Our visual world is made up of many bits and pieces. It is the fragments merging together to make up a whole that really make a difference in what we see. Taken alone, these individual parts tend to go unnoticed by most people. For example in architecture, it is the color of the stone, the decoration, the lettering on the sign above the door or the carved letters on a gravestone that help define the structure and create a feeling.
Lettering is a small part of the ornamentation of an architectural structure. It is generally the colossus of the structure itself that grabs the eye first, but if you look carefully and take in the entirety of a structure, a visual reward is there waiting and it is often in the letters of the words that adorn it.
Words are as much a part of our visual landscape as the buildings, streets and trees or the people we see every day. A vibrant visual world indeed. Many of us are inured to the most vulgar visual sights, as well as the sublime. Some of us don’t even notice the first spring flowers or the glowering flashing lights of a neon sign, advertising a dingy car service business. We may take a second glance but we easily move on, letting our eyes wonder aimlessly, registering nothing. But really there is much to admire in the letters of the words that plaster our visual landscape. It is the design of the letters that make words noticeable. Most us recognize what we like in structures all over the city without really even knowing why. Buildings are adorned with incised or raised letters above entryways, signs are brightly lit and splashes of paint in cryptic words jump off building walls on dimly lit streets. These visual displays are designed as a feast for our eyes and it is impressive and purposeful.
On Sept 2. at 6:30 PM, on the 6th floor, Mid-Manhattan will host a FREE slide lecture program From Gravestones to Graffiti: 250 Years of Lettering in New York, with guest speaker Paul Shaw. Paul Shaw is a designer and design historian. His specialty is lettering, whether written, drawn, carved or typographic. He teaches at Parsons School of Design and at the School of Visual Arts. He is also the author of Looking for Letters in New York: A Tale of Surprise and Dismay. Paul Shaw is the recipient of many prestigious grants and lectures widely. Mr. Shaw is an expert on the subject of letters and can speak eloquently on the design, complexity and craftsmanship of letters that are everywhere from subway signs, to grave markers, to graffiti. Please join us for a wonderful evening.
Books on letter design and graffiti can be found in the library catalog. Also at the Picture Collection at the Mid-Manhattan Library, there are an abundance of images on letters/alphabets/graffiti that can be viewed.
More upcoming programs at Mid-Manhattan.
An article on Paul Shaw by New York Times' Streetscapes columnist Christopher Gray.