Ladislav Sutnar’s Assistant

Yesterday, I received a surprise e-mail from the painter Philip Pearlstein about his time as Ladislav Sutnar’s assistant. Here is an exerpt:

Dear Steven,
          
I have had the book on Ladislav Sutnar for a while. It is a fine document and very handsomely   designed and produced. I just went through it again, and decided to write you now, to add to the documented record.

The most significant omitted name was Audrey Flack (yes, the artist). When I had to spend a couple of terms full-time at NYU Institute of Fine Arts (and it was Mr. Sutnar who encouraged me to study art history as I had time left on the GI Bill, as a veteran of WW 2), I recommended Audrey to Sutnar and he hired her–she had previous experience doing mechanicals. I heard … that she drove Sutnar nuts.

Of the works reproduced [in the book], I remember drafting the original logo of “addo-x” … But the most interesting of the projects I worked on within the first couple months of when I started working there was the booklet on Transportation for the Next Fifty Years. Sutnar assigned me to work with Buckminster Fuller. (He had just come up from Black Mountain College and was broke. The booklet was Sutnar’s way of helping him out.) Mr. Fuller brought in his original drawings on vellum and proceeded to explain to me the physical science involved in his plans of everything to be included in the booklet, though my only real job was to make the stylized drawings of each airplane, car, etc. We spent about a week together huddled over his drawings, and occasionally he would tell me the subsequent history of the design in the real corporate world. I did a lot of the final drafting of the page designs of Sutnar, as well as of Fuller’s designs. For me, the climax was that Sutnar asked me to re-cast Buckminster’s essay into lower-level readable English. I showed my version to Mr. Holmes, of Sweets, who approved it, but had it edited properly by their in-house editor. When I showed my version (which I had typed up) to Buckminster, he said, “Why didn’t they ask me to do that?”

Sincerely yours, 
 
Philip Pearlstein

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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