Lester Beall Pioneer of Modern Graphic Design in America 1903 - 1969
Pioneer of American Graphic Design pioneer /ˌpīəˈni(ə)r/ Synonyms: pathfinder, initiator, trailblazer According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, a pioneer is described as: • One who opens up new areas of thought, research, or development. This greatly describes what Lester Beall did for Modern American Graphic Design during his time, as well as today and for the future.
Lester Beall 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.
Early Life 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.
Early Life • Beall graduated from the University of Chicago in 1926 with a major in Art History. • Beall had begun his freelance design career immediately after college and stayed in Chicago and work in a downtown office. • In 1935, Beall moved to New York in Tudor City (Manhattan’s East side) to open an office/studio for work in his apartment.
Family 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.
Illustration • Lester Beall did a lot of experimentation. He was a highly visual person and always needed to do something that was stimulating his creativity. He was very fond of drawing and painting the human figure. He was always very fascinated with that form and believed that that was what helped him to develop as an artist as well as a designer.
Influences 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. Fred Hauck
Lester Beall’s Style • Lester Beall’s interests lean more towards typography from illustration after meeting Fred Hauck. • Beall’s style was influenced by European Avant-garde and the Dada design movement. • Beall uses a lot of layering of photos and text. • He uses bright bold colors and lines and patterns t0 grab your attention. • He is well-known for using arrows in his work, where he states that the arrow is the best thing to use for the viewer to see where you want them to look next.
Photography 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.
…and Photomontage 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.
Typography 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. " -Lester Beall
Exhibits and Shows • Lester Beall’s first show was in 1933 for the Art Director’s Club of Chicago, which was also its first show. • His first one-man exhibit (and was the first of many others to have a one-man show) was in 1937 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. • He has been a part of many shows internationally, which included Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Stockholm, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Melbourne, Australia, Japan, both in Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as in Czechoslovakia and Canada. • Beall had also been a part of many international shows within the United States.
Chicago…to New York…to Connecticut 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.
-Lester Beall “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.”
Rural Electrification Administration Campaign 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.
More of Lester Beall’s work… Top left: Scope Magazine Top right: US Government, 1941 Middle: Scope Magazine Bottom right: US Government Housing Authority, 1941
Lester Beall’s personal work 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)
Collier’s Magazine 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.
Corporate Identity 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
Corporate Identity Caterpillar Tractor 1967 International Paper Company 1960 Merrill Lynch, Fenner, Pierce, and Smith, Inc. 1968
Last Years 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.” -Graphis Magazine
Awards and Recognition • Lester Beall received his first award for his work in 1934 for Illustration from the Art Directors Club in Chicago • Beall was the first designer to earn the 1st one-man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1937. • In the same year, he was able to exhibit his work in Paris for the first time with six pieces of his work. • He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). • Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972 by the Art Directors Club of New York.
Bibliography 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.