Exhibit in Baker Library honors Eisenman’s ’43 work

by Aimee Sung | 1/20/15 9:23pm

How do you get somebody to look at a single letter as a picture? How do you get them to see that it has the same value as, perhaps, any image on a wall? Alvin Eisenman ’43, a world-famous graphic designer who died in September 2013, saw each letter on a page as an art form — he believed that a letter should be as “pleasing” and “dynamic” as an independent mark, exhibit curator, instructor at the College’s Letterpress Studio and former Eisenman student Won Chung ’73 said.

Baker-Berry Library is currently hosting an exhibit called “The Design Work of Alvin Eisenman” to highlight and honor his work in graphic design and his status in the field.

Chung said that Eisenman taught a holistic approach to design.

“I learned a lot from how he approached his work and got us involved in the understanding of the content, as well as form and design,” Chung said. “You had to understand what the information was that you were working with, and not just the packaging of the material.”

Chung said that for the exhibit, he wanted to summarize the diversity of Eisenman’s work — which spanned from Army field manuals to award-winning newspaper layout to art catalogues — as well as showcase some of his earlier and less-known works.

“A lot of the books he did early on were ordinary textbooks,” he said. “It was important to show these less well-known works, the more mundane textbook projects, and not the fancy coffee table books that people are familiar with.”

Throughout his time at the College, Eisenman found influences that would later impact his work in both design and teaching. He was first inspired to study bookbinding, typography and printing in Baker Library, making it the perfect venue to hold the exhibit, Chung said. While at Dartmouth, Eisenman would also meet historian Ray Nash, who would serve as his mentor and influence his teaching style.

“I think that one of the reasons we wanted to hold the exhibit was to emphasize the influence of the undergraduate liberal arts education he received [at Dartmouth],” Chung said.

Baker-Berry Library graphic arts specialist Dennis Grady said that he wanted to plan out the exhibit in a way that reflected Eisenman’s own design style, for example using typography that Eisenman may have used.

“I paid an homage to Eisenman in a way by using design elements that he’d use, such as the typeface and the way that text is presented,” Grady said.

A book about Jackson Pollock that Eisenman designed was Grady’s favorite work of Eisenmans’s on display, he said. The entire four-volume set on Pollock’s work is currently part of the Sherman Art Library’s collection.

“You’d expect Pollock’s and Eisenman’s styles to be diametrically opposed and incompatible, but, instead, Eisenman’s book design is supportive of Pollock’s energy,” Grady said.

Chung said that Eisenman’s “breadth of...intellectual experience” was an element of his work that set him apart from other graphic designers. Eisenman was broadly engaged in a variety of artistic fields, from art history to drawing, and made an effort to understand each of the fields. The beginning of Eisenman’s lifelong search to fill this “insatiable curiosity” began at the College, Chung said.

“Not only was Eisenman influenced in career and teaching methodology at Dartmouth, he also capitalized on [the liberal arts education] in terms of investigating lots of different fields of interest,” Chung said.

With this approach, Eisenman revolutionized graphic design in America and started the first graduate program in graphic design at Yale University.

Before he created the graduate program at Yale, Eisenman worked as the design director at the McGraw-Hill publishing company, where most of his textbooks were designed. Once at Yale, Eisenman both taught classes and worked as a designer for the Yale University Press, where his McGraw-Hill projects inspired later work. During his time at Yale, Eisenman worked with “Doonesbury” creatorsGarry Trudeau and design director for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Min Wang.

Sarah Park ’13 said that she liked the exhibit and Eisenman’s work because of its elegance. She said that one piece of his that she liked was one that talked about the idea of inner beauty.

“There’s a striking image of a woman with a beautiful neck who’s flipping her back in a ponytail and you could see that the neck’s a very swan-like curve,” she said. “The whole elegance, the fact that the image ranges from one page to another...It was mesmerizing and really captured his message.”

She said that she found his more technical works to be well-organized and easy to read and that she wished the exhibition were better publicized.

As an accompaniment to the exhibit, the annual Stephen Harvard memorial lecture was about Eisenman’s role in the rise of graphic design after World War II. The lecture was given by Douglass Scott, a former student of Eisenman’s, on Jan. 6.

The exhibit will run in Baker Lobby through March.