Friday, January 6, 2017

Deliberate Designs

A scrapbook page with two roughly cut pieces of paper. The bottom piece is a calendar for the month of January 1908 and the top piece is a quotation that reads "All the great human forces become the servants of the man who carries in himself the powers of righteousness with God." All of the letters are fancily calligraphic, with the first initial of the quotation enlarged and stylized like a medieval manuscript initial with blue and red ink. The word "January" above the calendar is in red. All other text is in black.
As a new year begins, we celebrate by displaying a January calendar page, among other creations, that was designed by the man who coined the term 'graphic designer' in 1922. William A. Dwiggins was an illustrator, calligrapher, and type and book designer who produced most of his influential works during the first half of the 20th century.

A woodcut image of three musicians standing back to back in a rough circle. The background  is a chalky orange color while the foremost musician, playing a long flute or horn, is dressed in a red shirt, green hat, and bright orange pants. To his right is a bagpipe player wearing a green tunic. To his left, a violin player with a yellow broad-brimmed hat.Dwiggins had a monumental impact on book design improvements during the 1920s and 1930s and created numerous fonts such as Caledonia which are still in use today. Dwiggins's criticism of the low standard of book design in the 1910s led to a collaboration with the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house in later decades. Like Knopf, Dwiggins was committed to high-quality book design and publication and brought his aesthetic to both his commercial advertising commissions as well as his own personal projects.

We have a small collection of Dwiggins-related materials here at Rauner thanks to the papers of Dartmouth professor Ray Nash, a graphic-arts historian who ran the Graphic Arts Workshop at Dartmouth from 1937 until 1970. Along with many other fascinating example of printing, Nash left us four scrapbooks containing work related to Dwiggins. To see them, come to Rauner and ask for the Ray Nash papers (MS-1076), boxes 52 and 53.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Deepest Ties that Can Bind

During the early 20th century it was common for Dartmouth students to create scrap books, commonly called “Membooks” books. The student would then, over the course of his college career, use the book to collect various artifacts and memories. These include ticket stubs, report cards, and photos. Presumably, most of these students thought of the books as a fun way to save memories of Dartmouth.

However, when I was looking through Charles Shaw Batchelder’s book I found something much different. The book contains some of the usual staples of Membooks, including ticket stubs, and invitations. However, on the front page, there is an unusual inscription that is unique to Batchelder’s book. The note reads, “If this book should chance to roam will the one who finds it think of the deepest ties that can bind men and earthly things together; and thinking this please return it to me.” While certainly an interesting opening to the book, it seems out of place. The rest of the Membook is filled with sarcastic inscriptions and memorabilia from dance parties and sports games. It is certainly odd that anybody would be so concerned about losing a book filled with jokes and tickets to college performances.

However, after reading through the entirety of the Membook, I have a much better sense of the original note. This was a place where a college student could explore without the prying eyes of administrators or parents. The book allowed Batchelder to reveal an inner, private part of his personality. He could give obnoxious nicknames to college presidents, or mock his fraternity brothers. Batchelder wrote the first note because he was afraid of losing the book, and exposing his true inner self, that the book had allowed him to create. A close reading of the inscription further reinforces this idea. Batchelder focused on “the deepest ties that can bind men and earthly things together,” not on ties that bind men together. Meaning that Batchelder’s private relationship with this book was more important than his relationships with other people. Presumably, this is because the book witnessed and created his private self, while other people only saw the fa├žade that he presents.

Currently, college students no longer have scrap books. Instead we post photos on Facebook for the world to see. I think that in a way we lose something that the membooks gave to Batchelder’s generation. We lose the ability to create separate identities away from others. Instead Facebook feeds are littered with pictures and posts that people have filtered out, concerned about the world’s perception.

Posted for Alexander Leibowitz ‘19