October 5, 2016: Elaine Lustig Cohen has died at the age of 89. This post was originally published on March 29, 2016. Tablet’s print magazine logo is set in Lustig Elements, which she newly redesigned last year. The font, and its prominent place at Tablet magazine, will hopefully be one more way Lustig Cohen’s unparalleled influence continues to leave its mark.
Are you a typeface nerd like me? Do fonts make you faint? Do you know the difference between a font and a typeface? Do you just like snazzy, snazzy mid-century things? If so, you might be interested in a Kickstarter campaign that ends 55 hours from the time of this publishing.
The hugely influential Jewish graphic designer Alvin Lustig (1915-1955), a member of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, creator of style-y book covers and designer of swoopy upholstered office chairs, designed a font in the 1930s called “Euclid. A New Type.” It was influenced by an 1847 book of Euclidean geometry; the letters were formed by geometric shapes typically found in a letterpress printer’s type case.
Cut to today: A young designer named Steve Welsh has been collaborating with Lustig’s widow, Elaine Lustig Cohen, to revive the font. It’ll get a new name: Lustig Elements. The Kickstarter—which has already reached its monetary goal, but still has some fab incentives for contributors—has been raising money to republish the font digitally with the P22 Type Foundry, to cut new wood type from vintage 1970s maple at Wisconsin’s Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum (Hamilton was the country’s biggest supplier of headline type for the newspaper industry from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, and still has 100-year-old working machinery), and to produce a short film about the font, featuring Elaine Lustig Cohen.
Elaine Lustig Cohen has more than carried out her husband’s legacy; she’s built on it. He was only 40 when he died of complications from diabetes; she’d started out as his assistant. Shortly after his death, the architect Philip Johnson asked Elaine to finish her husband’s work on the Seagram Building. She went on to do lettering for Eero Saarinen, brochures for the Girl Scouts of America, and jackets for Meridian Books. She co-founded a rare bookshop, Ex-Libris, one of the first to sell ephemera from European avant-garde movements like Surrealism and Dada. For many years she created the look for the Jewish Museum in New York City, and you can see her influence all over its vintage catalogs.
Elaine and Alvin’s work is currently the focus of a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). But if you can’t make it to California to see it before it closes in July, fear not; you can explore the designers’ work online or hey, join me in supporting the Kickstarter. You can purchase a digital version of the font, a print featuring big letters from it, or notebooks featuring the geometric grid used to design it. Nifty.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.