Tag Georg Olden

Nine Fine Design Pioneers

This month, in recognition of the US celebration of Black History Month, Four Corners breaks from convention to profile not one person, but nine people. Taking a moment to reflect on some of the historical achievements of African-American creative pioneers. The short biographies presented can in no way do justice to these esteemed people, but instead are designed to stimulate your natural curiosity to look further into the contribution made by these extraordinary men and women. Although all of the people featured here are no longer with us, they each made an indelible mark on the cultural and creative landscape and blazed a trail for others to follow. #Respect.Stamp featuring Madam CJ WalkerStamp featuring Madam CJ Walker

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, cosmetics designer, marketer and entrepreneur (1867-1919)

Way, way before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove, or Madam CJ Walker as she is more commonly known. The first child in her family born free from slavery just after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this incredible woman made her fortune designing, developing and marketing a highly successful range of beauty and haircare products for black women via the business she founded, Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company. Regarded as the first US female self-made millionaire, Walker proved herself to be a great philanthropist, using her wealth to support many black organisations such as the NAACP plus a number of schools, orphanages, individuals, and retirement homes. Her achievements have been celebrated by many prominent institutions, most notably, The National Women’s Hall of Fame and on a postage stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage USA series. For more information visit www.madamcjwalker.com.O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles DawsonSource: University of Illinois  O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson, illustrator and designer (1889-1981)

As one of Chicago’s leading black artists and designers in the 1920s and ’30s, Charles Clarence Dawson made his name creating illustrated advertisments for beauty products and many of the major black businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day, including the pioneering black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Born in Brunswick, Georgia to hard-working parents, and a student of Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute, he more than paid his dues working a variety of odd jobs to pay the tuition to become the first African American admitted to the Arts Students League in New York. He later went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, was a founding member of Chicago’s first Black Arts collective (the Arts & Letters Society) and an integral part of the New Negro Movement in the visual arts or more commonly referred to as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-charles-dawson.Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WashingtonSource: Sarah Stierch  Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Aaron Douglas, illustrator and designer (1889-1975)

Another leading figure and architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas’ bold geometric and angular illustrations alongside the philosopher, Alain Locke’s insightful prose, featured prominently in the landmark 1925 publication, The New Negro. His work enabled the formation of a new visual language that embraced a distinct African heritage. It was a style that found its way onto many a publication cover and would later become known as ‘Afro-Cubism’. His work also translated beautifully into designs for wall murals, the best example of which is calledAspects of Negro Life’ created in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, or as it is now called, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-aaron-douglas.The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Williams was consulted on the designSource: brew books The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Revere Williams was consulted on the design

Paul Revere Williams, architect (1894-1980)

At the height of his career, Paul Revere Williams was popularly described as the ‘architect to the Stars’. This is an incredible accolade and achievement, not least for someone who was orphaned at a very young age, but also as a African American growing up through times of some of the most overt racism imaginable. In spite of all this, and encouraged by a foster mother who nurtured his education and artistic talent, he let his work ethic and perfectionist nature speak for itself. Earning academic awards, winning competition prizes and the respect of  both colleagues and clients along the way, he founded his own architectural practice in 1922 and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. For almost 40 years, his home designs were commissioned by the Hollywood elite of celebrities, movie stars and powerful and wealthy Californian individuals. For more information visit www.paulrwilliamsproject.org.Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-StreatSource: Joaquin Marinez Rosado Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-Streat

Thelma Johnson-Streat, painter, illustrator, muralist and textile designer(1911-1959)

Against all the odds, this exceptional African American ‘Renaissance-woman’, gained recognition from an early age through her Art. A passion, which she expressed through many different channels and subsequently gained recognition for all of them. Whether working with celebrated Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera; becoming the First African-American woman to have her work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as a teacher and activist promoting cultural diversity through art; or performing a dance recital for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in the 1950’s; it was all done with her customary grace, style and sophistication. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Johnson_Streat.Emancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg OldenEmancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg Olden

Georg Olden, designer and art director (1929-1975)

A man very much after my own heart, Georg Olden produced outstanding commercial work for some of America’s biggest corporations. As CBS’s Head of on-air promotions, in the early days of television, he pioneered the field of broadcast graphics, supervising the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke, under the wing of leading art director, William Golden. If that wasn’t enough, he turned his attention to advertising, winning shelfloads awards and mentions in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals continuously. In fact, the Clio Awards statuette of which he won several, was designed by him in 1962. He was the first black American to achieve an executive position in major corporation and also went on to become the first African American to design a postage stamp; a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not bad going for the grandson of slave. For more information visit www.aiga.org/medalist-georgolden.Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank BraxtonSource: Kevin Dooley Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank Braxton

Frank Braxton, animator (1929-1969)

Let’s paint the scene. America. The 1950s. And Jim Crow laws of racial segregation are still in place. How the hell does a black animator get his foot in the door as an animator at Warner Bros Animation? Well, the story goes that animator Benny Washam walked into the office of his production manager Johnny Burton and said, ‘I hear Warner Bros. has a racist policy and refuses to hire blacks.’ A furious Burton wheeled around in his office chair and shouted, ‘Whoever said that is a liar! It’s not true.’ ‘Well then,’ said Washam, ‘There’s a young black animator outside who’s looking for a job. Guess he’s come to the right place.’ That man was, of course, Frank Braxton, who went on to become part of the team at the legendary Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Many of Jones’ amazing cartoons of the 1950’s would contain substantial contributions from Braxton. He also served as a director for The Bullwinkle Show, Mr. Magoo, Charlie Brown TV specials and early Cap’n Crunch  commercials. For more information visit jimhillmedia.com/columnists1/b/floyd_norman/archive.US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by Norma Merrick SklarekSource: jarsyl US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by
Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect (1928-2012)

As a first generation African-American, born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Norma Merrick Sklarek would go on to accomplish many more ‘firsts’, building an unparalleled career as a pioneering women architect. She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966. Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African-American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_Merrick_Sklarek.Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry LawsonSource: Mulad Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, video games designer (1940-2011)

His name may not be as synonymous with the gaming industry as PlayStation and Nintendo, but Jerry Lawson’s innovative technological design and engineering work helped pave the way for them to follow. For Jerry made history when he created the first ever cartridge-based video game console, The Fairchild Channel F. Hailing from humble beginnings in a housing project in Jamaica, New York, his passion and talent for technology was to take him far, becoming Head of the Fairfield Channel F project where he and his team designed many of its prototyped components. Always looking to push the systems capabilities beyond just cartridge gaming, they put together a daring initiative called TV Pow, which was the first, and only video game played via broadcast television. For more information visitclassicgames.about.com/od/classicvideogames101/p/JerryLawson.



Acasa 16th Triennial Symposium On African Art at the Brooklyn Museum will consider the full range of topics related to the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora currently being addressed by ACASA members, from considerations of the archaeological and archival contexts of historical African art to examinations of emerging artistic practices on and off the continent. Like the accomplished Lega elder who once used a three-headed sakimatwemtwe figure, ACASA members look to the future and the past, simultaneously. For more info visit www.acasaonline.org


Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014. Since its inaugural Festival in 1997, BIFF has remained steadfast in its mission statement: to advance the love of independent film in a community welcoming to filmmakers and filmgoers and to encourage and inspire young Bermudians to capture their very special narrative through the lens of a camera. This year’s festival runs from 21-27 March.  For more information visit www.biff.bm.


Still Fighting Ignorance & Intellectual Perfidy: Video Art From Africa presents a selection of African video art that stands beyond the clichés that remain associated with the dark continent and the postcolonial image. It seeks to bring viewers closer to idiosyncratic readings of African video art and its thematic concerns, which are largely ignored. Runs 13-30 March at BEN URI Gallery & Museum, London, United Kingdom. For info visitwww.benuri.org.uk.

“Haute Africa” – At Photofestival Knokke-Heist 2014. From March up to June 2014, Knokke-Heist will once again focus on contemporary photography. The highlight of the festival is the outdoor exhibition, entitled “Haute Africa”, in which international leading artists and photographers such as Martin Parr, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Viviane Sassen, Yinka Shonibare and many others offer an alternative perspective on the contemporary African continent.For more info visit fotofestival.knokke-heist.be/en


‘Du Bois in Our Time’ Final presentations of works by Ghanaian and UK artists, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Adwoa Amoah, Ato Annan, Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, Serge Clottey, Kelvin Haizel, Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh , Mawuli Toffah, and Mary Evans. Mullti-media and site specific works will be presented in the Du Bois Museum and Mausoleum after several months of reflecting on the legacy of civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in our present era.
Opening events will include a discussion, talk with artists and scholars, poetry and workshops over the 2 days. The entire programme of ‘Du Bois in our time’ Accra was sponsored by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. For more info visit www.nubukefoundation.org

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

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.

Race, Revenue and Representation

Creative Review | CRIT Article | October 2011

In contemporary art and design, context is everything. Where the medium and the moment come together forms a powerful and resonant statement.

So here we are – the context is 2011 where Obama, the most powerful man on Earth, is of African origin. Barriers are being broken down across all market sectors and territories. And there is a shift of economic power from the western world to the emerging markets of Asia, Latin-America and Africa, where over 100 domestic companies boast revenues greater than $1billion.

It’s all part of an African renaissance that has been taking place for several years. A renaissance that’s evident in the media, with the arrival of high quality publications like Arise magazine; online environments such as the African Digital Artists Network; and new African cinema as evidenced in Wanuri Kahui’s futuristic sci-fi movie, Pumzi. All are united by a desire to portray a dynamic, progressive image of The Motherland.

From a UK design perspective we have seen new initiatives arrive, primarily in the form of the African and African-Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD). A three-year programme, initiated by the British European Design Group (BEDG), its aim is to promote the creative skills of ethnic minorities of African and African-Caribbean heritage.

It is in part a response to statistics which show that minority ethnic groups are significantly under-represented in the art and design scene in the UK. In fact, Design Council research in 2010 revealed that just 7% of designers are from a minority ethnic background.

So the staging of the Royal College of Art’s recent Black exhibition, a collaboration between the AACDD and the RCA which celebrated the art and design of the college’s African and African Caribbean alumni, could be seen as particularly timely.

It was an opportunity to acknowledge talented artists and designers that may be marginalised and bring them to public attention. But while I applaud the intention, after viewing the show my thoughts soon turned to the issue of ‘presentation’ rather than ‘under-representation’.

The work was eclectic and of a standard you would expect from the RCA, but many of its more renowned black alumni, such as Chris Ofili and David Adjaye, were missing. Their absence was felt.  But even if they were included, the way the exhibition was presented – it looked like it had been put together in a short space of time with limited resources, plus the fact it was only on for a week – left me feeling dismayed.

When asked in an interview with The Guardian as to what advice he has for aspiring black artists, Frank Bowling – now in his 70s and the first black artist to be elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 2005, and whose work featured in the RCA show – says, “Go to the museums and make art that can measure up to the museums. Make art better than anything you’ve ever seen before.”

And while the statistics may suggest otherwise, my own personal experience is that the creative industry has always been a relatively level playing field – where ‘race’ is overtaken by ‘revenue’ every time. If you have the creative talent and commercially exploitable skills, then colour doesn’t come into it.

However, the problem is getting your foot in the door to showcase your skills in the first place. In a world where ‘who you know’ can make a world of difference, that’s not so easy if you don’t know anyone in the industry. And this is where the issue of ‘under-representation’ is a major problem.

For me, the acknowledgement of and addressing of history is also key. You only need one light to shine a path for others to follow.

And we, in the African and African-Caribbean community have to play our part; by understanding our own history and ensuring the stories are told. By holding open the door for others to come in and recognising those who have made in-roads in the industry, but have not had the acknowledgement they deserve.

Only recently did I discover the existence of two African American advertising pioneers: Georg Olden and Archie Boston. As a VP senior art director of McCann-Erickson in New York, Olden was one of the first African-American executives in a major advertising firm. One of the original ‘Mad Men’ he was a leading artist and graphic designer and won numerous major advertising awards and recognized by AIGA.

Although many have forgotten his name, he developed many of the graphical techniques that became standard in the TV and advertising industries. He not only won several Clio Awards, but also designed the actual Clio statuette and is cited as having been involved in the design of the the famous CBS logo.

Another design pioneer, Archie Boston, then emulated Olden’s success. A nationally recognised art director, designer, author and educator, who in 2007, was the first African American to receive the prestigious AIGA Fellows Award from AIGA Los Angeles.

Boston comes from a time often referred to as the Golden Age of advertising. In the sixties he rolled with many of the biggest players such as Saul Bass and Louis Danziger, both design legends who personally did much to champion the inclusion of African-American graphic designers in their practices.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Boston about the issues faced by his generation and what he felt were the issues facing black designers today. “The challenges were much greater for us then, than they are now,” he recalls. “There was a time when I worked for a whole year on a project and never saw the client because the firm were worried about them realising the work was being done by an African-American.”

But now, Boston suggests, “the biggest challenge is motivation, in spite of all the problems that exist in society, to be strongly motivated enough to say, ‘I know I can do it and I’m going to work very hard to do it’. There are so many distractions,” he continues. “And now with the challenges of unemployment – there just aren’t as many jobs as there used to be – the profession is changing and you have to be adaptable to change with it.”

Boston’s words resonate with me because I can see how easily lack of motivation, plus lack of opportunity, plus lack of connections can all add up to suggest why there is a lack of ethnic minorities in the industry.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to highlight the talents of a particular group or community: they would be included naturally as part of a global show of talent. But it is not an ideal world. Sure, we have role models. But they never seem to be held up quite high enough, or long enough, for all to see.

– Jon Daniel.