examining my collection over the last couple of years has opened my eyes to how much i have (so much so that one psychologist has actually put my blog on his reference list for ocd. funny, right? though not sure i’m in agreement.), and to the fact there are so many wonderful examples of design out there, many of which i own. the idea of ownership and collecting is a problematic one for me. as someone who has collected from a early age, who has been a shopper and worked in the retail environment for over twenty years, i don’t fully embrace the idea or the act of being a consumer. i admire making. sculptors like martin puryear, james turrell and the early work of the painter ellsworth kelly make me go weak in the knees. i have dreamed of stepping ‘off the grid,’‚ although not the typographic one‚ to fly to japan and apprentice with this japanese master. why? well, i would be forced to learn japanese, for one. also, i would work with my hands. i would make something i could give my daughter. ‘see? i made this.’ rather than ‘say, look what i found today in the street. look what i bought at the flea market.’
i once posted a cartoon from the new yorker about art direction. to this day, i still struggle to answer the question, ‘what do you do?’ when i travel or find myself meeting new people, i rarely ask this question of others. i prefer to start a conversation with a women by asking, ‘what scent are you wearing?’ as an aside, i once had the pleasure of working with chad lavigne, a man of amazing ability, the designer of perfume bottles and so much more. he was visiting our studio and reviewing a presentation with one of our designers. he turned to her and said ‘is that helmut lang you’re wearing?’ indeed it was. it was impressive. not just for the ability to remember a scent (unfortunately i do not have that ability; dates are another matter) but for how that knowledge transformed the interaction between our designer and chad. there was an ease in the conversation; a softness and openness. chad’s ability to communicate was appreciated and received.
now, what does all of this have to do piet zwart? take a look at this booklet, for a door manufacturer no less. it is an amazing tour de force of typographic and design skill. remember, this is the 1930s. this man zwart was an architect. a typographer. a photographer. i highly doubt he ever paused when asked his profession. when i pull this brochure off the shelf to admire it, i can recall exactly when i bought it. i came to new york city in august of 1989. i was invited to apartment-sit two cats and i never returned to new haven. i bought this at the famous ex libris, from michael sheehe and elaine lustig cohen. i paid six hundred dollars in january of 1991. six hundred. crazy. this is certainly one of my most expensive purchases of design ephemera. i would expect there are few examples of this booklet, i have never seen another. zwart designed it, did the photography and, i would expect, worked extremely closely with the letterpress compositor. i have read that this is how he learned typography. for me, he made this. just as puryear makes his sculpture. or karl martens does his design today. he would call it being authentic. i would like to think my blog is authentic. chad was authentic when he recognized doris’s perfume. zwart’s designs are authentic, of his time and his profession.
covers, postal history and handwriting. i never tire of looking for these covers. unfortunately, i haven’t bought many covers for several years now. why? well, as i have said, my collecting has been mitigated these last few years, and also i try to ask myself ‘do i really need another example? these covers are not expensive‚ five to twenty dollars usually‚ although there are times when i choose a cover and the dealer looks carefully at it and names a high price. often the stamp or a rare cancellation contributes to a higher price. collecting covers is a fine art in itself, and there is so much information contained on them, generally revealing their history only to the trained philatelist, which i am not. however, to help clue you in, i once purchased a lovely example which a collector had analyzed and recorded the information about it. i think you will get a kick out of what is revealed: the st. petersburg/warsaw railway, the traveling post office marks. this letter was written on the 6th of july, 1863, and arrived in bordeaux on the 23rd of july that same year. awesome, right? the letter is written in french but I am unable to decipher it and unable to reveal to you what story it has to offer. thankfully a collector took the time to decipher the story on the outside for us, noting the hands through which this letter has passed. it was posted almost 150 years ago, and still it speaks to us. as much as i love the information revealed on this cover, i myself have never taken the time to decipher what is contained on those in my possession. for now, their only purpose is inspiration. maybe some ofthe covers i post this week will inspire you to decipher them.