Saul Bass, Masters of Design exhibition at SVA - October 1995

It's May 8 and today would have been Saul Bass’ 96th birthday.

It was the 1st of 2 Visual Communications fall semester field trips we took to New York City back in October of 1995. On these trips, we would visit design studios or advertising agencies, exhibitions and talks, but this trip we wanted everyone to visit the Saul Bass exhibition at the School of Visual Arts. Saul Bass, a designer in the Art Directors Club of New York’s Hall of Fame, was the subject of a “Masters of Design” exhibition, part of a regular series SVA sponsored. Bass is particularly well known for his feature movie opening credits and posters. We had 2 buses full of students which we dropped off near the 23rd Street gallery site.

If you don’t know who Saul Bass is, you should, take a moment and Google up a little.

When I got inside, “Nothing.” No exhibition. I stood at the door warning all of the students off. It turned out that Saul Bass hadn’t had time to gather the work for the exhibition and it was going to be postponed until some later date. All my life I’ve been the kind of person that loves a challenge, so not getting to seeing the show might just be turned around into a real positive moment.

That idea came in the form of a blueprint poster I produced for the Visual Communications Group specifically targeted to Saul Bass. As we had gone to a fair amount of trouble and expense to take our students to see his exhibition, maybe we could get him to meet with us when he did come up to hang the exhibition. Maybe he could meet us when he was up or maybe he could even come down to UD. Seriously, how cool would that be?


Here is one of the most well-known of Bass’ posters for the movie “Exodus” which will show up in our poster / invitation below.

To produce posters back in the day we would design it on a Macintosh, utilize the University’s print shop to produce a large-format positive film image which would be contact-printed and run through a blueprint machine like architects use to produce architectural blueprints. We just used a paper called blackline which gave us a black & white print.

The New York chapter of AIGA (American Institute of the Graphic Arts) had an exhibition each year of the best design and would receive hundreds of great design entries. AIGA would give us all of their rejects which we would throw on the bus and bring back to drool over. Several rejects one year were a series of posters designed by Stephen Frykholm of Herman Miller which used blueprints. Seemed like a great way of being able to do fairly large posters with the students. We bought one of the machines and produced most of our posters promoting the program, field trips, speakers, etc., in that manner for at least 12 years.

Back to the Saul Bass poster. His logo can be seen in the center of the poster shown below. The hands were obviously taken from the Exodus poster above. I’ve always liked to find a way to get others involved in my design projects and including a photo of everyone in the program in the form of a fishing license was a great way to get all of the students and other faculty involved.

You can click on the poster to see it double-sized for some more detail. Here is the text of the poster.

“Eighty Visual Communications students at the Art Department at the University of Delaware had been assigned “The Age of Innocence” just to watch the credits (and the movie was incredible). On our first pilgrimage of the year to New York to visit ad agencies, design studios, exhibitions and sometimes even drift into the camp of the enemy (i.e., School of Visual Arts) we schedule to take in the Saul Bass “Masters of Design” exhibition.

What? No show?

So there we stood. Wondering what to do. Some went to the Village to watch Wood Allen filming his new movie. Some to Rizzoli’s to buy Pentagram’s new book. Some to the Society of Illustrators. Cooper Union. Parsons. AIGA. Shopping. Bar hopping. Scattered all over Manhattan.

But alas, no good Bass fishing to be found anywhere.

Now the question. We think you are going to do this show sometime and we want to be there to see it. Is it reasonable to think that you will travel to New York to oversee the installation? And near the end of the installation when there isn’t much to do, what about letting 80 of us sit on the floor and listen to you talk about your work. Seems like a pretty good trade on our part and, we hope, on yours.

How about a call (302-831-1198) and for you to say “Yes” to the idea? You could say “no” and agree to just talk to us on the phone for half an hour. We would call and gather around our speaker phone to talk and listen about Scorsese. Anatomy. Exodus. Girl Scouts. Life as a design master.

We are hot to fish or cut bait.

Also, if we could pull this event off, this might just be the catch of the year.”

About 2 weeks later, while I was sitting quietly in my Recitation Annex office, Saul Bass called. He said he would be happy to meet with us and walk us through the exhibition for an entire morning, talking, answering questions, etc.

But Saul Bass died the following April before he could find the time to mount the exhibition.

A side story: When my daughter, Terre, graduated high school and knowing she was headed toward a life in design, my graduation present was for her and me to attend the Aspen Design Conference. I flew out to Kansas where she was living, and we drove over to Aspen. Of a week of amazing talks and events, one of the best moments for the two of us was meeting and talking with Saul Bass and his wife, Elaine, just the 4 of us, talking about a future in design.

Ah, the one that got away.

At Lead Graffiti, we are currently working on a series of autobiographical, fine press, limited edition books. The most recent one just finished in March was about the grading systems I developed at UD in my teaching. Upcoming there will be 3 more of these books each focusing on a half-dozen of my favorite design projects for each—1) related to VC, 2) related to Cypher + Nichols + Design, and 3) related to Lead Graffiti. This poster for Saul Bass is most definitely one of my VC favorites. It was run in an edition of 2. One for him and one for me.