Weekend Heller: When Creative Partners Change

You may not know Ann Rand (1918–2012), but she was trained as an architect by Mies van der Rohe and authored a trio of delightful children’s books: Little 1, Sparkle and Spin and I Know a Lot of Things. You probably know, however, that Paul Rand, her husband when she wrote these books, illustrated them and routinely (unfairly) gets more credit than she does. In late April, Princeton Architectural Press posthumously released Ann’s What Can I Be?, illustrated by Ingrid Fiksdahl King.

 

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Paul Rand brought the childhood joy of cut paper and random squiggles to the first three books, which today are compared and contrasted with his corporate, advertising and book cover work that often bore a similar sense of wit, if not style.

But Ann Rand’s engaging concepts and minimal witty wordplays are often overshadowed by Paul’s renown. She also wrote expressly for Paul’s typographic instincts, where words were intended as playthings. This was as collaborative as any creative partnership could be, where the partners play on each other and their harmonies make the overall project melodious.

 

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After their actual marriage ended in divorce, they did do another book, Little 1, together. It was the last children’s book either worked on. But in the 1970s Ann wrote another manuscript, which after she died in 2012 was brought to the attention of Princeton Architectural Press and was later illustrated by Ingrid Fiksdahl King, a painter and one of the co-authors of the 1977 Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. She may be very well suited to Ann’s concept that explores how the mind constructs the entire world from lines and shapes, but the Paul Rand comparative specter looms large.

 

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It is hard not to compare the Rands’ partnership with this new posthumous one. The original aesthetics of simplicity and economy are missing, and the wit that existed in Paul’s collages has been toned down as well. The nagging question, unfair but inevitable, is “what would Paul have done” with this delightful material?

Still, What Can I Be? is insightful and engaging for young children just exploring imagination. It is also historically valuable to see how Ann, a decidedly skilled minimalist wordsmith for children, is interpreted by a very different artist whose work has some of the playful traits but lacks the design spirit that made the three earlier books so utterly delightful.


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