Design and visual expression shape our lives, transmitting knowledge about our language, codes, and values. For this virtual display, we delved into the Hogg archives to better understand how the design of our printed materials could have been influenced by, and been an influence on, the times in which they were created and evolving cultural ideas on mental health and illness.
To help us in this endeavor, we recruited Carma Gorman, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Gorman earned a B.A. in art history at Carleton College in 1991 and a Ph.D. in the history of art at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998. She is also an associate editor of the journal Design and Culture and a past president of the Design Studies Forum.
The following is edited for length and clarity.
Society and Health in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a brochure published to circulate the findings of a project for public health workers that explored the folk customs, social organization, medical practices, and beliefs of Mexican Americans in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Commenting on the cover, Gorman noted its similarity to book covers by the noted graphic designer Alvin Lustig, as well as movie posters and title sequences of the 1950s and ’60s, particularly for the film Bunny Lake is Missing.
During the 1950s, design in America took a radical deviation from the “Swiss Style,” a set of high modernist rules and concepts that were widely considered the standard for the field. Led by artists and advertising creators in New York, this American departure opted for brash, conceptual ad campaigns that featured strong layouts and unusual typography. “The Swiss style uses a strict grid and only photographs for illustration or diagrams,” Gorman said. “It didn't really use illustration very much. They certainly don't use these kinds of script headings that you see in Society and Health in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This pamphlet references movie posters and ordinary visual culture, not so much the museum-quality, refined, almost purist imagery and typography of the Swiss style.”
Chronic Illness and Mental Health: A Personal Journey (1998) chronicles the thoughts and words of anonymous contributors reflecting upon their experiences with mental illness. An excerpt: “What is new? Retreat? Pull up the bed covers and disappear into yourself? A comfortable retreat. Cover up. Forget. Let life go by. Or, do you determine that a core of self remains, that no one can take away personhood or self.”
“There is a suggestion of a clawing or grasping for something,” said Gorman. In conjunction with Dilemma of a Dyslectic Man and Children and Their Families: Function of the Community, it forms a thematic representation of mental illness.
Dilemma of a Dyslexic Man (1968) is a reprinting of an original true story first published for the 20th Annual Conference of Southwest Foundations. The story focuses on Dwayne, a 32-year-old man with dyslexia, and how the condition has affected his life.
Gorman made connections between this cover and the work of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. “And yet,” Gorman remarked, “it almost seemed to be created by smeared blood or dirt, which is a peculiar choice for a mental health foundation material.”
Children and Their Families: Function of the Community (1974) is a reference book for the mental health needs of children. It opens with a call from Hogg Foundation Director Robert Sutherland: “Recently, however, children have been represented in legislative halls and in health planning groups by persons who call themselves ‘advocates’ for child mental health. Educators, parents, and teachers know that the child’s earliest years are the time to begin. They also are stressing that mental health, much more than the absence of mental illness, should be a goal in itself.”
In reviewing the cover design, Gorman noted, “The fractured, fragmented imagery is interesting. It may be intended to suggest a kind of psychological fragmentation or a crisis.”
Some short odds and ends from the other booklets:
The Group is a reprinting of a chapter from social worker Campbell Loughmiller’s book The Wilderness Within, detailing his work at Camp Woodland Springs with “emotionally disturbed boys.” It features a photograph of a boy with dirty fingernails, freckles, and a crew cut eating a white-bread sandwich. For Gorman it recalls the Depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange. “I kind of want to read this one,” Gorman said. “He looks like some kid, some ragamuffin. I mean, he has the hair cut, so he doesn't look totally decrepit, but his nails are very dirty, and he looks like he's wolfing that sandwich down with both hands as fast as he can.”
Published in 1958, The Opening Door: A Report on Texas State Hospitals was part of a successful campaign led by the Hogg Foundation to reform the state hospital system in Texas. A unique design by Bruce Lynn, The Opening Door has a cut-out section in its front cover that lets the reader see the light blue color of its first page. The effect reinforces the idea of being taken through or getting a glimpse of something previously hidden. The materials reminded Gorman of a Ben Shahn book cover illustration. Shahn, a prolific illustrator and narrative artist in the mid-20th century, transformed his career when he began working in graphic design after his success as a painter known for his politics and work in social realism.
The cover for Living in the Shadows experiments with a pixelated quality that was considered technically advanced for its time in the 1990s. Early computer printers in use at the time often had terrible printing quality, but designers used them in service of producing something new. “Designers just wanted to show that they made this on this new thing, on a computer, oh my God,” quips Gorman. “You could do all of this — the photomontage, layering, pixelated typography — on the early Macintosh that was so difficult to do before. They loved that stuff.” So, what today would be considered a pixelated, low-quality image was actually a signifier of edginess and innovation some 20 years ago.
Post-Retirement Adjustment: Effective Coping with the Stresses of Aging, published in 1987, details the research of Dr. Carole Holahan into the mental health of retirees.
Gorman made note of the “Don Johnson, Miami Vice colors” of the cover design.
Delivery of Mental Health Services: Social, Cultural, and Family Factors was adapted for print from an address delivered by Dr. Wayne Holtzman before the 17th annual meeting of the Association of Psychiatric Outpatient Centers of America. Within the address Holtzman challenges his peers and colleagues to further the cause of the community health movement. He also traces its history from the traditional medical model to modern community interventions.
For Gorman, both Post-Retirement Adjustment and Delivery of Mental Health Services bring to mind the work of artist Frank Stella, who produced work in the 1960s and ’70s in the style of Post-Painterly Abstraction or Color Field painting. This connection also prompted Gorman to notice how different they were from other foundation publications. “Unlike most of the foundation’s materials, which have photographs or illustrations of people, this one is saying, ‘I don’t want to go with people.’ So it becomes an effective strategy for not engaging. And yet, these sharp angles are just poking, which suggests a discomfort.”
Doing More for More: Hispanic Issues for Texas and the Nation reprinted the 1988 Independent Sector Annual Meeting address by San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Cisneros’ speech discussed changing demographic trends in Texas, specifically elderly and Hispanic populations, and how they affected the nonprofit sector. The cover design displays bright colors and graphics that Gorman thinks were influenced heavily by the graphic design guidelines from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The 1984 Olympics eschewed the red, white and blue color palette expected of an American host city. Instead, the designers from Jerde Partnership and Sussman/Prejza drew inspiration from Mexican, Indonesian and Japanese cultures in their branded materials, giving the games a more global face. Although the 1984 Olympics took place four years before the publishing of the Hogg materials were printed, Gorman suggests that perhaps this was an attempt to connect the boldness of the L.A. Olympics to the content and to evoke Hispanic cultural influences with its bright, colorful palette.