“Lou Dorfsman was the kingpin of the New York School of Design, a fearless, uncompromising perfectionist, and a father of corporate image in the world,” ~ George Lois
Kemistry Gallery is celebrating the work of legendary designer Lou Dorfsman, art director for the CBS network.
The exhibition centres on his most notable creation, the 11-metre wide handmade wooden typographic wall that he named Gastrotypographicalassemblage.
With over sixty original examples of Lou’s art-directed work for CBS, featuring contributions from Al Hirschfeld and Milton Glaser, the exhibition serves to demonstrate Lou Dorfsman’s skill in defining a brand to over 200 million people.
Created during an era when designers were both artisans and well-trained communicators, the wall is the largest modern typographic artefact in existence, described by Michael Bierut as ‘an irreplaceable piece of design history.’
“There are few pieces that represent the typographic and design spirit that illuminated that moment of history, and certainly none on a scale as ambitious.” Milton Glaser.
“Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing. To others a curse. It is in reality the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea” – Lou Dorfsman
“Everything Lou Dorfsman has touched was made better for his efforts. Whether it was a television studio set, a matchbook cover, a book, a booklet, a paper cup, a cafeteria wall, an annual report, an annual meeting, Lou has done it with taste and style and integrity.” – — Dr. Frank Stanton, president CBS Inc.
The creative vision of the legendary CBS art director and designer, Lou Dorfsman, the Gastrotypographicalassemblage is the largest, modern typographic artifact in existence.
Perhaps his most ambitious and audacious project, Lou Dorfsman considers the wall of type that graced the CBS cafeteria, aptly titled the Gastrotypographicalassemblage, his magnum opus.
The Gastrotypographicalassemblage, commonly referred to as “the wall,” is enormous; it is 33 feet in length and 8 feet in height, give or take a few inches. The piece is a mélange of food-related words and objects, a perfectly orchestrated collage of appetite.
Completed during the mid-1960s, the wall occupied the CBS building that was designed by Eero Saarinen. Lou Dorfsman was the Director of Design for CBS, Inc. at the time. Upon hearing the interior design plans for the new CBS cafeteria, Dorfsman was “compelled” to offer an alternate solution.
He envisioned a wall of solid type, similar to a typesetter’s tray turned on its side. He quickly created a series of sketches and showed them to Dr. Frank Stanton, the President of CBS, who approved the project and gave Dorfsman license to design.
Dorfsman created the initial comps and commissioned the creation of the first panel. Once the first panel was completed, Dorfsman enlisted his lifetime friend Herb Lubalin, the legendary designer and typographer, to concept the remaining panels. Tom Carnase meticulously hand lettered the final comps, and a team of carpenters and sculptors set to work. Each letter was hand milled out of thick pine.
In addition to words, the Gastrotypographicalassemblage is dotted with food imagery, from sausages to seltzer bottles to loaves of bread.
Upon its completion, Dr. Frank Stanton said of the Gastrotypographicalassemblage, “The wall never ceases to excite the imagination. To me, it represents one of the most arresting design creations to be seen anywhere.”
And, for twenty years after its completion, the wall inspired all who saw it. It graced the CBS cafeteria, and like so many pieces of design, went about its quiet mission. Yet, the wall’s future was called into question during the late 1980s after a change in leadership led to the inevitable, change for the sake of change. The wall was unceremoniously removed from the cafeteria and, save a call from a building superintendent, Richard Spiro, the wall would have been lost forever.
After receiving Spiro’s call, Lou Dorfsman called Nick Fasciano, a decorated designer, who rushed to Blackrock and collected the discarded panels. Fasciano took the panels to his Long Island home, where they sat in storage for more than 20 years, safe and dry, but slowly deteriorating.
It wasn’t until Eve Kahn wrote an article for I.D. magazine, titled “Recipe for Trouble,” that the potential destruction of the Gastrotypographicalassemblage emerged in the public’s imagination.
The Center for Design Study, a newly minted not-for-profit in Atlanta, Georgia, became aware of the wall’s current state through the article, and after many discussions, The Center for Design Study became the wall’s steward, seeking to restore this magnificent piece to its original glory.
Working closely with Lou Dorfsman and Nick Fasciano, the Center has assumed responsibility for the Wall’s preservation, including its restoration, maintenance and exhibition. When restored, this significant piece of American design history will be a tool for education and expanded awareness, illustrating the value of thoughtfully applied design.
The letters were originally glued to the panels, and over time, they came loose. Many of the letters were damaged beyond repair. Fasciano, who created several sculptures for the wall, is working with a team of craftsmen to repair each letter by hand: stripping, sanding, patching, sealing, and repainting more than 1,450 letters.
More than 25 percent of the letters were damaged beyond repair and must be completely re-milled. Then, there are the sculptures and food objects. From the soup cans, which legendary illustrator John Alcorn developed, to the seltzer bottles, each piece must be recreated by an artisan.
About Lou Dorfsman
Louis Dorfsman was born in 1918 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; a few years later, his father, Samuel Dorfsman, a sign painter, and his mother, Molly, both immigrants from Poland, moved the family to the Bronx.
A child of the Bronx, Lou Dorfsman went to public schools and graduated from Roosevelt High School during 1935.
After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1935, the younger Mr. Dorfsman wanted to study bacteriology at New York University but could not afford the $300 tuition. Instead he was accepted at Cooper Union, where tuition was free and art and design courses were plentiful.
He graduated with high honours in 1939 and remained connected to the school, serving on its board of directors for many years.
Dorfsman met his wife, Ann Hysa, while attending The Cooper Union, as well as lifelong friend and collaborator, Herb Lubalin.
Before joining CBS, Mr. Dorfsman had held a number of design jobs, including making displays for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
In World War II, he served in the United States Army, which put his commercial art talents to use – he won first and second prize in the National Army Arts Contest.
Lou Dorfsman joined CBS during 1946 after leaving the U.S. army.
In 1946, when he joined CBS as art director for its successful radio networks, the company was already a leader in both advertising and the relatively new field of corporate identity. Dorfsman was attracted to CBS because of its “high graphic standards.”
Dorfsman was hired as William Golden’s assistant in 1946. Golden originally designed the iconic CBS eye logo, and brought his inspired style to CBS from his years at House and Garden working under the renowned M.F.Agha. A mission of perfection and high style trickled down from Paley and Stanton to all aspects of CBS.
In 1951 after Golden died suddenly at the age of 48, Dorfsman was named director of design.
Dorfsman was appointed Director of Design for CBS, Inc. during 1964, and he became Vice President and Creative Director of the CBS Broadcast group during 1968
Before it was called branding and contracted out to design firms that specialize in imagemaking on a global scale, there was the very cool job of corporate art director.
Having access to the deep pockets of CBS chairman William Paley and a partner in corporate style with Frank Stanton, president of CBS, Dorfsman created an elegant visual image for the network that was recognized for 40 years both in the home and in the boardroom. Dorfsman played an integral role in the Golden Age of Broadcast Television.
During 1978, Dorfsman became Senior Vice President and Creative Director for Marketing Communications and Design for the CBS Broadcast Group.
Milton Glaser called him simply “the best corporate designer in the world,” a testament to the beauty and strength of his ideas, which still resonate with designers of all ages.
Dorfsman and CBS created one of the great in-house art departments. When CBS moved into its new headquarters on 52nd street in 1963, Dorfsman handled all the interior and exterior signage personally. He drew his own version of Didot renamed CBS Didot, and it became the official typeface of CBS appearing on all corporate stationery, elevators, napkins, mailboxes and promotional material. 200 office clocks were taken apart and their numbers were replaced with the new font.
But it was in his day to day work–creating full page promotional ads for CBS news, radio and primetime that regularly graced the New York Times–that his trademark humor, combined with a clear typographic style, created a corporate voice as familiar as Uncle Walter’s.
Ads promoting CBS News specials on the Viet Nam war or black history were presented with the stark clarity of the most serious magazine journalism. As CBS grew, all logo designs, packaging displays, annual reports, consumer and trade ads as well as set design came out of the CBS art department.
Dorfsman thrived in all media, creating simple but effective film graphics for movies of the week, late, late shows and special presentation bumpers that a generation of boomer kids would recognize instantly. In an era of hyper-specialization, it is inspiring to see how Lou Dorfsman’s own visual style flourished in print, broadcasting and any medium or problem he tackled
Unlike so many product advertisements created by Madison Avenue, which in the 1940s and ’50s were visually mundane and text-heavy, Mr. Dorfsman’s designs featured clear typography, simple slogans and smart illustration.
He also commissioned work from Feliks Topolski, a portraitist, and the printmaker and painter Ben Shahn, though Shahn was then under scrutiny by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his affiliation with leftist groups and causes.
At CBS, Mr. Dorfsman injected a rare social urgency into some of his best advertisements for the network’s public affairs programming. The full-page newspaper ad for “Of Black America,” the first network series on black history, showed a black man in black and white, with half his face painted with the stars and stripes of the United States flag, and with his eyes focused intently on the viewer; the image became a virtual emblem for race relations.
To promote “The Warren Report: A CBS News Inquiry in Four Parts,” the headline of the newspaper ad read: “This is the bullet that hit both President Kennedy and Governor Connally. Or did it?” The photograph used in the full-page ad was an extreme close-up of a hand holding a bullet.
Mr. Dorfsman also came up with the slogan “Re-elected the Most Trusted Man in America” to promote Walter Cronkite’s coverage of the 1972 presidential election.
Though he enjoyed the public affairs work, Mr. Dorfsman relished producing advertisements for entertainment programming, employing both wordplay and pictureplay to capture attention.
To promote a special devoted to the comedian Jackie Gleason, an ad titled “Jackie of all Trades” showed the star in 11 of his most famous roles. And for “The Red Skelton Show,” Mr. Dorfsman coined the phrase “Red Is Beautiful” and put it over a photograph of the smiling performer. Mr. Dorfsman said that his proudest accomplishment was a campaign he initiated to “Save ‘The Waltons,’ ” which was threatened by low ratings despite rave reviews. After the ad ran once in The New York Times, ratings went up enough to save the show.
Advertisements were not Mr. Dorfsman’s only métier. He created corporate annual reports and promotional commemorative volumes to bolster CBS’s standing as “the Tiffany Network.” To celebrate the first landing on the moon, Stanton proposed a limited-edition book, which Mr. Dorfsman designed with a special cover embossed to look and feel like the lunar surface. This and other promotional pieces set a standard for broadcast advertising.
Mr. Dorfsman remained with CBS until after Laurence Tisch assumed control of the company in the mid-1980s and instituted cost-cutting programs. During one such campaign, Mr. Dorfsman designed an annual report that lacked any visuals or typographic flourishes.
After Mr. Dorfsman left in 1991, William S. Paley, the former chairman of CBS, asked him to become creative director for the Museum of Broadcasting, now the Paley Center for Media.
The Art Director’s Club, of which Dorfsman is a past president, honored him through the years with 13 Gold Medals and 23 awards of Distinctive Merit for outstanding work in print and television advertising, packaging, film titling, book design and direct mail. He won two Clios and five 50 Ads of the Year. During 1978, The Art Director’s Club inducted Lou into the Art Directors Hall of Fame , and the AIGA awarded him with its annual AIGA Medal during the same year.
He was the recipient in 1984 and 1989 of an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the New School of Social Research and the Long Island University, respectively.
Lou Dorfsman died on Oct 25th , 2008 at the age of 90.
Dorfsman & CBS Book
In 1988 a book, “Dorfsman & CBS,” documenting his work was published. A review in The Times said, “Leafing through this abundantly illustrated book, one is struck by the fact that television nurtured one of print’s most innovative graphic designers.”