Loxley, Simon. Printer's Devil: The Life and Work of Frederic Warde.
Simon Loxley, a graphic designer with a special interest in design history, was inspired to explore the life and work of Frederic Warde (1894-1939) not only because "he remains today ... a shadowy figure ... with little written about him," but also because of his reputation as "a gifted ... burn-out ... immolated on the pyre of personal defects" (page 1). Loxley's biography (self-published in 2009, and reissued by Godine in 2013) aims to supply missing details about Warde, an elusive man often considered to be one of the best typographers and book designers of the interwar years. Although Warde's career is usually accorded "cautious respect" (page 1), he is now remembered primarily for his two years in England working with Stanley Morison, their codevelopment of the Arrighi typeface, and a scandal involving Warde's wife (nee Beatrice Becker, the charismatic publicity manager for Monotype).
In a previous book, Type: The Secret History of Letters (2004), Loxley looked at the backgrounds of type designers and speculated about how personality and state of mind might influence the typefaces that a person envisions. As he suggested in an introduction to that work, designers brought the human baggage of ambition, jealousy, desire, treachery, and love to their designs for type, baggage that informed and sometimes twisted their endeavors. Loxley's interest in Warde was originally piqued by Paul Bennett's 1960s interviews with Beatrice Warde and Morison. Further investigation revealed that Frederic Warde and his circle of talented acquaintances left behind a wealth of extant correspondence that sketched a puzzling picture of a mercurial, highly polarizing man. A prolific and engaging letter writer, Warde inspired or provoked memorable observations and opinions from people in his milieu. He played a major role in the transatlantic cross-fertilization of ideas between the world wars, and his career coincided with the emergence and recognition of graphic design as a profession. He corresponded with notable figures in Europe, England, and America, such as Bruce Rogers, D. B. Updike, Hans Mardersteig, Rudolph Ruzicka, Frederic Goudy, George Macy, and William Kittredge (as well as Morison). While perusing these assorted papers, Loxley learned to love Warde's work and respect his unswerving dedication to the craft of book and type design.
Warde was deliberately deceptive about his background, education, and experience. He attended flight school, but did not, as he claimed, serve as a pilot in France during World War I. He somehow absorbed a measure of medical knowledge, but was not a physician. Although he was a quick learner, his rapid advancement in publishing was probably more closely related to his practiced proclivity for lying. Early design-related employment included a stint between 1919 and 1921 at the firm of William Edwin Rudge, a printer and designer of fine books in Mount Vernon, N.Y. It was there that Warde met and assisted Rudge's chief designer, Bruce Rogers. In 1921, he trained at the Monotype school in Philadelphia. Within a year, buoyed by good references, he became director of publishing at Princeton University Press.
In 1924, Morison invited Frederic and Beatrice Warde to England. Separated from his wife in the wake of her affair with Morison, Warde moved to Paris in 1927, worked for Pegasus Press, and started The Pleiad, his own imprint. Returning to the United States later that year, he resumed designing for Rudge (1927 through 1934). By 1928, Warde was living on Crosby Gaige's Watch Hill Farm (an occasional getaway for celebrities like George Gershwin, Harpo Marx, and Alexander Woollcott) and designing books for Watch Hill Press. Between 1928 and 1930, Warde developed a Monotype version of Arrighi, designed books for the Limited Editions Club, and undertook commissioning tours on the club's behalf. At the time of his premature death in 1939, he was employed by Oxford University Press in New York.
The Arrighi typeface is Warde's most readily identifiable accomplishment; it first appeared in The Tapestry, a 1925 edition of the poetry of Robert Bridges. In 1928, he published an important volume entitled Printer's Ornaments. He argued frequently with employers, and the pressmen who implemented his designs found his perfectionism nearly unbearable. He was difficult, notoriously abrasive, often repellent, and sometimes charming. His best designs show an attractive restraint and striking use of color. Some critics loved his output, while others disparaged it. Loxley is fascinated by unanswerable questions as well as ascertainable answers: "[t]here are gaps in the information that mean my assessment will only be an interpretation," he admits. "Most who write a biography [want] the last word on the subject, but ... I would prefer to stimulate a debate and discussion" (page 4).
The book is beautifully designed with a generous assortment of black-and-white illustrations showing people, places, and title pages. Twelve color plates provide examples of Warde's varied output, including book bindings, typographical samples, and layouts demonstrating his inventive use of printer's ornaments. The halftones are of less than optimal quality, but the text is thoroughly researched, cleverly written, and well supported by chatty, informative notes. Appendices contain a succinct chronology of Warde's short life (pages 165-66); an extensive list of the books known to have been designed by him, arranged by year (pages 167-82); and suggestions for further reading. Loxley's article entitled "Frederic Warde, Crosby Gaige, and the Watch Hill Press" appeared in Printing History (number four of the new series in July 2008).
Warde's critics imply that, while his designs are inevitably correct, they often lack daring, or otherwise fail to satisfy. Loxley acknowledges the criticism, but responds that "[f]requently for the designer the key assessment is how much can be stripped away ... to find that exalted point, maximum impact achieved by using the fewest elements. Warde sought this, using only the tools of a good typeface, correctly sized, spaced and positioned, printed on good stock and cased in a fine binding" (page 2). Warde's goal as a designer could succinctly be described as "restrained elegance" (page 3). Loxley's engaging portrait of a troubled artist is characterized by the same welcome sense of elegance and restraint.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2016|
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