Although Elaine Lustig Cohen left behind a significant body of work, she did not really begin her own graphic design career until the death of her husband, Alvin Lustig, in 1955. Lustig, one of the most influential graphic designers, relied on his wife to serve as his secretary, draftsperson, and production assistant, becoming increasingly dependent on her to complete his designs as he lost his eyesight due to diabetes. Although she once described her job as “office slave,” she had the opportunity to learn from a master of book cover design for publishers such as Meridian Books and New Directions. Following her husband’s death, Cohen opened an independent design practice and began producing her own cover designs.

In addition to displaying the knowledge she had gained from Lustig, her covers reflect the influence of a variety of avant-garde art movements, including the Bauhaus, Constructivism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Surrealism. She produced a range of designs, playing with abstract, geometric elements, experimenting with expressive typography, and cleverly evoking the content of a book through the use of photography. Her 1959 book jacket design for Hard Candy, Tennessee Williams’s book of short stories published by New Directions, incorporates extreme close-up photographs of candies wrapped in cellophane. The design alludes to the titular story about Mr. Krupper, an old man who regularly carries a fistful of hard candies in his pocket. Williams’s compelling language captures Mr. Krupper’s private, thrilling moments in the Joy Rio cinema, where he regularly offers his candies to a mysterious, handsome boy.

Cohen’s placement of the words “hard candy” in lowercase serif text softens the words and their meaning, subtly alluding to Mr. Krupper’s all-encompassing need for companionship and connection. Her emphasis on the visual qualities of candy contrasts with Williams’s descriptions of “crunching between powerful young jaws, steadily, with the automatic, invariable rhythm of a horse masticating his food” and the boy’s odor, a mixture of sweat, tobacco, and youthful glands.[1] Yet the transparent, reflective surfaces of the cellophane wrappers similarly demand one’s concentration, creating a feeling of increased attention and alertness that resonates with the heightening of sensations in the story. Randomly placed, the glistening objects seem to alluringly tumble through the air, suggesting that candy might be a catalyst for something more emotionally and psychologically complex, rather than just a sugary treat.


Carey Gibbons is a Cataloguer in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.


[1] Tennessee Williams, Hard Candy: A Book of Stories (New York: New Directions Books, 1967), 119, 115.

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