Cover for Tennessee Williams’ In the Winter of Cities, New Directions, 1957
A new site dedicated to the work of US graphic designer and artist Elaine Lustig Cohen, who turned 88 earlier this month, has been launched by Kind Company. It’s a fantastic resource – and in bringing her work to a wider audience, it’s one of the best examples of online design biography out there…
Homepage of Elaine Lustig Cohen‘s new site
Created by Greg D’Onofrio and Patricia Belen – the founders of the excellent Display site – elainelustigcohen.com features over 400 examples of her book designs, catalogues, logos, advertising work, signage and interiors commissions, supplemented by her collage and painting. In the process of creating this vast body of work, Lustig Cohen developed her own brand of American modernism.
“My life as an artist has been shaped by two passions,” she writes in her artist’s statement to the site, “for graphic design created in the public sphere on the one hand, and by the exploration of a related private vision in painting, on the other.”
Work for Meridian Books and Museums
As the pair recently told Steven Heller, Elaine Firstenberg – as she was then known – began working as a design assistant to Alvin Lustig in California in the late 1940s. The pair were married in 1948 and moved to New York at the invitation of Josef Albers who wanted them to start a graphic design programme at Yale.
When Lustig died (aged just 40), Elaine began to work as an independent graphic designer; her first project was to continue the work that Lustig had started on signage for the famous Seagram Building.
Around the same time, as Heller explains in his informative biography on the new site, “Arthur Cohen, book publisher and the Lustigs’ best friend, insisted that Elaine design Meridian Books’ new line of paperbacks. Alvin designed the first 25 and Elaine went on to do more than 100 more. Those jackets helped distinguish her more freeform style from Alvin’s late-period precisionist approach.
A Reviewer’s ABC book cover, Meridian Books, 1958
Catalogue of Catalogues, Ex Libris, 1982
“In addition to jackets and covers,” Heller continues, “Elaine designed lobby signs and catalogs for the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Primitive Art, Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center (in conjunction with Chermayeff & Geismar, on signage that was never adopted) and the 1964 New York World’s Fair, creating graphic design for the architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz.”
Together with Cohen, whom she married in 1956, Elaine also set up the book shop, Ex Libris, that specialised in avant-garde titles. “Although she still accepted the occasional client,” says Heller, “Elaine primarily did the Ex Libris catalogs, which she would design in an appropriate historical manner”.
Graphic design work, including an invitation for the Water Resources Council, 1958
The new website is a well thought out introduction to Lustig Cohen’s long life in graphic design and worth a visit if you’re unfamiliar with her work.
“Elaine Lustig Cohen began in her husband’s shadow, yet emerged among her male counterparts as an exemplar of contemporary graphic design and typography,” writes Heller. Through Ex Libris, she became a fount of design history and a wise and generous resource for scholars and students of design. She is a living link between design’s modernist past and its continually changing present.”
Building signage, including work for 375 Park Avenue, The House of Seagram, 1957
ABC Glow art print, 2005