I’ve had more than one mentor, five to be exact: Joe Gibbey, Mort Leach, Hermann Zapf, Mary Sheridan, and Henry Dreyfuss, who came into my life in that order.
Joe Gibbey first taught me commercial art in 1948 at Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles. Its now called Los Angeles Trade Technical Jr. College. It was an evening course and where I was introduced to the magic of letterforms. Gibbey made me use a brush to ink my letters, but first I had to develop the letters on a single piece of paper and through a process of erasing and redrawing I learned about form, spacing, proportion, and weights; Gibbey first taught me how to see.
Mort Leach was a transplanted New York lettering man who taught enormous classes in the 1950s at Art Center at night; sometimes as many as 40 students showed up. Mort was far more rigorous in his expectations and finely tuned my perceptions. He introduced me to Hermann Zapf’s work, Optima, Palatino and the grandest of all titling faces, Michelangelo. I was mesmerized by Mort’s ability and I desperately tried to please him. He was funny too. After four semesters he asked me to be his assistant. I taught lettering, introduction to typography and logo design at Art Center for 27 years.
I didn’t meet Hermann Zapf until almost 40 years after I was introduced to his work—we are friends now. Zapf stands first amongst the towering figures in the 450-year history of font design. Generously, he wrote a brief introduction to my Fonts & Logos book, perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve received. While I am not a broadpen calligrapher (I draw letters instead of writing them), at school I copied his calligraphy, surely the most glorious work of all writing masters, studied his fonts and researched his life and work.
One of Art Center’s towering figures, tiny Mary Sheridan, was chair of Packaging. The students adored her. She was tough as nails and demanded mountains of homework and instilled in them a strong understanding of three-dimensional design, color sense, subtlety, and sternly demanded impeccable craftsmanship. I didn’t take her classes, I later freelanced for her studio for almost 25 years. When she became the partner and West Coast director of Frank Gianninoto’s design firm, she had to relinquish her clients and in turn introduced me to Henry Dreyfuss, one of the great founders of American industrial design.
So began a 17-year business relationship that was in itself an education in taste, psychology, practicality, formality, design, client relations, presentations, and understated prestige that molded my design esthetic. It was Dreyfuss, when named a trustee of California Institute of Technology, who recommended my talents to the University, that again became a 20-year consulting relationship.
Above all, it has been the kindnesses of these mentors, geniuses really, who, sensing my desire to work hard to burnish my craft, that are responsible for my beliefs and accomplishments.