Eudora Welty Newsletter
Summer 2007, Vol. XXXI, No. 2
Author and Artist: Welty and Edward McKnight Kauffer---Sabrina Abid and Pearl Amelia McHaney
The "Inner Necessity" of Fiction and Dreams: The Southern Review's Eudora Welty Prize in Fiction and Its Inaugural Winner, Keith Lee Morris---Amber Brooks and Jacob Sullins
Eudora Welty from A to Z: A to E--Geraldine Chouard
Index to Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell---James Shimkus
Checklist of Welty Scholarship 2006-2007---Catherine H. Chengges
News and Notes
New Stage Theater Selling Signed Editions of Bye-Bye Brevoort
Welty at 100: An Academic Conference
Author and Artist: Welty and Edward McKnight Kauffer
Sabrina Abid and Pearl Amelia McHaney, Georgia State University
To many, the name Edward McKnight Kauffer stands for a reputable poster artist and graphic designer. To not so many, the name Edward McKnight Kauffer stands for a Modernist artist who designed a respectable number of dust jackets. As you may presume, Kauffer is of particular interest to readers of this newsletter and to American literary scholars because his work converges with that of Eudora Welty. His impressive résumé includes the dust jacket design for Welty's 1943 edition of The Wide Net and Other Stories . This essay aims to illuminate the varied life of Kauffer and how he came to design book jackets.
Edward Kauffer (1890–1954) was a Great Falls, Montana, native who was raised in Evansville, Indiana, where as a teenager, he was “assistant scene painter” at the Evansville Grand Opera House (Green 141). He went west as a young man and gained footing in the art world when Joseph E. McKnight, a University of Utah professor of education, took a keen interest in Kauffer and his art. They met serendipitously, one surmises, in the San Francisco book store where the young “Ted” Kauffer worked daytimes while attending art classes at the Mark Hopkins Institute. This school, founded in 1893 as California 's first “cultural center,” was put in trust to the state “for instruction in and illustration of the fine arts, music, and literature” at the former Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill (“ California ”). The American Institute of Graphic Arts reports that Kauffer also had “a small exhibit of paintings in which he showed real promise as a painter” at this time (Heller 1). McKnight subsequently arranged for Kauffer to study art in Paris . Eventually, Kauffer would honor his mentor by adopting his name and signing his work “McKnight Kauffer.” Before heading to Paris , Kauffer spent six months studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. Steven Heller reports that overall Kauffer was bored with American art trends, but recognized the Armory Show that came to the Art Institute from New York in March 1913 1 as a watershed experience in his artistic perception. He told Frank Zachary, friend, editor and art director, “I didn't understand [the Armory Show]. But I certainly couldn't dismiss it” (qtd. by Heller 1). 2 Keller relates the avant-garde art as influencing Kauffer's “own benchmark work, ‘flight' (1916), which in 1919 was adapted as a poster for the London Daily Herald with the title ‘Soaring to Success! The Early Bird,'” that Keller names as “the first Cubistic advertising poster published in England ” (1).
In that same year, 1913, the twenty-two-year-old Kauffer proceeded to continental Europe . Keller reports that Kauffer was impressed by Ludwig Hohlwein (1), who was known as the Munich Poster King (Steinkamp), 3 and in Paris he studied at the Academie Moderne. As the World War I front moved across Europe in 1914, Kauffer left the continent to return to the United States via London where he ended up staying for more than two decades. The London environment proved to be beneficial to Kauffer for there he found himself gainfully employed with the London Underground as his primary client (Haworth-Booth 9). He was perhaps the Underground's Poster King, as he produced 94 posters and 40 poster panels from 1915 to 1939 when the second World War drove him toward home again (Green 141). He was introduced to Frank Pick just a few years after Pick began revolutionizing Underground publicity with the soon-to-be standard Johnston typeface and a hard-sell advertising campaign of posters and signage (Green 8–10). Kauffer's posters show the influences of Japanese and Modernist art and style. Oliver Green describes the 1921 “Winter Sales” poster as an example of Kauffer's “move towards abstract design” combining “traditional Japanese woodcuts with the dynamic, swirling lines of Vorticist art” (60). The 1930 “Play Between Six and Twelve” and the 1931 “Power” Underground posters' “use of bold geometric shapes and lettering” demonstrate Modernism's influence (Green 68, 69). Oliver Green writes that Kauffer was
the most influential of the “new wave” of commercial artists. He claimed to be applying scientific principles in his use of modern artistic expression in advertising: “Non-representative and geometrical pattern designs can in effect strike a sledge-hammer blow if handled by a sensitive designer possessing a knowledge of the action of colour on the average man or woman,” [Kauffer] wrote in 1921. (13)
An art critic writing in 1935 claimed that Kauffer's posters “lured” the everyday Londoners “into liking the poster before they realize[d] that it is just the kind of thing which they loathe[d] in the exhibition gallery,” and thus he familiarized “a very wide public with the conventions of modern painting and … greatly increased the chances which modern painters, who are not involved with publicity, have of being appreciated and widely enjoyed” (qtd. in Green 13). Although Kauffer also “produced theatre, costume and exhibition designs, interior and mural decorations, book illustrations, carpets and textiles,” his posters were his greatest success (Green 141). He thought of himself as a painter and was agitated by the perceived incompatibilities of fine art and commercial art. He was a founding member of Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist revival Group X and exhibited with Bloomsbury Group Roger Fry's Omega Workshop. He was a member also of the Arts League of Service, a group intended as a sort of labor union to protect and promote art and artists in a changing society threatened by numbing industrialization and war and to “create a bond between the Community and the Artist” (Nash 40). In 1920, however, Kauffer seemed to give up on painting and accept commercial art as his vocation (Keller 2). In 1935, British modernist artist Paul Nash wrote that he considered Kauffer “responsible above anyone else for the change in attitude toward commercial art in this country” (qtd. in Green 141).
Kauffer also befriended and collaborated with writers, T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore in particular (Powers 44; Schulman 175). He illustrated Eliot's Ariel poems, “Journey of the Magi,” “A Song for Simeon,” “Animula,” and “ Marina ” (1927–31) and was reportedly a sensitive reader as well as loyal friend, writing to Eliot, “moved by the power of these magnificent poems [“Ash Wednesday”]. And I thank you for the experience that will become an influence” (qtd. in Haworth-Booth 56). The admiration was apparently mutual, for Kauffer's biographer quotes a letter in which Eliot writes
I like the illustrations [for Robinson Crusoe ] immensely, and some of them have a quality which reminds me of Chirico, and which reminds me that it is my duty to finish the play [ Sweeney Agonistes ], so that the world may have the benefit of your scenery for it. (56)
Even higher is Eliot's praise for illustrations of Don Quixote : “I should not have thought anything possible after Doré, but you have done it” (qtd. by Haworth-Booth 56).
Kauffer and Marianne Moore also upheld a common artistic vision:
Both artists depicted living things with exactitude, building their art on a foundation of precise, factual information.… If precision was their common aim, however, it was counterbalanced by their faith in the imagination's power to transform reality, for they distilled their art from the interaction of the mind with commonplace objects. (Schulman 177)
Each artist depicts the ordinary, and yet in doing so, each seeks to highlight the varying perceptions that form when scrutinizing an ordinary object. This sort of vision aligned Kauffer with Cubist tendencies: “During the 1930s, Kauffer's style began to reflect not only the pre-1914 decorative Cubism which won him early fame, but the montages and novel typography of the Bauhaus and the bizarre juxtapositions of the surrealists” (Powers 44). He was on occasion referred to as “the Picasso of advertising design” (qtd. in Haworth-Booth 68).
In 1937, Kauffer had a solo show of posters at the Museum of Modern Art in New York . 4 The catalog for the exhibition includes comments by Kauffer and an introduction by Aldous Huxley for whose book Point Counter Point Kauffer would design the cover. In the MoMA exhibition catalogue, Huxley wrote
Most modern advertising artists spend their time elaborating symbols that stand for something different from the commodity they are advertising. Soap and refrigerators, scent and automobiles … McKnight Kauffer prefers the more difficult task of advertising products in terms of forms that are symbolic only of these particular products. Thus, forms symbolic of mechanical power are used to advertise powerful machines; forms symbolic of space, loneliness and distance to advertise a holiday resort where prospects are wide and houses are few. In this matter McKnight Kauffer reveals his affinity with all artists who have ever aimed at expressiveness through simplification, distortion and transportation. (qtd. in Heller 3)
Kauffer's successful twenty-five-year career in London was interrupted and to some degree arrested by the approach of World War II. Reportedly,
he believed that living and working in London was no longer a viable option. Kauffer was prohibited, as an alien, from contributing to England's war effort; feeling he was a liability, he and Marion Dorn [his companion] left the country on the last passenger ship to the United States (leaving most of their belongings behind). (Heller 3)
Kauffer, now a highly praised London artist (and American expatriate), relocated to New York , where his 1937 MoMA retrospective had been successful. He might reasonably have expected that he might garner the same sort of attention in the States as in Europe . Surprisingly, however, Kauffer did not receive the same welcome and interest in his work. Despite his long-time and amicable friendships in England , Kauffer wrote a friend in 1941 that though he felt “strongly” about England and “should like to belong to England ,” he confessed that he “could not become English because it isn't my bone and heritage” (qtd. in Haworth-Booth 98). “The American advertiser,” Kauffer wrote, “respects the European achievement but in no way will he admit it in American practice—… Wherever you are in America there is always a beyond—the seas are too far from each other and the Mississippi is too long for one to ever stop” (qtd. in Haworth-Booth 98).
To earn a living in the States, Kauffer turned to designing book covers and theater advertisements until he could find lucrative advertising work. Eventually he created advertisement posters for Shell, American Airlines, and a few other corporations. Kauffer had made a practice of meeting with his clients to get a detailed sense of the products for the best results. He wrote in 1921 that
Non-representative and geometrical designs can in effect strike a sledge hammer blow if handled by a sensitive designer possessing a knowledge of the action of colour on the average man or woman. Knowledge of a similar nature is involved in the uses made of masses and line movements. (qtd. in Haworth-Booth 30)
All of the design features contributing to the successful signature “McKnight Kauffer” style are evident in Kauffer's dust jackets: bold color blocks, contrast, geometric shapes, slanted lines, silhouettes, distinctive but not distracting lettering. Kauffer designed dust jackets in London for Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press and in the United States for Alfred Knopf, Harcourt Brace, Harper Brothers, Random House, and Pantheon Books, as well as covers for over thirty Modern Library books. He also created covers for Harper's Bazaar , illustrated books including a two-volume edition of Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare in Harlem by Langston Hughes, and Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson. For Modern Library editions, Kauffer designed dust jackets for dozens of books including William Faulkner's Sanctuary , Light in August , and Go Down, Moses ; Richard Wright's Native Son ; The Best of S. J. Perelman ; and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg , Ohio . Kauffer's work “reflects not only his ability as an artist in making memorable simplified images, but also his sensitivity to literature” (Powers 44).
Welty read the galleys of her third book, The Wide Net and Other Stories , in late May and early June of 1943 (Marrs 173). She seemingly inquired of her editor John Woodburn about the cover for the collection, for Woodburn's reply of June 11, 1943, states that E. McKnight Kauffer designed the dust jacket (Polk 40) and that it was beautiful (Marrs Welty 173). While we have found no reaction to Kauffer's wide net sprawled across the black and green cover, the pink title words, or the pink starfish trapped in the net from Welty or any of the reviewers, we might surmise that Welty agreed with Woodburn's opinion and found the dust jacket pleasing. Woodburn apparently sent Welty a copy of the dust jacket which bears Kauffer's signature mark “EMcK.K.” in the bottom right corner, for Marrs reports that Welty sent it to her dear friend John Robinson after writing a letter on the reverse side, “and she promised to send this book about Mississippi's Natchez Trace when it came out” ( Eudora 102–03). One wonders if she commented upon pink starfish in the Pearl River to leaven her concern over the seriousness of Robinson's military service in Northern Africa . The white back of the dust jacket reads
THIS BOOK like all books, is a symbol of the liberty and the freedom for which we fight. You, as a reader of books, can do your share in the desperate battle to protect those liberties. / BUY WAR BONDS / Bonds or stamps may be procured at most book stores, all banks, many other places of business. To buy them is to become a true soldier of Democracy.
Published on September 23, 1943, The Wide Net and Other Stories with its beautiful dust jacket designed by E. McKnight Kauffer competed with paper needs and readers' attention with the very war that drove Kauffer from England to the United States .
Welty's pleasure in seeing The Wide Net and Other Stories published and in sending it to John Robinson to whom the title story is dedicated seems surely to have been enhanced by Kauffer's dust jacket that so vividly provides a major trope for the collection. If Kauffer transferred his early practice of meeting his clients face to face to reading the books for which he designed dust jackets—a primary advertising tool—then perhaps he took note of Hazel's feminine guile and witty power play by choosing pink as one of his colors. And perhaps the verdant and natural settings of The Wide Net 's Natchez Trace stories suggested the green. The black and green beneath the wide net brings to mind the Pearl River 's deep waters and her green, tree-covered banks.
Such musings are our responses to the 1943 E.McK.K. dust jacket. If Welty took even slight pleasure in Kauffer's design, what might she have thought if she recognized this master designer's work in the covers of Glenway Wescott's Apartment in Athens or Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust , books she reviewed for the New York Times in 1945 and 1949 respectively? If she had seen Kauffer's 1937 MoMA exhibit (her photographs were at the Camera House in March 1937) or any other examples of his work, would she have recollected his work in confluence with The Wide Net cover? Kauffer's attention to the art of words as well as design, his friendships with writers as well as with painters and designers, his roots in one place with his heart in another present an interesting scenario when we consider the design aspects of Welty's photographs, her avocational painting, and her long contemplation on the pull and push of the places and people she loved. All this Kauffer put in his designs and Welty in her writing.
Curiously, a collection of Kauffer's posters was exhibited last year at Hope College , the alma mater of EWN 's editor, in Holland , Michigan . There, William Mayer, professor of art, described Kauffer as one of the twentieth century's most influential graphic designers, noting that he is “an artist/designer whose contributions to popular visual culture are still quietly rippling through contemporary graphic design” (“Exhibition”).
1 An on-line exhibition catalog for artist Ethel Spears (1903–74) at the Thomas McCormick Gallery cites Sue Ann Prince saying that “Walter Kuhn, one of the show's New York organizers, wrote that ‘the instructors at the Institute are mad through'” (198–99). <http://www.wpamurals.com/SpearsEt.pdf>.
2 A fully searchable, illustrated exhibition catalogue of the 1913 Armory Show is available at <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~museum/armory/entrance.html>.
3 Steinkamp's examples of pictorial modernism also include one E. McKnight Kauffer poster.
4 Many posters and dust jackets from throughout Kauffer's career can be seen on the internet (see Abid).
Abid, Sabrina. “Selected Websites on the Subject of Kauffer and His Designs.” Eudora Welty Newsletter . 15 June 2007 <http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwewn/>.
“ California Landmark 754.” California Landmarks in San Francisco . n.d. NoeHill. 30 May 2007 <http://www.noehill.com/sf/landmarks/cal0754.asp>.
“Exhibition of Posters Will Open July 14.” Hope College Office of Public Relations . 14 July 2006. Hope College . 1 June 2007 <http://www.hope.edu/pr/pressreleases/content/view/full/10260>.
Green, Oliver. Underground Art: London Transport Posters 1908–Present . London : Studio Vista , 1990.
Haworth-Booth, Mark. E. McKnight Kauffer: A Designer and His Public . Rev. ed. London : V & A, 2005.
Heller, Steven. “E. McKnight Kauffer.” The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). 2007. AIGA. 30 May 2007 http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm?contentalias=emcknightkauffer>.
Huxley, Aldous. Point Counter Point . New York : Modern Library, 1951.
Marrs, Suzanne. Eudora Welty: A Biography . New York : Harcourt, 2005.
–––. The Welty Collection . Jackson : UP of Mississippi , 1989.
“Modern Library Dust Jackets and Their Designers/Illustrators.” Modern Library Mailing List Membership . n.d. Modern Library. 30 May 2007 <http://www.modernlib.com/Identifiers/artists/djDesigners.html# anchor3115358>.
Nash, Paul. Writings on Art . Ed. Andrew Causey. Oxford : Oxford UP, 2000.
Polk, Noel . Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work . Jackson : UP of Mississippi , 1994.
Powers, Alan. Front Cover: Great Book Jackets and Cover Design. London : Mitchell Beazley, 2001.
Prince, Sue Ann. The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago , 1910–1940. Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1990.
Schulman, Grace. “Marianne Moore and E. McKnight Kauffer: Two Characteristic Americans.” Twentieth Century Literature 30.2–3 (1984): 175–80.
Steinkamp, Jennifer. “Pictorial Modernism.” Design for Print and Digital Media. Spring 2002. University of California Los Angeles . 30 May 2007 <http://users.design.ucla.edu/~cariesta/designhistory/pictmoder.html>.