Saving the Past, Archiving the Present

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The Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives is the umbrella for the longtime School of Visual Arts teacher and acting Chairman of the Board of Directors’ collected works. Curator Beth Kleber spent well over a year in the early 2000s initially preserving, organizing, cataloguing and collecting Glaser‘s printed and original works spanning his career since the early 1950s to the present. She has also developed a repository for many other designers, illustrators, art directors and even a writer or two, both devotedly involved and peripherally connected to SVA., including James McMullan, Louise Fili, Deborah Sussman, Tony Paladino, Stefan Sagmeister and more.

“The collections represent the artistic and intellectual vitality of the SVA community and provide an invaluable resource to students, designers and researchers who wish to study the breadth of a designer’s work.”

Both the Milton Glaser Archive and School of Visual Arts Archive (specifically focusing on the school’s almost 75 years as a major art academy in NYC) have had newly designed websites. The functionality and accessibility are a boon to any and all design researchers, writers and historians. At a time in history where many artists and designers are looking to preserve their life’s work and physical space is limited, this is one of the key venues in the City and Nation. I spoke with Kleber about the new site and the increasingly growing collection.

Milton Glaser Archive and School of Visual Arts Archive

I’m going to ask the obvious . . . why a new website?

We’ve been working on the new site for a *long* time. I knew that we needed a site that better captured the content of our idiosyncratic collections. Archives can be opaque and intimidating so I wanted to emphasize visual content alongside what I know are rather dense (but necessary) collection guides. I wanted to strike a balance between showcasing greatest hits (I know everyone wants to see Milton Glaser’s Dylan poster) and some more obscure finds (like Chermayeff & Geismar’s beautiful silkscreen prints for Edgewood furniture, or James McMullan’s early career pharmaceutical promotional pieces, or Glaser’s Giacometti-esque original drawing for the book cover of The Cook by Harry Kressing) to give a better sense as to what’s available in our collections. And of course, we wanted to make it easier for people to ask questions and book visits. We connected with Jose Fresneda and Justin Colt of The Collected Works and they did a great job designing the site.

The site is divided between the Milton Glaser Study Center and Archives and School of Visual Arts Archives. What is the difference and is there much cross-over?

The Glaser Archives is focused specifically on graphic design and illustration – that includes process work (sketches, mechanicals, original art) and the final pieces (posters, book jackets, album covers, annual reports and other pieces related to corporate and institutional identity, etc). The designers and illustrators in our collections have some connection to SVA (usually they are faculty). The SVA Archives is an institutional repository – it documents the history of the College. It contains all of SVA’s publications (every subway poster, course catalogs and bulletins, departmental portfolios and magazines) plus internal files like SVA’s exhibition records (both professional and student), some administrative department records, photographs, and other historical material.

The two archives live in the same place and there is a bit of an overlap, since most of the designers and illustrators in our collection have taught at SVA; they may have designed a subway poster, participated in an SVA exhibition, taught courses at SVA, but by and large the two collections are separate.

Milton Glaser collection

Archives are becoming more common and art schools and universities. What are the common and distinct traits among design archives?

One thing I’ve learned while doing this job is while academic archives are very common, dedicated design archives are few and far between. While traditional archives tend to focus on unpublished materials, design archives contain lots of published items (alongside unpublished materials like sketches) that are ephemeral and not widely available. My colleague Jennifer Whitlock, the Archivist at the Vignelli Center in Rochester, is a big proponent of the idea that all archives are design archives, and I think that’s right. Design is interwoven with nearly every activity of human existence. The mission of design archives is to try to examine, over time, how and why things look and function the way they do.

The Milton Glaser portion is only graphic design? Where is “art” and “photography” archived?

The Glaser Archives is loosely design and illustration, but it’s not strictly that. Milton Glaser creates lots of “art” that is not for a commercial client. Tony Palladino followed his own bliss in his sculpture and painting. Ivan Chermayeff made fabulous collages. Art director Henry Wolf was also a prolific photographer.

Louise Fili collection

What are the limitations, if any, on your collection policy?

For the Glaser Archives, the designers and illustrators generally need to have a connection to SVA, though sometimes that connection can be loose.

Is the new website designed to encourage greater use?

Absolutely. I hope the new site is easier to navigate and gives a better sense of what you might find. We’ll be adding even more images down the road. Mostly we don’t want people to feel bashful about making an appointment to visit even if they don’t have a specific research inquiry. We’re used to people asking us to pick out some cool stuff for them to see and we’re happy to accommodate that request. After all, we know these collections better than anyone.

Seymour Chwast collection
Steven Heller collection

How do you feel about more than one archive containing the same or similar material?

I certainly don’t object to it. Archives are special because they offer the opportunity to see originals but geography is always going to be a hurdle so if collections in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles all have the Glaser Dylan poster, more people will have the opportunity to see the real thing.

I can see what is in your containers, but what is on your bucket list of acquisitions?

Certainly the work of Paula Scher, Barbara Nessim, Carin Goldberg, and April Greiman would great. I’d also love to acquire work from other Push Pin studio members like Reynold Ruffins, Isadore Seltzer, Tim Lewis, and Barry Zaid.

Ed BenGuiat collection