Writing on the WallEnvironment 15 sample book, 1966. Designed by Clarence Hawking, made by The Jack Denst Designs, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois. Screen-printed on canvas. Gift of The Jack Denst Designs, Inc.
 

The Writing is on the Wall

Typography has been used on wallpaper since the early days of children’s wallpaper in the 1870s, but wasn’t used as a decorative graphic element until the early 20th century, reaching its peak of popularity during the 1960s. The early children’s papers were educational in nature and as many were inspired by literature, carried captions beneath the illustration to encourage children to read. Typography was first used as a decorative element in the wallpapers of Jean Lurçat on his Dada papers created in the early 1920s. On his wallpaper design called One Who Loves Writes on the Wall he illustrates words into a musical score. Numerous designs from the 1950s followed in the tradition of the children’s papers with captions identifying images. Moving on into the 1960s typographic elements came into their own, being used in a decorative fashion for the first time. In this design rather abstract letters are overlapped and turned on their sides in a dense assemblage of elements. This design is showing two of the avalable four different colorways. In 1971, a similarly styled mural called Number Please composed of numbers rather than letters was produced by The James Seaman Studio, another company active in mural production.

Murals became very popular post-war and differed from scenic wallpapers in that they usually only covered one wall, or part of one wall. They have had a resurgence in recent years and many well-known companies are producing them in infinite variety.

Clarence Hawking, a graphic artist by trade, joined the firm of Jack Denst Designs in 1951 as one of the chief designers. Murals of this sort formed an important part of the company’s production. The Jack Denst Designs, Inc. was originally founded as Denst & Soderlund in 1947.

Museum Number: 
1969-95-1-1/52