Tag African American

4 Corners: An Interview with Gail Anderson

I love NY. The first time I visited the city was in the early 1980s when I was aged around 16 years old. My father’s side of the family occasionally held large family reunions either in the US or the Caribbean and so we went over to New York on our way to attend a reunion in New Jersey.

We stayed with family in Brooklyn, and I was fascinated with everything about it and the fact that it all felt so familiar. Here I was walking around the real life film set of my dreams with the soundtracks of TV shows like Starsky & Hutch and films like Car Wash reverberating around my mind.

From a design perspective, I couldn’t help but be consumed by the mega-brand bombardment that screams out at you on all corners. From the bright neon signs and huge billboard advertisements to the plethora of product packaging, confectionery and magazine covers that adorn the news-stands. It is with reference to the latter, and magazine design in particular, that I bring to your attention now.

Rolling Stone magazine was, and continues to be one of the most highly regarded and influential publications of its time. Working during the years stewarded by the prolific and distinctive art director, Fred Woodward, was an African American woman who has blazed her own trail as a designer, art director, author and educator. Her work is honored and celebrated in publications and awards annuals all over the world. And if it hasn’t been done already, her name should be lit up in neon on the side of a skyscraper like the signs that adorn her hometown, New York.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Gail Anderson.Gail Anderson

Source: Darren Cox

Gail Anderson, designer, writer and educator.

What’s your background?

I’m born and raised in New York, originally from the Bronx. My memories of the neighborhood I grew up in defy the stereotype of a crime-ridden slum. There were trees and houses with driveways, and kids on bikes. My parents are from Jamaica, so I am first-generation American, and first-generation college-educated, as well. I attended college at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, and worked first at Random House, followed by the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, where I had my first exposure to editorial design. From there, I moved back to New York to work with Fred Woodward at Rolling Stone, where I remained for over 14 years. I served as creative director of design at SpotCo, a NYC-based entertainment advertising agency that focuses on Broadway for a little over eight years, and am now a partner in a boutique design firm that doesn’t even have a website yet (I still have my own site, gailycurl.com though it is hopelessly outdated). I teach at the School of Visual Arts in the undergraduate and graduate design programs (I’ve been teaching for most of my career).'The Next Queen of Soul' Rolling Stone spread

‘The Next Queen of Soul’ Rolling Stone spread

How did you get started in design?

I was fortunate to have a smart and plugged-in studio art teacher in high school, who sent me off to take weekend drawing classes at Pratt Manhattan, and made sure that I participated in competitions and exhibitions. She loaned me books about what was then called ‘commercial art’, and pushed me to attend the School of Visual Arts.

What challenges did you overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I was not a cool kid from the city, living in the East Village like most of my young colleagues right out of school. I was a dopey kid living with her parents in the Bronx. My hipness factor was extremely low. I didn’t encounter any real issues as a minority, though I was always the one people called on for ‘another’ point of view. That caused a good deal of eye-rolling when I was younger, but is something I’ve grown accustomed to in my dotage.'Chris Rock - Star' Rolling Stone spread

‘Chris Rock – Star’ Rolling Stone spread

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My friend and boss at the Boston Globe, Lynn Staley, was a huge influence. I feel like I matured as a young designer under her tutelage and was able to start my next job at Rolling Stone with my sleeves rolled up, ready to get my hands dirty thanks to her. Fred Woodward, probably the smartest man in magazines, and a dear and gentle soul, is my other strong influence, along with the work of Paula Scher.'Axl Rose Lost Years' Rolling Stone spread

‘Axl Rose Lost Years’ Rolling Stone spread

What is the project you are most proud of?

I’m proud of a series of subway posters I worked on with illustrator Terry Allen for the School of Visual Arts after President Obama’s first-term election. And I’m still fond of much of the old Rolling Stone work – it still holds up almost two decades later.Obama Lion poster (with Terry Allen)

Obama Lion poster (with Terry Allen)

What would be your dream job or project?

I got to work on my dream project about a year ago; designing a postage stamp for the US Postal Service. And now I serve on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, as one of the team of folks who helps decide what future stamps are on the horizon. I am honored to be part of the Design Subcommittee, and am looking forward to the challenge. My partner Joe Newton and I are currently working on rebranding a small art college in Pennsylvania. I’d like to do more of this kind of work, so I’ll put that in the dream category – more academic institutions.Emancipation stamps

Emancipation stamps

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Boy, do teachers ever deserve more recognition and credit than they get! And more money, too!

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Be the first one in the office in the morning, and the last one to leave at night. Never send an angry email, and read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.Cover for New Modernist Type, by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson

Cover for New Modernist Type, by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson

What’s next for you?

I am heading to Italy with my sister and niece this summer. That’s about all I can think about these days.



Gordon Parks – A Harlem Family: An exhibition honouring the legacy and work of pioneering African-American artist, photojournalist and true renaissance man, Gordon Parks. Exhibition runs until Jun 30 at The Studio Museum of Harlem. 144 West 125th Street, New York, NY 10027 For more information, go to www.studiomuseum.org


The Alliance Française of St. Vincent presents a Caribbean Photography Exhibition. Featuring the work of photographers from St. Vincent & The Grenadines, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica. The exhibition will be open until May 31st, 9:30am to 5.00pm weekly and 2.00pm on Fridays at the Alliance Française, Carnegie Building (1st Floor), Heritage Square, Kingstown, St. Vincent. For more information email: afofsvg@gmail.com, visit www.facebook.com/afsvg or by call: 456-2095.


Africa Day Celebrations. Artscape celebrates Africa Day with a concert featuring Bongani Sotshononda’s indigenous ensemble, The Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, The SA Youth Choir and Khayelitsha Mambazo. 25 May at 7.30pm at the Artscape Theatre, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town 8000, South Africa Tel: +27 21 410 9800. For more information visit http://www.artscape.co.za/show/africa-day-celebrations/665/


Design En Afrique is an exhibition focused primarily on the design of objects used as support for the body. Runs until July 2013 at Museum Dapper in Paris, France. 35 bis, rue Paul Valéry – 75116 Paris. For more information visit http://www.dapper.fr

4 Corners: US | Interview with Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison

In February, the U.S. celebrates Black History Month. Therefore it seems very apt that we should try to make a little history of our own by introducing what is, as far as I know, the first regular column of its kind anywhere in the world, highlighting the historical and contemporary creative contribution of designers from the African diaspora. Each month we will focus on four key regions, with a view to expanding both culturally and geographically over time. The U.S. has a rich legacy of black designers encompassing all areas of the design spectrum. Pioneering admen such as Georg Olden, Emmett McBain, Leroy Winbush and Archie Boston; Graphic artists and illustrators such as Aaron Douglas and Charles Dawson; and designers such as Eugene Winslow and Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison who I have the pleasure of introducing to you as our first featured profile designer. I sincerely hope you like the column and find it engaging, informative and insightful. And if you do, please help support it by sharing it with your networks, subscribing or posting comments via the design week site.

Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison, African American Industrial Designer. Born on 23 September 1931, Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison was the first African-American executive to work at Sears Roebuck&Company, starting as a designer in 1961 and eventually becoming manager of the company’s entire design group. Among his 750+ consumer product designs is the first ever plastic trash can. He also led the team that updated the View-Master in 1958. This iconic product sold with only minor colour changes for over 40 years and could be found in almost every US household and households throughout the world.

What’s your background?

I spent my early developmental years on a rural segregated college campus in Texas (Prairie View A&M). My father taught on that campus and I had an opportunity to be exposed to almost all aspects of life there.

How did you get started in design?

I was directed by an instructor at college to turn my attention to design in my first year of school. I had a little success academically and stayed with it. I gave it 90 per cent of my energy and interest and that carried me through school. I then continued to pursue the profession after school as there weren’t many other options open to me. Joe Palmer and Henry Glass taught me. They were both high-profile industrial designers who I was really energised to be associated with. They recognised and rewarded me with good grades and the opportunity to visit their studios. They were very accommodating and passionate.Chuck Harrison working for Sears Roebuck in the 1960sChuck Harrison working for Sears Roebuck in the 1960s

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Getting through the segregated system in the United States and finding employment. Once I made my way through that I was able to proceed to develop a lifetime career. Other challenges were trying to live and pursue a professional career as a black person in America, which were really no different from those of any other black professionals. [For my design work] I needed drawing and model-making skills to perform and take a design concept forward to a client who would then accept it as an item that they would embrace, put it into their product list and support in their company. You had to be able to present what you’re thinking and convince a client that it’s worthy as a serious part of their company. Much like today. I had to rely on manual skills that people use the computer for today. You had to be able to draw well in order for your ideas to be accepted with little resistance and readily embraced and adopted.

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’d have to say Charles Eames for his chairs and furniture design. Elliot Noyes for his product designs, primarily typewriters for IBM. The directness, the images that they would put the products in. Simple, uncomplicated, clean forms with no superfluous decoration. I would adopt this in my work by keeping my designs as clean and pure as I could and keep the decorative components to the minimum; allow the form itself to be a strong image of the product – not decoration.

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

A plastic garbage can. A very strong form with a minimum of decoration, limited to texture, which is secondary to the form of the product. I enhanced the shape of the product, which allowed it the capability to nest, which gave it an advantage in shipping; it didn’t occupy a great volume and could be shipped in a small vehicle. It also didn’t require much warehouse space. The lid and the handle were moulded at the same time, which cut down on the tooling and moulding process. These considerations reduced the cost to the end user.The plastic garbage can

The plastic garbage can

What would be your dream job or project?

To connect with a manufacturer or company that could produce a product for public consumption with little consideration for profit margin but to give the the customer the best they could have in that design. To develop products for the severely disabled who need low-cost products to be able to live more independently; the need is there. That would be something I’d like to do, if the company shared my vision.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Follow this path for a life endeavour only if it’s sincerely for the love of it and you can survive mentally and physically and can distance yourself from the greed of financial gain.

What’s next for you?

Continue to be an ambassador for good design.Chuck Harrison with the updated Viewmaster

Chuck Harrison with the updated Viewmaster

This month’s network of events


Marvelous Color: An exhibition celebrating Black comic book super heroes can be seen through February 26 at the Caribbean Cultural Center, which is located at 1825 Park Av. Suite 602 New York, NY 10035. For more information, go to MarvelousColor.com.


The 2nd International Reggae Poster Contest 2013 Call for Entries. Closing date: 30 March. Celebrating Great Jamaican Music with an overarching aim of establishing a Frank Gehry-designed Reggae Hall of Fame Performance center in Kingston, Jamaica. Visit www.reggaepostercontest.com for details.


Design Indaba Conference 2013. The best of global creativity all on one stage. Hosted at Cape Town International Convention Centre. with live Simulcast is hosted at the same time at various venues around Southern Africa. From 27 Feb – March 1: www.designindaba.com.


In Seven Days: The story of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign told in seven iconic silkscreen prints by Nicola Green, who followed Obama and his campaign team across America as this historic journey unfolded. Runs until 14 April 2013. Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, St. George’s Quarter, Liverpool. UK. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.

Special thanks to Joeffrey Trimmingham for his assistance with this interview.

Blacklight Posters

In 1991 I went to New York to attend my great Uncle Belfield’s 95th birthday.

For the duration of the vacation I stayed with my Uncle Deuel and Aunty Lorraine in their house in Brooklyn. It was here that I first set eyes on my uncle’s small collection of Blacklight posters.

Adorning the walls of his den were these bold, funky and fluorescently colourful velvety images of 1970s Afro-American culture; depicting themes of a primarily ‘Black is Beautiful’ nature.

I fell in love with them too and my uncle very kindly let me take away a few.

I wholeheartedly intend to build on my small collection one day, but in the meantime here are some I have sourced from on the internet for your viewing pleasure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

About Blacklight Posters:

A Blacklight poster is a poster printed with inks which fluoresce under black light. The inks used contain phosphors which cause them to glow when exposed to the ultra violet light emitted from black lights.

In the United States, blacklight posters are commonly found in head shops and other retail outlets that sell items associated with counter culture. Blacklight posters commonly depict images of psychedelia, musicians/bands, African-American and hippie culture.


Cultural Figures

Growing up through the late 1960s and early 1970s, I think I am fairly typical of the British born, first generation offspring of West Indian parents, in my search for identity.

It took me a long time to come to terms with Britain being a part of who I am. There was little in the British culture that either appealed to me or I felt I could be a part of.

Any positive images or messages, were all coming from the West Indian culture of my family and the African American culture of the United States.

I was fortunate as a child to visit America on a few occasions to visit other members of my family living there. Everything about America seemed brighter, bolder, blacker and better.

The sheer volume of the sophisticated tv programming available such as ‘The Jeffersons’; cartoon series like ‘The Jackson 5’ and The Harlem Globetrotters; motion pictures like ‘Shaft’, ‘Car Wash’ and ‘The Wiz’; and the music, funk, soul and r’n’b that we could also access in the UK through import records or pirate radio all had a profound influence on me.

If I could have grown up in Harlem at that time, I could not have been happier.

And no doubt, this is a desire that has been instrumental in the nature of the collection of Action figures I have subsequently acquired.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Contrary to the childhood nature of the subject matter, I did not start collecting them until I was in my late twenties / early thirties. Possibly, the birth of my children was a major factor. But more likely, it is due to the rise of the internet, as the availability to scour the globe and find these items more easily became a reality.

My main focus is collecting figures from the 1970’s and 80’s, as they are naturally the rarest, and embody the period of time I most identify with.

One such figure that I am most proud of (and only recently acquired after a search for several years and many unsuccessful eBay bids) is the 1975 Shindana Super Agent Slade action figure.

A truly ‘superfly’ figure modelled on Richard Roundtree’s black private detective character, Shaft, it is highly sought after by collectors of this genre.

What’s next?

One day I hope to finally acquire a Medicom Jean Michel Basquiat RAH action figure. It’s not extremely rare, but it is extremely cool.

And at the end of the day that’s what its all about.

v-isionary: Georg Olden

In 1945, before Jackie Robinson played Major League baseball, or Marian Anderson sang at the Metropolitan Opera, Georg Olden, the grandson of a slave, took a job with CBS. There, as head of the network’s division of on-air promotions at the dawn of television, Olden pioneered the field of broadcast graphics. Working under CBS’s art director, William Golden, he supervised the identities of programs such as I Love LucyLassie andGunsmoke; helped produce the vote-tallying scoreboard for the first televised presidential election returns (the 1952 race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson); and collaborated with esteemed artists and designers, including David Stone Martin, Ed Benguiat, Alex Steinweiss and Bob Gill.

Olden was widely celebrated in his day. The 1981 reference book 250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography notes that between 1951 and 1960—the year Olden left CBS to work in advertising—his name appeared 108 times in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals. By 1970 he had won seven Clio awards and had even designed the Clio statuette in 1962, a figure inspired by Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture. Olden was respected not only for helping to usher TV from a fledgling industry into a golden age, but also for serving as a model for black America. Ebony magazine profiled him several times in the 1950s and ’60s as one who had grasped the opportunities offered by a new communications medium and risen to an executive rank. But it was far from easy. In 1954,Ebony reported that of the 72,400 people employed full-time in television, fewer than 200 were black. The jobs included “print-machine operator” and “wardrobe mistress.” “Acceptance is a matter of talent,” Olden told the magazine in 1963. “In my work I’ve never felt like a Negro. Maybe I’ve been lucky.”

By all accounts, Olden was endowed with many graces. Nina Blanchard, the writer of a 1965 Elegant magazine profile, observed that he was “awesomely handsome, extremely male, and very polite, all of which can be momentarily unsettling for a woman attempting to conduct a serious interview.” Arthur Young, a college classmate, remembered Olden’s “thriving wit and sense of humor.” Eve Lee, Olden’s niece, who is a professor of German at the University of Southern California, recalled, “I never saw him angry; I never saw him in a bad mood. Even when my brother [Everett] was teasing him, he just laughed it off.” The advertising luminary George Lois, who worked at CBS in the 1950s, also remembered Olden as someone who could take a joke: “I would say, ‘Georg, you’re one letter away from greatness!’”

Olden appeared to have settled on the unusual spelling of his first name when he was in his early twenties and occasionally sold cartoons to The New Yorker. “You have to do something to attract the attention of the magazine editors,” he later told Advertising Age in 1963. He was born George Elliott Olden in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 13, 1920, the son of a Baptist minister whose own father had escaped slavery and fought in a black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War. Olden’s mother, a New Orleans beauty from whom he apparently inherited his much admired looks, was a classically trained singer. Advised to abandon her husband for an operatic career, Olden’s mother instead performed at concerts and recitals around Washington, D.C., where the couple eventually settled with Georg and his older siblings, James Clarence and Sylvia. (The latter, under her married name, Sylvia Olden Lee, grew up to be a renowned musician and teacher. She was the first person of color to work at the Metropolitan Opera, where she coached many notable divas and has been credited with helping to bring about the groundbreaking appearances of both Marian Anderson and the baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr.)

Olden attended Dunbar High School in D.C. and nearby Virginia State College before dropping out shortly after Pearl Harbor to work as a graphic designer for the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA. When the war ended in 1945, his OSS supervisor recommended him to the agency’s communications director, Colonel Lawrence W. Lowman, who in civilian life was vice president of CBS’s TV division. From a one-man operation involved with six programs a week, Olden eventually headed a staff of 14 in charge of 60 weekly shows. When he joined the network in 1945, there were 16,000 TV sets in the entire U.S. By the time he left in 1960, there were 85 million sets, one for every two Americans.

Olden might have rested comfortably at CBS, but he soldiered on in corporate America, surmounting obstacles that barred many other people of color from advancement, despite the efforts of the civil rights movement. In 1960, he took a job as television group art director at the advertising agency BBDO. Ebony magazine photographed him in his windowed office on Madison Avenue and described him admiringly as “an artist, a dreamer, a designer, a thinker and a huckster.” In 1963, he joined an elite department within the ad agency McCann-Erickson. That year, he became the first African American to design a postage stamp—a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. At a White House ceremony with Olden in attendance, President John F. Kennedy praised the stamp as “a reminder of the extraordinary actions in the past as well as the business of the future.”

Georg Olden helped to ensure that future by inspiring other designers of color. Lowell Thompson, Michele Y. Washington and Frank Briggs are contemporary practitioners who have each claimed him as an inspiration and worked to bring his contributions to light. So it is infinitely regrettable that he soon parted company with the industries within which he blazed such notable trails. Olden died in Los Angeles in 1975, at the age of 54. In a posthumous edition of Who’s Who, he supplied his own unconscious epitaph: “As the first black American to achieve an executive position with a major corporation, my goal was the same as that of Jackie Robinson in baseball: to achieve maximum respect and recognition by my peers, the industry and the public, thereby hopefully expanding acceptance of, and opportunities for, future black Americans in business.”

Olden succeeded in his ambitions. For the design field there is no higher symbol of respect and recognition than the AIGA Medal. And today there are African Americans running corporations such as Time Warner, Merrill Lynch and American Express. He left this world prematurely, but Olden is survived by his legacy of creative and professional accomplishment that deserves to be treasured.