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Old 02-18-2005, 02:44 PM   #1
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Default Henry Wolf, noted graphic designer

Henry Wolf, the designer who breathed life into Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar magazines in the 1950s and 60s, died Monday, February 14, in New York. He was 80 years old. You can read Steven Heller’s obituary on the New York Times web site.

It is difficult today to remember when magazines and ads were witty and succinct, driven by the design brief more than fads. Wolf was the premier exemplar of witty design. He was also a fine photographer, often shooting his own illustrations.

There is a slide show of some of Wolf’s work at the AIGA web site, along with an essay by Milton Glaser, which includes this bit:
In Henry’s case the world he creates either as designer, art director or photographer, is characterized by clarity of form and literary content. We are convinced of its “rightness.” Every element is the right size, the right shape and in the right place. The illusion is complete and hermetic. When I free associate about other artists whose perceptions of the world seem to share some quality with Henry, Vermeer and Mozart come to mind. Lucidity and the conspicuous lack of excess characterize all three.
On the essay page, click on the large image to bring up a small slide-show of some of Wolf’s memorable covers.

One of the things I find interesting is the way Wolf was trained. Nowadays, people expect designers to have an academic degree. Wolf took classes, but at a school of industrial arts. That is what printing (etc.) was back then. (Someone used to tease me about my interest in typography, calling it a second-rate trade craft. Well, in fact, he was right.)

Many of the people I knew as designers in the 1960s had been “layout men” first. Or letterers, often doing signs for shop windows. Wolf had that sort of background, enhanced by jobs in printing and type shops. Later he took courses in photography, art direction, and painting.

And of course, he had a formidable talent.

I see Heller cited Wolf’s famous comment: “A magazine should not only reflect a trend; it should help start it.”

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