pepper book he had arrived at “modern color” by 1923.
1. A new edition of Modern Color was published by Harvard University Press in 2014 as an “edition” available from De Gruyter. It appears to be a digital facsimile of the original edition, minus the jacket and binding by Dwiggins. Unfortunately, those are also missing from the free Internet Archive version (see link in first paragraph). The latter also suffers from reproducing Dwiggins’ diagrams in black-and-white rather than color, a serious loss in a book devoted to color.
2. It has been widely accepted that Dwiggins changed the focus of his career in 1923 from advertising to book design based on a series of letters he wrote to Carl Purington Rollins. See Dwiggins to Rollins 6 June 1923 where he says, “Me I am a happy invalid and it has revolutionized my whole attack. My back is turned on the more banal kind of advertising, and I have cancelled all commissions and am resolutely set on starving. I shall undertake only the simple childish little things like YUP [Yale University Press] imprints that call for no compromise with the universal twelve-year-old mind of the purchasing public and I will produce art on paper and wood after my own heart with no heed to any market. Revolution, stark and brutal.” Correspondence, Folder 34.b 12 20th Cent. US Dwiggins, Carl Purington Rollins Collection, Art of the Book Center, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University. But, despite his intent, Dwiggins continued to do advertising work as late as 1937—though his workload dropped significantly after 1928. His career as a book designer began in earnest in 1926, but did not dominate his life until 1934.
3. Bruce Rogers: A Life in Letters 1870–1957 by Joseph Blumenthal (Austin, Texas: W. Thomas Taylor, 1989), p. 89. The relationship, to use Blumenthal’s term, came to an end in 1936, but it had essentially died in 1928 when Rogers returned to England.
4. In 1907, when Rogers was working for The Riverside Press of Houghton Mifflin & Co., he hired Dwiggins to design the title page border and headpieces and tailpieces for The Goddess of Reason: A Drama by Mary Johnston. According to Dwiggins’ account books the headpieces and tailpieces were rejected. See entries for February 21 and March 5, 1907 in Box 81(1), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. However, artwork for two headpieces that match those of Acts I, II and V (Act II reused) is in Folder 26, Box 41, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. That implies that Rogers only rejected the artwork for the headpieces for Acts III and IV and all of the tailpieces. Presumably he drew all of those himself.
5. Dwiggins to Rollins 14 December 1924, Correspondence, Folder 34.b 12 20th Cent. US Dwiggins, Carl Purington Rollins Collection, Art of the Book Center, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University. Stephen C. Pepper was a member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley in 1923. Dwiggins’ account books include an entry that suggests that he was responsible for Harvard University Press publishing the book. See August 26, 1920: “took Stephen Pepper MS to Harvard Press (Blanchard)”. Folder 6, Box 81(1), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. C.B. Blanchard was the Assistant Director of the Harvard University Press at that time.
6. Charles Hovey Pepper by Charles Coburn Smith (Portland, Maine: Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1945). The binding of the book is stamped with a monogram that Dwiggins designed for Pepper in 1922.
7. The Fenway Studios were built in 1904 specifically for artists. Charles Hovey Pepper was in room 208; Cutler was in room 409; and Dwiggins shared room 201 with John Goss. The Boston Directory for the Year Commencing July 1, 1923 vol. CXIX (Boston: Sampson & Murdock Company, Publishers, 1923). Dwiggins had moved to the Fenway Studios in June 1922. He remained there until 1933 when he abandoned Boston in favor of working out of his home in Hingham. Pepper and Cutler were part of the Boston Five, a group of painters dedicated to modern watercolor painting. The other three members were Charles Hopkinson, Marion Monks Chase and Harley Perkins.
8. The quotations are from Modern Color, pp. 3, 4 and 7 respectively.
9. See Modern Color, pp. 7 and 11.
10. Dwiggins to Rollins 14 December 1924 in Folder 34.b 12 20th Cent. US Dwiggins, Carl Purington Rollins Collection, Art of the Book Center, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University.
11. This problem is even worse in trying to analyze the components of Dwiggins’ later celluloid stencil designs. Note that the pagoda in Modern Color differs from the one shown in Transactions of The Society of Calligraphers Bulletin No. 2 (February 3, 1925).
12. Transactions of The Society of Calligraphers Bulletin No. 2 (February 3, 1925), p. 1.
13. The Dry Goods Economist reported that hand-blocked fabrics were “enjoying considerable popularity” in 1920. Dry Goods Economist (May 29, 1920), p. 49.
14. “The Last Mobilization” was originally published as “La Dernière Mobilisation” in The Fabulist No. 1 (1915), accompanied by a black-and-white pen-and-ink illustration (see below).
15. The other diagrams are: fig. 1 (double cone), p. 19; fig. 2 (color disks), p. 33; fig, 3 (color tops), p. 34; fig. 4 (stationary and spinning disks), p. 71; fig. 5 (white to black value scale), p. 158.
16. The Alexandra Japan booklet cover was preceded in 1916 by a lively hand-colored illustration of a Japanese woman in a landscape included in The Fabulist No. 2. Since it was hand-stencilled, I consider the Strathmore job to be Dwiggins’ first printed example of work with colors going beyond red and blue. However, I am sure it shows the influence of Charles Hovey Pepper both in coloration and in content.
17. The influence of budgetary restrictions and client conservatism played a large role in the choice of color found in Dwiggins’ pre-1920s work. It is impossible to know if he would have used colors other than red and blue had he had free reign.
18. Dwiggins designed several iterations of the Direct Advertising covers from 1914 through 1928. The version shown here—the longest-lived of his designs—first appeared in 1919. Each issue had a different combination of two colors of ink and one of paper. Dwiggins slowly got bolder and bolder in his color schemes, finally hitting his stride with volume IX (1922/1923), the first series to have pastel colors and more aggressive combinations.
19. Modern Color, pp. 149–150.