Carl Dair

`It happens in space,' wrote Carl Dair. `Space is meaningless unless something happens in it.' I read these words in Dair's Design with Type when I first started thinking about type, and they changed my views about design forever. For Dair (1912—1967), typography was not just a skill or a trade, but a dynamic interaction that takes place not only on the graphic space of the printed page, but also in the historical and cultural space of ideas.

Four decades after his death, Dair still manages to make things happen in the space we inhabit. While the majority of his commercial work has disappeared from view, three important contributions carry on. The first and most obvious is his body of writing. Dair's E. B. Eddy monographs of the 1940s and 1950s and the Typographic Quest booklets published by Westvaco Papers in the 1960s can still be found if you're diligent, but it's Design with Type that endures. It is still in print and is as relevant today as it was when published in 1952, despite the digital revolution. The second contribution is Dair's type, Cartier, which survives in Rod McDonald's digital reimagining, Cartier Book, and in Jim Rimmer's more faithful revival in 14-point metal. The third and perhaps most important contribution is Dair's short film Gravers and Files, which he shot at the Enschedé foundry in Haarlem, the Netherlands, in 1956—57. This silent film records one of the last great punchcutters, P. H. Radisch, demonstrating his craft — it is perhaps the only such film in existence.

In my view, time has served to deepen, not diminish, the significance of Dair's contributions and the meaningfulness of what he accomplished in the short space of his life.

The Devil's Artisan would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

Carl Dair Magnify

Carl Dair

Rogues in the Series