Mil­ton Glaser, 91, an in­flu­en­tial graphic de­signer, put the heart in New York’s slo­gan.


The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY FRED A. BERN­STEIN new­so­bits@wash­

Mil­ton Glaser, whose creation of the I ♥ NY logo, as well as hun­dreds of other projects, helped make him one of the most in­flu­en­tial graphic de­sign­ers of his gen­er­a­tion, died at an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity in Man­hat­tan on June 26, his 91st birth­day.

The cause was com­pli­ca­tions from a stroke, said his stu­dio man­ager, Ig­na­cio Ser­rano.

In a ca­reer span­ning six decades, Mr. Glaser lent his tal­ents to books, pe­ri­od­i­cals and posters — the usual prov­ince of graphic de­sign­ers — as well as to films, restau­rant in­te­ri­ors and pub­lic art­works.

With ed­i­tor Clay Felker, he co-founded New York magazine in 1968 and went on to de­sign hun­dreds of is­sues that “es­tab­lished the for­mat for the nowu­biq­ui­tous city magazine,” said Michael Bierut, a prom­i­nent New York graphic de­signer.

How­ever, Mr. Glaser’s renown rested fore­most on the I ♥ NY mo­tif, which was adapted, with slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions, around the world. “Peo­ple ev­ery­where were anx­ious to say, ‘I love some­thing,’ ” Mr. Glaser said in a 2019 in­ter­view for this obit­u­ary.

So pop­u­lar was the for­mu­la­tion that it be­came a kind of logo for the Bronx-born Mr. Glaser him­self. With a deep voice, pre­cise elo­cu­tion and ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers of de­scrip­tion, he served as a de facto spokesman for his pro­fes­sion. He was the only graphic de­signer ever to re­ceive the Na­tional Medal of Arts, be­stowed on him by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2010.

“At a time when Euro­pean de­sign­ers, es­pe­cially in Switzer­land, were defin­ing the terms of van­guard de­sign, Mil­ton Glaser helped launch an al­ter­na­tive ethos rooted in Amer­i­can pop cul­ture and coun­ter­cul­ture,” said Ellen Lup­ton, se­nior cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary de­sign at the Cooper He­witt, Smith­so­nian De­sign Mu­seum. “His more per­sonal, nar­ra­tive and per­mis­sive de­sign phi­los­o­phy it­self be­came a world­wide phe­nom­e­non.”

One of Mr. Glaser’s most im­por­tant early com­mis­sions came in 1966, when Columbia Records hired him to de­sign a poster to be pack­aged with the “Bob Dy­lan’s Great­est Hits” LP. He cre­ated a sil­hou­ette of Dy­lan with a mane of twisted, brightly col­ored locks. More than 6 mil­lion copies were printed, mak­ing the poster a sig­na­ture ar­ti­fact of the “psy­che­delic era.” (Mr. Glaser later de­signed posters for such en­ter­tain­ers as Mick Jag­ger, Aretha Franklin and Jerry Garcia.)

Mr. Glaser traced the ori­gins of the Dy­lan de­sign to a Mar­cel Duchamp self-por­trait from the 1950s and the jewel-like col­ors of Is­lamic art.

He of­ten drew on the past to cre­ate im­ages that seemed to cap­ture the present. For the 1993 Broad­way run of Tony Kush­ner’s Pulitzer- and Tony-win­ning drama “An­gels in Amer­ica,” Mr. Glaser de­signed a poster in­spired by Al­brecht Dürer’s 16th-cen­tury wa­ter­color “Wing of a Euro­pean Roller.”

In 1977, the New York State De­part­ment of Com­merce launched an ad cam­paign to at­tract tourists and, not in­ci­den­tally, im­prove the morale of New York­ers amid a crime wave and fi­nan­cial cri­sis that had New York City tee­ter­ing on bankruptcy. Mr. Glaser was tasked with cre­at­ing a logo to ac­com­pany the state’s new slo­gan: “I love New York.”

He drew the orig­i­nal logo, with a heart in place of the word “love,” in the back of a taxi. That draw­ing, in red crayon on a scrap of pa­per, is now housed in the Mu­seum of Modern Art. Mr. Glaser re­ceived a nom­i­nal fee, which he ac­cepted be­cause he ex­pected the cam­paign to last, at most, a few months.

“There was a sense of des­per­a­tion, de­spair, and also im­po­tence that fol­lows these kinds of con­di­tions,’’ Mr. Glaser told the New York Times in 2008.

“It is one of those pe­cu­liar­i­ties of your own life where you don’t know the con­se­quences of your own ac­tions. Who in the world would have thought that this silly lit­tle bit of ephemera would be­come one of the most per­va­sive im­ages of the 20th cen­tury?”

Mr. Glaser’s other sem­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion to New York iconog­ra­phy was the magazine he founded with Felker, who once called Mr. Glaser “a gi­gan­tic cre­ative force.”

His “densely packed lay­outs and il­lus­trated ‘best-of ’ lis­ti­cles,’ ” Bierut noted, “be­came the vis­ual corol­lary to the brand of ur­ban ser­vice jour­nal­ism that Felker pi­o­neered.”

Among his other con­tri­bu­tions to the magazine, Mr. Glaser cowrote (with Jerome Sny­der) “The Un­der­ground Gourmet,” a col­umn about af­ford­able restau­rants. The col­umn and guide­book by the same name helped shift at­ten­tion from haute cui­sine to var­ied eth­nic fare.

Mr. Glaser de­signed restau­rant lo­gos and menus and even in­te­ri­ors, in­clud­ing that of the Win­dows on the World restau­rant atop the World Trade Cen­ter. He also reimag­ined the strug­gling Grand Union su­per­mar­ket chain at the be­hest of its owner, ty­coon James Gold­smith. Mr. Glaser be­gan by giv­ing the chain a new logo: a bright red cir­cle nes­tled in the let­ter A. He then tack­led la­bels, signs and the de­signs of the stores them­selves, plac­ing gi­ant pears in front of some. Mr. Glaser said the gro­cery-store makeover ap­pealed to him be­cause it was anti-elit­ist.

The son of Jewish im­mi­grants from Hun­gary who ran a dry clean­ing busi­ness, Mil­ton Glaser was born June 26, 1929, and was raised in a Bronx hous­ing com­plex dubbed Lit­tle Mos­cow for its pop­u­la­tion of left­ists. Some res­i­dents were la­bor and civil rights ac­tivists who cham­pi­oned racially in­te­grated hous­ing.

He later told the Times that grow­ing up amid that fer­ment was “like heaven” dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. “You had this enor­mous com­mit­ment to the idea of hu­man pos­si­bil­ity, that you didn’t have to just ac­cept ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, you could change your­self and change so­ci­ety.”

At 8, he de­vel­oped rheumatic fever and spent a year-long con­va­les­cence in bed. He passed the time cre­at­ing an en­tire city of fig­urines from the pounds of clay his mother brought him. “Art had redeemed my life,” he told Be­liever magazine, “be­cause I was never bored for a minute that whole year.”

As the years passed, young Mil­ton be­came known for his abil­ity to draw al­most any­thing, as well as for his en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­stincts; he sketched naked women for older boys for a nickel apiece.

He stud­ied at the High School of Mu­sic & Art in Man­hat­tan, for which he later de­signed a logo, pro bono. With let­ters ar­ranged on a mu­si­cal staff, it was, he said, the only logo in the world that could be sung. After grad­u­at­ing in 1947, he en­rolled at Man­hat­tan’s Cooper Union.

At the time, graphic de­sign­ers learned a mod­ernist style that es­chewed col­or­ful flour­ishes. But a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship, after Mr. Glaser grad­u­ated in 1951, took him to Italy, where he ab­sorbed cen­turies of art his­tory and stud­ied with Gior­gio Mo­randi, a pain­ter of still-lifes so pared down they were con­sid­ered revo­lu­tion­ary.

“It shifted me from mod­ernism as the only re­source to draw on,” he said. “His­tory was not the en­emy. You could use any­thing as raw ma­te­rial to make some­thing.”

Re­turn­ing to New York, Mr. Glaser had to de­cide whether to pur­sue fine art or com­mer­cial art — a dis­tinc­tion he even­tu­ally helped erode. He set­tled on com­mer­cial art be­cause, he said, “I wanted to do work that was pub­lic. I wanted to do work that was on the street. I wanted to do work that peo­ple saw.”

From 1954 to 1974, Mr. Glaser ran Push Pin Studios, which, he said, “cel­e­brated all the things that the mod­ernists taught us to hate.” Among those was sur­re­al­ism. In many of his il­lus­tra­tions, Mr. Glaser jux­ta­posed items of vastly dif­fer­ent scales, cre­at­ing a slightly fan­tas­ti­cal ef­fect rem­i­nis­cent of the work of René Magritte.

When he felt that his out­put had be­come repet­i­tive, Mr. Glaser dis­banded the stu­dio. “Push Pin had be­come a style,” he said, “and I don’t trust style.” He con­tin­ued to work — un­der the aegis of Mil­ton Glaser Inc. — in a red brick build­ing on East 32nd Street that he bought in 1965. (He sold the build­ing in 2019.)

Mr. Glaser cul­ti­vated an in­for­mal of­fice en­vi­ron­ment that re­warded con­stant in­ter­ac­tion, even in­ter­rup­tion. He never had to write a memo, he once said, be­cause ev­ery­body who worked for him heard every­thing that hap­pened in the of­fice.

From 1968 to 1977, he de­voted much of his time to New York magazine. In 1983, he and Wal­ter Bernard, an­other prom­i­nent de­signer, opened a pub­li­ca­tion de­sign firm called WBMG. They de­signed or re­designed scores of pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post, the Vil­lage Voice, Esquire, Paris Match and the Brazil­ian news­pa­per O Globo, ef­forts chron­i­cled in a 2019 book, by Glaser and Bernard, called “Mag Men.”

Mr. Glaser’s other pub­li­ca­tions in­cluded the book “The De­sign of Dis­sent,” a vol­ume pub­lished in 2005 with his fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Mirko Ilic, doc­u­ment­ing protest posters, but­tons and the like, a few of them by Mr. Glaser. He was the sub­ject of a 2008 doc­u­men­tary, “Mil­ton Glaser: To In­form and De­light.”

In 1957, he mar­ried Shirley Gir­ton, a Cooper Union grad­u­ate who be­came an artist, au­thor and gallery di­rec­tor. The cou­ple col­lab­o­rated on sev­eral il­lus­trated books, osten­si­bly for chil­dren. She is his only im­me­di­ate sur­vivor.

Mr. Glaser men­tored sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents, first at Cooper Union and then at the School of Vis­ual Arts, an art and de­sign col­lege in Man­hat­tan where he even­tu­ally served as act­ing board chair and to which he do­nated his ar­chives.

In his later years, Mr. Glaser took on such clients as the Brook­lyn Brew­ery and the Theatre for a New Au­di­ence and de­voted more time to his first love: draw­ing. “Mak­ing art, he said, “is an ex­pres­sion of a very fun­da­men­tal in­stinct of the species.”

He was so closely associated with the psy­che­delic era that in 2014, the pro­duc­ers of “Mad Men,” the AMC drama set in the ad­ver­tis­ing world, asked him to de­sign a poster for the se­ries’s fi­nal sea­son, set in 1969 and 1970. And after the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, he cre­ated a vari­ant of the I ♥ NY logo fea­tur­ing a wounded heart and the phrase, “I ♥ New York More Than Ever.”


New York Gov. Hugh Carey holds a T-shirt with Mil­ton Glaser’s logo in 1977. In 1966, Glaser cre­ated a sil­hou­ette of Bob Dy­lan with brightly col­ored curly locks that be­came a sig­na­ture ar­ti­fact of the era.

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