The Wit and Whimsy of W. A. Dwiggins
7 May 2020
7.00–8.30pm (Doors 6.30pm)
William Addison Dwiggins (1880–1956) is best known as a designer of printing types and books. His Caledonia and Electra types have been used to compose the text in countless thousands of books published since the 1930s. Dwiggins also established the visual style for Alfred A. Knopf and served for decades as their principal book designer.
“WAD” was equally talented in other arenas: he was a virtuoso calligrapher, printmaker (woodcuts and stencils), illustrator, cartographer, watercolourist, sculptor, and maker of furniture and tools. He remains famous in the puppet world for his imaginative marionettes, and the sets and lighting he designed for productions at his two private theatres. In addition to his marionette plays, WAD also wrote satire, fiction, fantasy, and essays about print production and design. Additionally, he was expert at building and flying kites.
An engaging aspect of Dwiggins’s work is the consistent presence of whimsy and humour. He employed his sharp wit for the simple pleasures of fun, but also often used satire to promote change, in the belief that irony could be a more effective source of transformation than scolding or finger-wagging. Throughout his life, Dwiggins concocted fake documents and prodded the establishment in myriad ways, inventing colourful personalities to serve as his noms de plume in what — at first glance — seemed to be serious articles. To implement these schemes he used drawings and words in equal measures, which will be reviewed in detail in this presentation.
Bruce Kennett, author of the acclaimed biography W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design (Letterform Archive, 2018), is a book designer, photographer, calligrapher, printer, teacher, and writer. He has been passionately interested in WAD since 1972 – when he discovered the Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library – and lectures widely about various aspects of Dwiggins’s life and career. Please join us as Bruce presents his favourite moments of WAD’s creative impulses, from the serious to the downright silly. He promises a mirthful time for all.
This lecture is kindly sponsored by Adobe – we would like to thank them for their generosity.