Lester Beall. Pioneer of Modern Graphic Design in America 1903 - 1969. Pioneer of American Graphic Design. pi o neer /ˌ pīəˈni ( ə )r/ Synonyms: pathfinder, initiator, trailblazer. According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, a pioneer is described as:
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Pioneer of Modern Graphic Design in America
1903 - 1969
Synonyms: pathfinder, initiator, trailblazer
According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, a pioneer is described as:
This greatly describes what Lester Beall did for Modern American Graphic Design during his time, as well as today and for the future.
Sought as the Pioneer of Modernist Graphic Design in the United States of America, Lester Beall was best known and recognized for his work in posters with the US Government’s Rural Electrification Administration. Beall was also well known for his highly regarded work with Time Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Chicago Tribune, The Art Directors Club of New York and many more companies.
Lester Beall was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 14th, 1903.
His family then moved to St. Louis, Missouri that same year.
He also lived in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1910 and then moved to Chicago that same year and continued his education there.
Beall attended Chicago’s Lane Technical School and graduated in 1922.
Beall attended The University of Chicago in 1922 while trying to decide whether he would pursue an acting career or pursue the visual arts.
In 1928, Beall marries his wife, Dorothy Miller. On October 26th, 1929, his first child, a son by the name of Lester Beall, Jr. was born. Joanna, his daughter, was born on August 17th, 1935.
After gaining experience in design while in Chicago, Beall moved to New York to start his own design business. He moved before his family was ready to get the business started, then the followed suit after his daughter, Joanna, was born.
Lester Beall met Fred Hauck in 1932. Fred Hauck was an artist who had just returned from Munich, Germany where he studied under Hans Hoffman. Hauck had brought back books that he had shared with Beall about other international trends. Those trends that started from the Bauhaus. These two were not just friends, but they opened/shared a design office space together in 1933 in Chicago. Without Fred and his souvenirs from Munich, Beall may have not seen, understood, and studies the European avant-garde style that he clearly has a strong hand in.
As said before, Beall was an experimenter. He experimented with photography, photograms, photographic effects, drawings, parts and pieces of paintings. He chose all sorts of media to be engaged and inspired from.
Beall also produced work by using photographs and instilling them into his design work. The photos would be strategically placed or placed interlaced between others to create texture, depth, interested for the final product.
Beall experimented with wood blocks, lithos, and typographic effects.
“ Designers must work with one goal in mind—to integrate the elements in such a manner that they will combine to produce a result that will convey not merely a static commercial message, but an emotional reaction as well. If we can produce the kind of art, which harnesses the power of the human instinct for that harmony of form, beauty, and cleanness that seems inevitable when you see it? Then I think we may be doing a job for our clients. The designer's role in the development, application and protection of the trademark may be described as pre-creative, creative and post-creative. "
Beall stayed in Chicago until 1935 and then moved east to New York City in which he set up his studio. His home life was in Wilton, Connecticut all the while he had his studio in New York City. He then moved into another country home in Brookfield Center in 1950 that was later dubbed “Dumbarton Farm”. Though this was his place of residence, he also housed farm animals, primarily purebred Cheviot sheep and his design studio.
“There were a number of reasons why this move was made: the obvious reason of canceling out the commuting every day, but also by living and working in the country I felt I could enjoy a more integrated life, and although I still need the periodic stimulation of New York City, the opportunities of creative activity in an area of both beauty and tranquility seemed to me to far exceed anything that a permanent studio and residence in New York City might offer—The way a man lives is essential to the work he produces. The two cannot be separated.”
These series of posters that Beall designed for the REA was to help people understand and become aware of the importance and power that electricity has on a home, family, farm life, etc. It was assumed that the audience of these posters had limited reading skills, thus Beall was able to design posters for everyone to understand. He designed a total of 3 series for the REA, from 1937 – 1941, to promote their goals with bold colors, dramatic shapes and lines and a visual image that drew the viewer in and personalized it for the viewer.
These posters were to convey how comfortable and happy you would be once you had electricity at your home. All posters were simple and straightforward for the audience.
Top left: Scope Magazine
Top right: US Government, 1941
Middle: Scope Magazine
Bottom right: US Government Housing Authority, 1941
Beall was a great artist. His love for the human figure shows in these paintings. He enjoyed the idea that the human figure in his drawings and paintings are something “not completely abstract but certainly not literal or realistic.” (Beall)
While working with Crowell Publishing Company, Beall produced very powerful work which still convey very strongly the messages of that time period in history. His use of angles and arrows and strong shapes help promote his style as well as the feeling of that era.
Beall was very successful at communicating ideas and elevating the tastes of his corporate clients after WWII. He had a great talent and effectively communicated the clients goals and ambitions with good design and good business.
Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 1959
Merrill Lynch, Fenner,
Pierce, and Smith, Inc.
Lester Beall died at the age of 66 in 1969, survived by his wife, Dorothy, and children, son Lester Beall, Jr., and daughter Joanna.
After Beall’s death, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Art Directors Club of New York in 1972.
In 1993, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
“Lester was first of all an artist, not only because of a vital and important talent, but because of an emotional spiritual quality, a very special attitude. He was a pioneer in his application of graphic design to advertising, publishing and related creative activities. He was acutely aware of the effects of graphic design on the human environment and of the social responsibilities of the designer.”
-Dorothy Miller Beall
“Beall has something in common with the pioneers who discovered the American west and utilized and developed what they found there to their own ends. Like them he will never be satisfied with what he has accomplished, but will always be searching for other ways of combining the new and the useful.”
Meggs, Philip B., Purvis, Alston W. History of Graphic Design. 4th ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2006. Print.
Remington, R. Roger. Lester Beall: Trailblazer of American Graphic Design. New York, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.
American Graphic Design Pioneer, Lester Beall. The Estate of Lester Beall and VAGA / Visual Artist And Galleries Association. 2010. Web. 22 April 2012.
Pickett, Joseph P. The American Heritage College Dictionary. 4th ed. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002. Print.