JOHN UNDERHILL OTTENHEIMER | 1953


[Graphic Designer, Contributor; 1952–53]


By way of a little background: I spent my youth in rural northeast Connecticut, and at age nine I started architectural drawing. In my early teenage years I worked full-time in an architect’s office and began painting and drawing in a formal studio setting. At this time I had a painting hung in a juried show in Old Lyme with adult professional painters.

At sixteen I enrolled in the Hutchins Great Books Program at the University of Chicago. Meanwhile I worked part-time in the Chicago graphic design company Higgins, Inc., where I learned calligraphy. While I was in the Humanities Core special section on Esthetics, I wrote a review for the college newspaper, The Maroon, on the Fernand Léger show at the Art Institute. And soon after, while I was in a class in architectural drawing at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), I wrote on the new IIT Chapel designed by Mies van der Rohe—this time for Chicago Review.

It was the autumn of 1952. Chip Karmatz, the journal’s editor, asked me if I would like to join the staff. I said yes, if I could redesign the format for the next issue (Spring 1953). Much to my surprise, Karmatz agreed. The journal’s design was then pretty rudimentary, and the issues were being printed in somebody’s garage. I happened to know the typographer Greer Allen, who was head of the printing department at the University of Chicago Press. I asked Allen if he could arrange for the Press to begin printing CR. Another surprise: he said yes.

For the CR logo, I chose Bernhard Gothic typeface, admittedly architectural in character. Then I designed the cover, the masthead, the templates of the title pages for stories, articles, and poems, plus some of the line drawings and most of the ads. I asked my friend Howard Fisher, a student at the IIT Institute of Design, to do a full-page illustration, and persuaded a University of Chicago classmate, Caroline Lee, to do the frontispiece drawing. (Lee later moved to France, where she lived most of her life, and went on to become a world-famous sculptor, one of the more accomplished graduates of the University of Chicago). The Press didn’t have large enough type to print the cover in Bernhard Gothic, so I drew the logo from scratch. By the next issue the Press had acquired a large enough font to print the covers according to my design, and that was much better.

That first issue, though, was a frantic production. By the time all the manuscripts had been gathered, and all my page designs completed, time was running out. The Press produced the galley proofs, but in order to meet their production schedule, Allen told me that I would have to put together the dummy overnight. The galleys were printed offset, then relatively new. What I had to do overnight was to cut every page out of the galleys and paste them into the dummy, setting the arrangement exactly for each page. Voilà. Thus it was printed. With that issue, as I recall, the journal’s circulation increased quite a bit, and I like to believe that my design played an important part in this success.

That June I went to apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesin studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where I would spend the next seventeen years. Among other projects for Wright, I designed the letters for the name of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. They are sixteen-inch cast bronze, incised style; to make them I put in the forms and poured concrete around them. Just like the CR logo, another variation on Bernhard Gothic.

In 1959 I received a letter from Greer Allen, who mentioned that the Press was printing a CR anthology. “It is interesting and pleasing to note that the basic typographical structure you developed in the early years of the magazine, ” he wrote, “has been maintained ever since. ”