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“It screeched, it bellowed… Raucous? Yes. Crude? Undoubtedly.”
In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, Elizabeth Broman discusses selections from the Smithsonian Design Library's collection of jazz sheet music.
Play it, Stravinsky!
Paul Rand was an influential American graphic designer well known for the logos he created for IBM, UPS, ABC and other corporations. His 1947 book Thoughts on Design is considered a seminal text on graphic design. The poster above shows something different from Paul Rand’s oeuvre. It’s not a neat and compact corporate logo; instead...
A Gift for Marie Antoinette
The initials “MA” in the central cartouche of this iron music stand belong to Marie Antoinette, who married the future Louis XVI of France in May of 1770. Winged putti fly over a musical score carrying banderoles inscribed with the surnames of Baroque French composers, including that of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687), whose opera Persée was...
Fanning Desire?
Folding fans, or abanicos, were considered must-have accessories in nineteenth century Spain. For women, they served as important tools in courtship, the ‘language of the fan’ expressing everything from ‘come hither’ to ‘don’t bother’ to hopeful admirers. The imagery painted or printed on fans also carried important messages. Many celebrate national events, such as the...
Rhythm of the City
Graphic designer Paula Scher adapted Piet Mondrian’s 1943 painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie when she created the graphic identity for Manhattan Records in 1984. On each LP that Manhattan Records released, the design is printed on the center label of sides A and B. When reflecting on her decision to turn to Mondrian, Scher explained “the strongest...
Speaking in Tongues
Graphic designer Tibor Kalman made a circle of blue the visual centerpiece of Talking Heads’ 1983 release Speaking in Tongues. The circle is seven inches in diameter, just like a 45 record. But while the graphic might evoke the standard format of singles from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, it was actually inspired by the...
Only in America
An altered photograph of a roadside motel is printed on a cardboard sleeve for R.E.M.’s 7-inch single “Only in America,” designed by Bruce and Karen Licher. The image of the motel is grainy, which complements the speckled cardboard on which it was printed. Although the grain makes it harder to read the motel sign, the...
A Funky Front Cover
A man in a tuxedo holds a white fedora hat in this Defunkt album cover designed by Tibor Kalman. As in some of his other album designs, Kalman chose to alter the band’s name through reverse lettering. Printed in multicolor, the text is especially striking printed atop the black and white photograph. When reflecting on...
On a High Note
I recently enjoyed a visit to American craftsman Wharton Esherick’s former studio and home, now operating as a museum, on the top of Valley Forge Mountain in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  Exteriors and interiors on the site are amusingly playful yet impressively clever and upon closer examination, carefully calculated. There is barely a straight line in the whole design. Instead...