The Graphic Design Archive (GDA), was inaugurated in the mid-1980s when RIT’s R. Roger Remington, Massimo and Lella Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design, saw the need to secure and preserve graphic design collections. It is through Professor Remington’s vision that these important collections have a home at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The first collection to arrive was remarkably auspicious: in 1986, the Lester Beall archive was bequeathed to Rochester Institute of Technology and has been followed ever since by a steady stream of amazing material. Since those early years, the Archive has grown to include thirty-six collections, and they are now housed and cared for in RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection. The on-going development of the GDA has become a team effort, with the collection development and acquisition process overseen by a partnership between R. Roger Remington and David Pankow, Curator of the Cary Collection.
As the founding collection, the Lester Beall archive serves as the lens through which to examine the selections from the eight GDA collections on view in this section of the exhibition. Within their vast holdings, rich in process work (over two hundred drawings exist in the Beall archive alone) and numerous posters, the work shown here highlights these elements in particular. Drawings and sketches serve as one of the initial steps in examining the design problem. They ask and inform: “How did the designer get from point A to point B?” Drawings are the intimate act of the designer taking the pencil, pen or brush in hand and beginning the physical process of putting ideas on paper. From the bold, vigorous drawings of Lester Beall to the light, delicate sketches of Alvin Lustig, the viewer is provided with an intimate glimpse into the creative thinking behind the design process. The work of the eight designers featured in these front cases offers a hint of the extraordinary holdings of process work in their archives.
Beall’s drawings and final posters for the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) serve as a visual springboard into the wide variety of posters – one of strengths of the Graphic Design Archive – viewers will find as they explore the second floor galleries and exhibition spaces. Altogether, there are over four hundred more posters in the Archive!
The biographical sketches on the exhibit labels are derived from two main sources:
1. The succinct entries found in Alan Livingston’s Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers (2003)
2. The biographical entries written for Graphic Design Archive Online by Kari Horowicz and David Pankow.
We are excited to showcase the growing collections of the Graphic Design Archive and hope they offer an enticing backdrop against which to celebrate the opening of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies. Their most important purpose is to provide students, faculty and scholars with unfettered opportunities to study the history of graphic design here at Rochester Institute of Technology.