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Paul Shaw

The 2006 Winner

Paul Shaw on W. A. Dwiggins

The 2006 Fellowship was held by Paul Shaw. The fellowship goes to support Mr. Shaw’s research on American designer, artist, calligrapher and illustrator William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956) whose biography he is writing. There is no full-length, comprehensive biography of Dwiggins (WAD) and the standard bibliography lacks more than 150 items which his research has uncovered. WAD was incontrovertibly important to the history of American design and typography. Mr. Shaw writes:

“Dwiggins was a book designer, commercial artist, type designer, illustrator and calligrapher/letterer. He wrote extensively on various aspects of the graphic arts and, privately, created an entire marionette theater. In all of these fields he was an influential figure. Through his work for Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Dwiggins brought the high standards of fine printing to mass market books. Similarly, with his type designs for Mergenthaler Linotype, he attempted to put machine composition on a par with foundry type.”

Although Dwiggins is best known for his work in these two fields, his career as a commercial artist from c.1905 to the end of the 1920s is equally deserving of attention. He was a leading figure in the transition from commercial art to graphic design, coining the latter term in 1922 to describe the changed nature of the business by that time. His work in advertising was summed up in Layout in Advertising (1928). As a commercial artist Dwiggins was highly revered by his contemporaries for his illustration, his decoration and his lettering. In the 1920s he developed a unique form of stencil illustration and decoration with Art Deco overtones. Independently of the English Arts & Crafts movement, he pioneered broad-pen calligraphy in the United States. His later lettering, despite echoes of Caslon and Bodoni, was often idiosyncratic. Combined with his stencil designs they made his mature work uncategorizable: neither pure Art Deco nor Bauhaus modern nor classical. With their mix of satire and common sense, Dwiggins’ writings—especially An Investigation Into the Physical Properties of Books (1919), Towards a Reform of the Currency, Particularly in Point of Its Design (1932), and A Technique for Dealing with Artists (1941)—were a sharp contrast to the earnest manifestoes and dull treatises of his contemporaries. In addition, for his own enjoyment, Dwiggins wrote fantasies and plays. The latter provided the basis for his private marionette theater. His marionette designs were applauded by specialists for their revolutionary method of articulation, and, more importantly, they inspired the M-Formula he used to design typefaces during the 1940s.

Mr. Shaw expects to include much previously unpublished biographical material, particularly from WAD’s childhood and his early career as a commercial artist. He further plans to complete his bibliographical research on WAD this summer.