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P. J. Conkwright, (1905–1986)

Goudy Award Winner 6, 1974

P. J. Conkwright is a book designer in the great tradition, who has, over the past forty-five years, produced what one writer has termed, "an astounding number of beautifully designed books." That most of them were University Press titles and therefore executed under a stringent budget is a tribute to the skill of their designer.

It is therefore remarkable that so many of these volumes have been selected for the Fifty Books of the Year Exhibitions sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. In fact, P. J. Conkwright has had more of his designs (over fifty) included in this important show than has any other book designer. At a time when really first-rate book design appears to be giving way to the economics of production, his skills are in short supply.

P.]. Conkwright was born in the Oklahoma Territory, where as a boy he was introduced to printing by helping his father, a Baptist minister, to pro/ duce the church bulletin. From use of a duplicator he progressed to a Kelsey Press, upon which he printed a newspaper for his Boy Scout troop. It was these activities, and a developing interest in letterforms, which prompted him to enroll in the National Academy of Art in Chicago after he finished high school.

Being without funds, however, he remained but one year at the school be/ fore taking a job in which he helped to design school year books. But it was during his stay in Chicago that he made several exciting discoveries, all of which affected his subsequent career. He encountered that great book, Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use, by Daniel B. Updike. 'l{ere he became acquainted with the historic printers and their work. He followed up on this experience by studying the work of such contemporary designers as Bruce Rogers, Frederic W. Goudy, and W. A. Dwiggins.

Consequently he decided to continue his education, and entered the University of Kentucky. Upon graduation he taught English and art courses in Oklahoma for a year. In 1929 he was asked to join the staff of the University of Oklahoma Press, where he remained for a ten year period, during which he received his MA from the University. His thesis concerned the history of American printing from 1850.

In 1939 he moved to Princeton University Press as Art Director. For the next thirty years he designed the books which have established his reputation as one of the finest book typographers of our time. A recognition of his work came from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which awarded him its Gold Medal in 1955.

While now retired from Princeton, he still maintains an office at the Press where occasionally he works on special projects. He has also taught courses at the University in the Art of the Book. In addition to his activity in the larger field of book design, P. J. has found the time to operate a small private press at his home, where he turns out a great variety of delightful ephemera from wine labels to Christmas keepsakes, all of which are designed and printed in faultless taste. It is here that he has indulged his love for printers' ornaments, since it is his viewpoint their use in books should be held to a minimum if the text is to be kept simple and readable.

The text from this online exhibition is derived from Twenty Years of the Goudy Award, a publication produced at the RIT School of Printing in 1988.