Family, fame and friendship lead to new book on graphic design pioneer|
Through an unusual conjunction of circumstances, family legacy and good fortune, C. Arthur Croyle—an associate professor of integrated studio arts and former graphic design faculty member—recently completed his most extensive research and writing endeavor since he began his academic career: a new book about his grandfather, renowned German artist and designer Max Hertwig (1881-1975).
Hertwig worked at the beginning of the 20th century with and for such masters of design as Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Best known for logo design as well as poster, packaging and book cover art, Hertwig helped advance the emerging field of graphic design in Germany. He was a faculty member and served as deputy director of the Reimann School in Berlin and cofounded the Alliance of German Graphic Designers.
Despite his substantial contributions to the graphic design discipline and profession, Hertwig's work had long been overshadowed by better-known names. Even so, Croyle was not immediately eager to take on the new project.
"I thought I had long ago exhausted my grandfather as a historical and professional figure as the topic of my graduate thesis and then in the late 1980s in articles I had written for Print and Calligraphy Review," he said. "I think when your research topic is your own kin, it always seems a little dubious and you have to overdefend it. I didn't want to do that anymore."
In the past decade, however, Croyle noticed new books coming out that featured Hertwig along with other notable designers. He was particularly struck by a chance meeting with another faculty member in the College of Design.
"Roger [Baer, professor of graphic design] was in the atrium with a recently purchased book by Jeremy Aynsley. Aynsley's book, a history of German graphic design, had five images on the cover, one of which was by Hertwig, and the first image in the introduction was also by Hertwig. It dawned on me that maybe I hadn't pushed the topic far enough."
In 2004, an email from Germany spurred Croyle to action. Albrecht Gribl, an art historian and curator with the Bavarian State Museums, contacted Croyle for help completing a monograph on Hertwig. The book's release was to coincide with a 2006 exhibition of Hertwig's work in Dorfen, Bavaria, celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth. Hertwig settled in Dorfen at the end of World War II and became a local celebrity by depicting the area in paintings and drawings.
Croyle supplied information and images inherited from his grandfather with the understanding that Gribl would focus on Hertwig's Dorfen connection in the project, leaving his earlier and more significant career as a graphic designer in northern Germany for Croyle to document.
"While I provided Dr. Gribl with the material he requested, I discovered a trove of new information pertaining to my grandfather’s earliest years as a pioneering graphic designer. I could see that there was a hole to be filled in the known history of Hertwig's career."
By the summer of 2005, Croyle was collecting and organizing the materials necessary to begin his own book, a comprehensive study of his grandfather’s work and the context in which it was developed. In fall 2006, he received a Faculty Professional Development Leave Award from the art and design department to start writing. He completed the project in fall 2009 and submitted proposals to a number of university presses for publication.
"In my estimation, the depressed economy made a brutally competitive market impossible for an unpublished author like me to crack," Croyle said. While the response letters from the presses were rejections, they were complimentary and encouraging of the work. So when a colleague offered to publish the book through his own company, Croyle saw an opportunity to save the project and bring his grandfather’s story to light.
The end meets the means
"At the time it was an unconventional way to publish something," Muecke said. "Lulu had just arrived on the scene with a machine that would take a PDF manuscript file and glue it to a PDF cover file and make a book. [...] Nowadays, print-on-demand publishing is a mass-market phenomenon, and even traditional publishers increasingly use print-on-demand technology for some of their books."
Through Culicidae Press, Muecke and his co-editor, Miriam Zach, offer cover art, design layout and editorial services. Books are printed using Lulu, now the online leader in self publishing. "The benefit is a low-cost, high-quality alternative to traditional publishing houses that rely on physical storage of books and conventional marketing to distribute their work," Muecke said.
At first, Croyle was concerned that this publication method would compromise his vision for the Hertwig book, but decided it "would be better represented in this form than a manuscript on a shelf." He also knew that authors working with larger publishers often have no input into the design or editing of their work. By collaborating with Muecke he could retain some creative control.
"I knew he wouldn't say, 'the market isn't interested in that era so let's start Hertwig's life in 1925' or 'let's go with half black-and-white' instead of a full-color production—all those sales and marketing issues that drive big presses' decisions," Croyle explained.
Muecke was enthusiastic about Croyle's project. "I looked at his proposal and after reading a couple of the chapters I said, this guy can write! I really liked the storytelling. For me the publication of this book is as much about getting a great story out as about the layout and design."
Croyle and Muecke found themselves united not only by their love of design and a good story but by their German heritage. "He's [Muecke] German, and in my early years I was raised very German," Croyle observed. "This bound us together and infused the work itself with a shared sense of humor."
The two colleagues soon became friends as they worked together for a year on the editing, layout, cover design and proofing. "This is not something you typically get," Muecke added. "Most projects involve more distance between the author and me as designer. We work together very well. It was fun!"
Muecke was teaching in Rome this past spring when the book was undergoing final proofing; Croyle flew over to meet with him. Aided by their wives, they completed most major corrections at the College of Design's Rome studio library.
"I was teaching graphic design in Rome when Dr. Gribl first contacted me for information on my grandfather," Croyle recalled. "It was a very appropriate and ceremonial place to finalize the book spawned by that contact."
Hertwig: The Zelig of
"I took his career and tried to represent it equally over 80 years," Croyle said. "The first half of the book is more like a design book. It analyzes specific pieces, places Hertwig's work in various movements and makes connections with other names and teaching. The second half is much more personal. World War II was the major event in Hertwig's life, and it takes over the story."
A diary entry and several verses from one of the poems Hertwig wrote at the end of the war introduce five of the book's 11 chapters and are woven throughout the text.
"In graphic design there are heroes, historical figures we point to, but seldom do we know the intimate details of their lives," Croyle said. "The relationship between history and personal circumstances in a career is explored here more than in any other book about any other designer. This person's work is linked to his life condition and you can see the influences, the ups and downs. That's the storytelling aspect. The book also contains new designs that are unknown to the design community."
Croyle used some professional development money to send copies of the book to museums that contributed images from their collections, and to design historians he hopes will incorporate the new information it brings to light in their own future writings.
"I see this as an important new reference source. I believe there is a lot of information that other researchers would be interested in. And some of the artwork Hertwig did is amazing. People still have to discover it."