George Salter Papers
George Salter (1897-1967), book designer and calligrapher was born in Bremen, Germany, 5 October 1897, of Protestant Jewish origin. His father Norbert Salter, born in Austria, was a conservator of music, a cellist and an impresario. His mother, Stefanie Klein, born in Hungary, was an opera singer.
George Salter graduated from the Abitur, Helmholtz Gymnasium, in 1916, and did his military service for the German Army in 1917-1918. The following year he studied privately with Ewald Dülberg, and from 1919 to 1924, he studied graphic arts at the School of Arts and Crafts in Berlin with Harold Bengen. In 1921-1922, Salter worked with theater workshops of the Prussian State Theater with Willy Jaeckel and Klaus Richter. From 1922 to 1924 he worked first as an assistant then as a stage designer for various German theaters and opera houses, including Grosse Volksoper, Berlin (1922-1924), Städtliches Opern und Theaterhaus Barmen Elberfeld, Rhineland (1924-1926), and Städtliches Opernhaus Berlin-Charlottenburg.
In 1927 Salter turned from stage design to typography and lettering, and for six years he worked as a book designer and illustrator for more than twenty German publishing companies, including S. Fisher and Kiepenheuer.
From 1931 to 1933, Salter worked as department head of applied graphics and commercial art at Höhere Graphishe Fachschule (Berlin Graphic Arts Academy) in Berlin until he was dismissed in March 1933. Salter moved to Baden Baden after being prohibited from work, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1934. In 1935 Salter was expelled from the Reichskulturkammer (R.K.K.).
A year before Salter emigrated, in November 1933, fifty of Salter's book jackets were displayed in a show at Columbia University, arranged by Hellmuth Lehmann-Haupt. George Salter's younger brother Stefan, also a well known book designer, had already been in America for seven years before George arrived. Designer Ernst Reichl had gone to school with Stefan, knew of George's work and recommended him to Bertram Wolff, of H. Wollff Book Manufacturing Co. Mr. Wollff arranged for Salter's passage to the U.S. and employed him as a designer.
In America, Salter settled in New York as a freelance book jacket designer and illustrator. His first commission was with H. Wolff Books, New York. In 1935-1936 he taught book design and lettering at the School for Library Service of Columbia University on the recommendation of Dr. Lehmann-Haupt. In 1937-1967, he was adjunct professor at Cooper Union Art School, New York, and he also taught at New York University. In 1939-1957, Salter held the position of artistic director of Mercury Publications, New York. In 1960 Salter was the designer and artistic adviser for Atlas Magazine in New York.
Salter created jackets and book designs for many leading publishing houses including Simon & Schuster, Knopf, Basic Books, Bobbs-Merrill, Random House, Little Brown, and Viking, among others. He designed trade marks for the 20th Century Fund, Lincoln Center, and Atlas among others, and lettered a popular UNICEF Christmas card.
George Salter influenced other graphic designers in the U.S. during his 30 years of teaching, and many of his students became very successful. His work aimed at making the book jacket an integral part of the design of the book and not only a decorative element. In an interview with Publishers Weekly he said that his job as an artist was "to serve the book." His jacket art was allusive and not only literal. He explained: "If a manuscript hits me, then I let it speak in the language I can express."
Salter's book jackets won high praise for their beauty of execution and representation of the spirit and content of the books. He often designed the complete book-text, cover design, jacket and illustrations. In the book printing field, it is said that Salter influenced the trend toward offset printing. Much of his artwork was done with airbrush technique, and he favored offset lithography for faithful reproduction of his particular style.
Salter was also greatly respected for his fine calligraphy. Together with Paul Standard, he is given credit for stimulating the rebirth of calligraphy in the U.S.
Salter's work was exhibited in both individual and group exhibitions like the Artists' Guild of New York, Guild of German Book Artist (Munich, 1956), and "Fifty Books of the Year" shows of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. A coast-to-coast exhibition of his work was circulated in 1961-1962, starting at Gallery 303, New York.
Salter was the author of Book Jacket in the U.S.A. He belonged to the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Book Jacket Design Guild, the Society for Italio Handwriting of London, and the Grolier Club.
In 1942 George Salter married Agnes O'Shea, who was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1901. Salter retired from his teaching at Cooper Union Art School in May 1967. Three weeks after his 70th birthday he died on October 31, 1967 at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. He was survived by his wife Agnes O'Shea Salter, their daughter Janet Salter Rosenberg, and his brother Stefan Salter.
[Source: Hansen, Thomas S. Classic Book Jackets: The Design Legacy of George Salter (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005)]