Casey Kelly ’13 (graphic design) graduated with a better handle on her own design methods because she spent the last two years digging through the archives of American design pioneers.
“You can experience firsthand design from the past,” Kelly says. “It’s a different experience to flip through boxes and see the designs for yourself.”
RIT has R. Roger Remington to thank for that. Remington will celebrate 50 years of teaching at RIT this fall. He is the longest-serving faculty member at the university.
The Graphic Design Archive he created now includes the work of 40 designers and continues to grow. In addition, RIT is home to the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, which houses the archive of renowned designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli.
“There’s no other university that has anything comparable to what Roger has done with the center and the archives. I don’t think even people at RIT realize what he has done,” says Massimo Vignelli. “The only comparison I can make is Einstein at Princeton. Princeton is famous because of Einstein and RIT is famous because of Roger Remington.”
Creating a collection
The Graphic Design Archive began because of an article Remington wrote in the 1980s for Communication Arts about American graphic design pioneer Lester Beall. Beall is best known for his posters for the U.S. government’s Rural Electrification Administration in the late 1930s.
When researching the article, Remington contacted Beall’s family and drove to Connecticut to meet Beall’s widow and daughter. Soon after he finished the article, he got a call from Beall’s daughter.
“She said, ‘My mother has to go into a nursing home and we have to get rid of his archive. Would you like it at your school?”
Even though he had no budget and no place to put it, Remington rented a truck, drove to Connecticut and picked up boxes of personal papers, business documents and original artwork.
Other donations followed as Remington made contacts in the design world. Today, 40 graphic designers from the American Modernist generation are represented in the collection, which is part of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in The Wallace Center. The Beall collection is one of the largest.
“Researchers from all over the world travel to Rochester to examine the collections,” says Kari Horowicz, librarian for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. “In addition, the collections are sought for exhibitions in museums both nationally and internationally.”
When Vignelli decided it was time to downsize his business in New York City, he says, there was only one place in the world where he wanted his archive housed. The problem was that the collection was too big to fit with the others at The Wallace Center.
After five years of planning and substantial institutional support, the Vignelli Center for Design Studies opened on campus in 2010 in a building designed by Vignelli. Inside, students have access to original source materials and examples of the couple’s finished work, which includes corporate identity campaigns for Xerox, American Airlines and Bloomingdale’s; street signage; jewelry; glassware; and furniture.
Vignelli says the project would never have been built without Remington, whom he calls the soul of the center. “It is really the Roger Remington Center nicknamed the Vignelli Center.”
Remington says his goal for the coming years is to make the center even more valuable. He will do that by expanding programming activities, which includes workshops and lecture series.
Remington plans to be in the classroom this fall teaching undergraduates about the history of the magazine. He has published four books on design history and has others in the pipeline.
Earlier this year, he was asked to join Alliance Graphique Internationale, an elite society of graphic design professionals worldwide. His official induction will be in London in September—shortly after he celebrates 50 years at RIT on Sept. 1.
“Sometimes the fit of faculty members into a department or program is not very good so they leave and try to find the right niche,” Remington says. “For me, working at RIT has always been a situation where I have been able to find open doors to what I wanted to do.”
Video extra: R. Roger Remington and Massimo Vignelli host RIT's Master Designer Workshop: http://bit.ly/RITDesignWorkshop