Design for the Fun of It

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Recently, AIGA Medalist Art Chantry reminded me of the decidedly special printing, paper FX and typographic concoctions of Mo Lebowitz (1932–), the designer who ran Mo’s Antique Press in Long Island, N.Y.. In the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Design, Chantry writes of the pleasure among youthful design circles in the 1950s who were playing with antique wood and metal type:

“Among the bazillion kids plowing into the new ad scene was a guy by the name Mo Lebowitz,” who was also a bluegrass singer and wine maven. “He was one of the very earliest letterpress junkie designers I’ve ever encountered,” he notes. “Lebowitz had gathered up a serious collection of old wood type, vintage ad cuts, and letterpress equipment into his basement, and called it the Antique Press.” He designed hundreds of flyers, broadsheets and cards in the manner of “graphic design modernism, but run through archaic equipment and technology.”

Most of his projects were personal and unfettered by client constrictions, though he also designed for major corporations; Chantry says he was not some “hobbyist slouch” but a hardcore corporate designer.

Rick Meyerowitz gave me a cache of this material. It reminded me a bit of Herb Lubalin, but there was something more raw. Lubalin designed his own type (or much of it) and Lebowitz worked with the imperfections that old age, wear and tear gave to the materials. Below are but a few of the gems. “Sandwiches” is a collection of letterpress quotations about, well, sandwiches, on variously sized sheets and colors, much like, well, a sandwich.

Lebowitz also had an affinity for baseball, and the large initial ‘O’ below is just the most beautiful illumination. Like “Sandwiches,” much of his work was toying or making toys out of paper. His own self-promotion featured in this post includes a mechanism so that his arm strums the mandolin. The cigar homage is a jewel of paper folding, and the gourmand piece is simply pure joy.

This is what designing is all about. Fun, Play, Joy. Thanks for reminding me, Art. Thanks for the jewels, Rick. Thanks for the brilliant work, Mo.

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