The Daily Heller: Kauffer’s Closet of Well-Tailored Book Jackets

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This is a post about a wonderful book: Kauffer’s Covers by Ruth Artmonsky and Brian Webb, focused on the iconic and lesser-known book covers and jackets of E. McKnight Kauffer. It is a must for gifting lists.

Kauffer is the modern master known for his prolific practice as a poster artist, advertising designer, book designer and printmaker/painter, as well as his textile designs for rugs.

His work is currently on view through April 20 at the Cooper Hewitt in New York, and should not be missed—nor should its accompanying catalog, E. McKnight Kauffer: The Artist in Advertising, to which I contributed an essay.

This post is also a tip of the hat and the tip of an iceberg that was brought to my attention by Rick Poynor, design critic and historian. His informative article in EYE No. 93 (2017) focuses on Artmonsky. It turns out she is a large but lesser-known presence in the design research, writing and history universe (or is it metaverse?). The subhead for Poynor’s text, “Modernist Cottage Industry,” says it all:

“For more than a decade, Ruth Artmonsky has been publishing modest, readable books about design and illustration from her London flat.”

There is more: “In the past decade, Artmonsky Arts has released 18 titles about advertising, commercial art, fine printing and graphic ephemera. At a time when many graphic design books have become costly mega-productions, perhaps more flipped through than read, Artmonsky’s are models of modesty and readability, lovingly put together …”

Please read Poynor’s article for the full story (and this one, too). But before you do, one of Artmonsky’s fascinating résumé facts is that her “background is in statistical and occupational psychology. After taking a degree in economics and social work … [she] began her career assisting a psychologist in Wandsworth Prison.” And she only began to publish in 2006. Now at 90-years old, “to date, she has written 33 books, edited nine books of quotations and four books on careers.”

Artmonsky’s biographical writing in Kauffer’s Covers on the professional life and aesthetic essence of the artist/designer is the best of all the scholarly and personal texts on the subject that I have read over the years. As noted in Artmonsky’s brief website bio: “It’s really helped being a psychologist,” she says, “because although I wasn’t a lunatic fringe psychologist or a therapist, I’m interested in the human angle of advertising.” It further seems to have given her a leg up on those of us with art and design backgrounds who work to decipher, critique and chronicle design and designers.