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Paula Scher—Keynote Presentation

Caption placeholder: poster for Shakespeare in the Park (Paula Scher)

Thur., Nov. 5 | Paula Scher’s name and visual style as a renowned graphic designer may be more familiar to other attendees of the 2020 APHA/Hamilton Wood Type Museum Awayzgoose than they were to me. But her work over the last quarter-century for New York’s Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park are immediately identifiable with their stark, uncompromising emphasis on typography. As she said, the identity she developed for the Public Theater “became New York.”

In her keynote, Scher, whose book Twenty-Five Years at the Public, a Love Story (published earlier this year by Princeton Architectural Press) described her long relationship with the Public Theater, her first major project for the design firm Pentagram. She talked in detail about her initial conception of a graphic identity for Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, based on the use of a single typeface, and the many ways in which that identity evolved and adapted with changing circumstances, times, and personalities. 

Scher’s reminiscences about this 25-year partnership with the Public, and her comments about the creative development it embodies, were fascinating, as was her clear satisfaction in the work, which registered alongside a striking humility. Rather than bombarding us with slide after slide of her work, her presentation reflected the economy and subtlety of her style and the unique identity she developed for the theater.

In her Q&A with Bill Moran, Scher spoke warmly of her interest in, and use of, wood type and the influence of that interest on her students and colleagues. She also shared her delight in the reaction of non-designers to the visual vocabulary she developed for the theater’s seasons. She conveyed a genuine pleasure and satisfaction with her long and fruitful relationship with the Public.