“If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there.”
So say many people who were in fact there and must have had a pretty interesting time. Fortunately, actual evidence exists in the form of archived book covers published by the University of Washington Press throughout that era. The decade saw an enormous output of lushly artistic and unabashedly hand-made designs that have not been documented before.
By the end of the 1950s, the press had begun defining itself as a modern publisher with a range beyond purely academic monographs. Forays into regional and trade books were made, and the need for visually striking covers converged with a burgeoning creativity and new production methods that facilitated expression. Reliable budgets and an atmosphere of growth contributed to a fertile environment for these explorations. The prolific work of Dianne Weiss and Audrey Meyer exemplify this, though contributions by Veronica Seyd, Roz Pape, Diana Bower, and uncredited others also enriched the output of the era.
The documentary Graphic Means explores graphic design production of the 1950s through the 1990s:
Beginning in the late 1950s, Dianne Weiss (1918–2008) created some of the most visually stunning designs in the press’s history. Drawing from a wide range of artistic talents including printmaking, illustration, cut-paper, and collage, she produced dozens of book covers that set the tone for decades to come. Her expressive designs often featured uniquely hand-drawn typography paired with bold interpretive illustrations. These ranged from literal to purely abstract, and seemed to be a vehicle for her own creative explorations. Many covers were printed using just one or two bold colors on textured or colored paper.
Dianne seemed to have worked at the press for only a few years and the specifics of her background and tenure are lost to time. In the mid-sixties she moved to the Bay Area where she continued her artistic pursuits as a printmaker in the book arts. She collaborated with many others, including her husband Daniel, Carol Cunningham, and Susan Acker, producing miniature books under the imprints Figment Press, Splendid Press, and Sunflower Press.
When Don Ellegood became director of the press in 1963, he formed a talented team including Audrey Meyer, a recent graduate from the Pratt Institute. Audrey was Art Director of the press for over forty years, a stalwart advocate for good design throughout decades of industry changes, retiring only in 2007. In 1965, the Association of American Academic Presses (AAUP) initiated what is now one of the longest running book design competitions in the world. Audrey won over 40 awards throughout the course of her illustrious career.
Audrey continued the creative explorations of previous years, primarily through painting, illustration, and collage. Her inventive designs were wonderfully rich and colorful; consistently blurring the line between artist and designer. She mentored and inspired subsequent generations of designers, including Ashley Saleeba and Pamela Canell, followed by myself and Dustin Kilgore.
Thanks to 2014 Soden-Trueblood graduate fellow Will Mari for researching historical context and 2016 design intern Carly Lynch for helping find and document these covers.