I continue to read every plausible book on graphic design and typography in the Toronto Public Library and to request others via interlibrary loan, for which I submit up to 30 requests at a time. One book obtained latterly is Cipe Pineles: A Life of Design by Martha Scottford.

The book is useful in at least finally giving me a credible pronunciation for the first name of this storied 20th-century designer (“Seepee”), mentioned in countless books I’ve read since I was a teenager. This book is, however, fiendishly difficult to read, as it is typeset in spindly PostScript Bodoni on coated stock. Scottford was taking Pineles’s fondness for Bodoni a bit far. (It’s a typical mistake of design books, which are often the hardest to read because the books’ designers try to impose some unrelated graphic ideology on text and reader.)

On the basis of the work shown in the book, Pineles (1908–1991) must be one of the leading American graphic designers. She was certainly more consistent than someone like Paul Rand – read enough books about him and you wonder why there was quite so much fuss. Pinele started out almost immediately at the top, doing art direction for Condé Nast magazines. She could really draw, and pretty much had no choice but to do so in that pre-mechanized era. Scottford shows a few hand-drawn magazine comps that end up looking almost exactly the same in finished form. (The illustrations are so small they barely work as such, but at that level of reduction the comps and the final layouts are sometimes hard to tell apart.)

I thought there was much too much made of Pineles as a Leading Woman in Graphic Design, Which We All Know Is a Sexist Phallocracy. Pineles was never prevented from working and was eventually named art director of various magazines. She taught hundreds of design students. It’s true that special dispensation had to be made to induct her into the all-male Art Directors Club, but her work had never been seriously impeded and such dispensation actually was made – in 1948, long enough in the past to make the discussion strictly historical and not a cautionary tale for the present day.

The era may have been more sexist, but then as now, there is nothing intrinsic in graphic design that favours males or females. Anyone concerned with the distribution of sexes in the field today has to look at other factors, which, if anything, are likely to discourage boys from pursuing something deemed decorative, frilly, and useless by the tough guys they hang out with. (What remains inexplicable is the near-total absence of inverts from graphic design. It is amazing how many straight males join up.)

Pineles was design royalty in another way: Her first husband, William Golden, was an esteemed designer in his own right and created the CBS eye. (An endnote reads: “Golden was inspired by a Pennsylvania Dutch bitch certificate he saw in an issue of Brodovitch’s Portfolio.”) Golden died of a heart attack that, as Scottford describes it, should have been identified within hours of onset and could have been treated. Pineles’s second husband, Will Burtin, was also a designer.

(In fact, if you want to get upset over something, how about the fact that Wikipedia has a giant article on Golden but nothing on Pineles or Burtin?)

Pineles had two children, through adoption and Burtin’s blended family; daughter Carol moved to Toronto. They would have much cause to be proud of their parents.

UPDATE, 2007.01.26: I have here Nine Pioneers of American Graphic Design by R. Roger Remington and Barbara Hodik. There’s a full chapter on William Golden and another on Will Burtin. Both chapters mention that the men in question were married to Ciple Pineles. The Burtin chapter states that he “met and formed friendships with William Golden and his wife, Cipe Pineles,” then, much later, tells us “he married [in 1961] the designer Cipe Pineles, widow of William Golden.”

The foreword to the book muses about the other pioneers who could have been included, all of them men. This is a sexist history of graphic design if you were ever looking for one.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.12.10 16:23. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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