Michael Harvey – In His Own Words

A new exhibition at the Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk celebrates the work of the late lettering artist, engraver, book jacket designer and teacher Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey – In His Own Words will feature teaching aids, notebooks, drawings and book cover designs from throughout Harvey’s 60-year career, which began in the 1950s when he found a summer job with Eric Gill’s first apprentice, Joseph Cribb.

After serving an apprenticeship with engraver Reynolds Stone, Harvey went on to design over 1500 book jackets for publishers Hodder & Stoughton, MacMillan, Chatto & Windus, Hamish Hamilton, Methuen and The Bodley Head, working on novels by Graham Greene, James Joyce and Norman Mailer. He also created several memorials, including a headstone for poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and an 18-inch frieze for the National Gallery in London.

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Angus & Wag-Tail-Bess by Marjorie Flack, published by Bodley Head. Lead image (top): Michael Harvey’s National Gallery Sainsbury wing Frieze
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Photo of the inside of a concrete mould for a sundial for Ian Hamilton Finlay, created by Harvey
Michael Harvey carving letters into the National Gallery Sainsbury Wing
Michael Harvey carving letters into the National Gallery Sainsbury Wing in London

In the 1960s, Harvey began teaching at Bournemouth and Poole College until practical lettering was no longer a core part of the syllabus. He returned to education in the 1990s, working at the University of Reading, where he encouraged students to get away from their computers and work with traditional lettering tools. His work wasn’t just limited to analogue type, however – he also designed typefaces for Monotype and Adobe including Ellington, Conga Brava, Moonglow, Braff, Jazzbo and Zoot (named after famous jazz players and songs) and in 2000, he established FineFonts with type designer Andy Benedek, releasing Victorian, Gothic and brush script fonts as well as designs based on his friezes and book jacket lettering.

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Michael Harvey designed the covers for Howard Spring’s novels, published by Collins, from 1963-71. Speaking about his work, he said: ‘When a commission for one jacket becomes a series the designer has to adapt the original layout for a variety of titles and colours. Ideally the commission will be for a series so the designer can allow for such variations. Collins decided to spring a series on me after the single title had been a success and launched what became the ‘Howard Spring Collection’.
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Robert McLaughlin – ‘The Notion of Sin’ (1959) for publisher Michael Joseph. Michael Harvey’s caption from his book ‘Adventures with Letters’ describes the cover as one of a series of his early jackets “employing the new graphic tricks: Zippatone textures, shapes, letters reversed out of shapes, letters linked, sans serifs, slab serifs, pointed serifs, adventures with double lines”

Harvey was made an MBE for services to art in 2001 and in 2012, published an illustrated memoir of his life and work, titled Adventures with Letters. His work remains less widely known among the general public than other leading type designers – but curator Nicholas Sloan says he hopes the exhibition will help educate visitors about Harvey’s many achievements. “This should be one of those exhibitions about people who were at the top of their game, but only really known to others in the same field: a compact personal retrospective. I’d like people to go away saying ‘Wow, what a cracking draughtsman; how come I never heard of him?’” says Sloan.

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90th birthday edition of P.G. Wodehouse’s The World of Jeeves, published by Barrie & Jenkins (1972)

Michael Harvey – In His Own Words opens at the Lettering Arts Centre, Snape Maltings, Suffolk IP17 1SP on March 25 until May 28. Admission is free. For details, see letteringartstrust.org.uk

A-Z
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Alfred Hitchcock: A Month of Mystery by Max Reinhardt, published by Bodley Head (1970)
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A Thousand Days by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, published by Deutsch-Hutchinson (1965)

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