CLIENT: Philadelphia Museum of Art, in a joint effort with the Pennsylvania Academy
INTENDED AUDIENCE: students, scholars, curators, and individuals interested in American art and art education
CREDITS: Design, Baseman Design Associates
When Frank Baseman of Baseman Design Associates got the opportunity to design and produce a historic volume, he dived in to the nineteenth-century research the project demanded. In Baseman's case, looking back in time allowed him to create the best design possible for a modern book. Baseman's historic research offers a fascinating look at a different approach to a set of design challenges.
Staying True to the Period
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy enlisted Baseman to help publish a book entitled A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins. Because Eakins began writing the book roughly between 1881 and 1885, the design of the book needed to reflect both the time frame and the content accurately. Adding to the challenge, Eakin's book had never been published but was full of useful tips, diagrams, drawings, and suggestions for advanced study to accompany his text.
Baseman's design needed to unite the original manuscript and the original drawings—together for the first time—in as true a manner as possible to the author's original intent.
Learning the Language
"It was clear to me that I needed to investigate and conduct research as to what other publications would have looked like during that time," says Baseman. "The requirement was to design and produce the book faithfully, so that it was at least a nod to what might have been published had it been published in the first place."
Baseman began his research into typographic history by examining books, drawing manuals, and other documents published during the mid- to late nineteenth-century. Baseman conducted his primary research at the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia. He found multiple editions/printings of Rembrandt Peale's Graphics: A Manual of Drawing and Writing for the Use of Schools and Families, circa 1835–1850. He made photocopies of Peale's book, as well as other publications from this time period, to study the typeface selections, typographic treatments, size of publications, printing techniques, use of imagery, and other elements.
A Font of KnowledgeBaseman consulted with type designer and typographic historian Jonathan Hoefler, whose help and advice proved invaluable. Sending Hoefler sample pages from his literature review, Baseman requested guidance regarding typographic selections appropriate for the time period. Baseman's preliminary research, coupled with Hoefler's expertise, helped determine which fonts were realistic options: historically accurate but also practical for the project.
Solutions Rooted in History
In the end, Baseman's research allowed him to select a group of fonts that effectively conveyed the historic atmosphere of the project while remaining user-friendly to modern eyes.
"The design decisions I made in my contemporary practice were deeply influenced by the sense of typographic and graphic design history I encountered through the mid- to late nineteenth-century typographic examples I uncovered while conducting the research for this project," Baseman said. "And, ultimately, this related to the overall design of the book as well."
This book, the end product of Baseman's research, showcases the timeless elegance of Eakins' work while making its lessons clear to readers and staying true to its original era.