This is the card that launched Alvin Lustig’s career as a book-jacket designer.
In 1934, Lustig, then 19, “enrolled in the Art Center School,” writes Steven Heller, “because it had the best technical faculty on the West Coast. Wanderlust overtook him, however, and in 1935 he did a three-month stint at Taliesin East.”
Though disappointed by the overall experience, [Lustig] was sufficiently impressed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s colored-pencil sketches for stained glass windows, which had a typographic feeling, to begin his own typographic experimentation. Back in L.A., Lustig happened into a bookshop designed by [Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright,] and owned by Jacob Zeitlin, to whom he showed his portfolio. Impressed with Lustig’s novel illustrative-type treatments, Zeitlin commissioned him to do a Christmas card that was printed by Ward Ritchie, a fine-book printer and publisher. Ritchie, in turn, was excited by Lustig’s typographic experimentation and encouraged him to design books.”
Lustig’s work for Ward Ritchie—”novel experimental ‘typecase pages,’ using geometrical printer’s ornaments, rules, and furniture as abstract illustrations, notably for Ward Ritchie’s Ghost in the Underblows by Alfred A. Fisher and Robinson Jeffers by William van Wyck”—soon made him a sought-after book designer, and in 1940
Zeitlin introduced Lustig to James Laughlin, legendary publisher of New Directions, who commissioned him to design book jackets. The first one he did, for Henry Miller’s Wisdom of the Heart, was in his typecase style, but he soon began experimenting with photomontage and abstract imagery on jackets that later became classics.
Moral of the story: You never know where good work will lead.
For more rare Lustig ephemera, check out the incredible PROJECTOBJECT shop. The beyond-scarce Zeitlin card pictured above currently resides in the private collection of PROJECTOBJECT proprietor Aaron Cohen, who graciously agreed to share these images with Covenger & Kester. Thanks, Aaron!
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