Graphic design historian Brian Donnelly describes the state of design history in Canada as ‘dispossessed because it has not been formally established or preserved through time.’ By way of redress DA (The Devil’s Artisan): A Journal of the Printing Arts has devoted two issues to the life and work of the designer Allan Fleming, guest edited by his daughter Martha Fleming. DA has for thirty years been the leading journal of the printing arts in Canada, a fitting publication to showcase the career of this important designer, a career which was cut short in 1977 at the age of 48. Many do not realize the extent to which they are familiar with the work of Allan Fleming. Notable among Fleming’s credits is the CN logo, one of the world’s top 50 logos according to a panel of judges commissioned by the Report on Business Magazine in partnership with the London Financial Times in 2000. It is, as described by judge and designer Jasper Morrison, ‘a perfect blend of symbol, typography and intent’ (no. 63, 31). There is also the compelling Ontario Hydro plug, ‘dignified and distinctive, yet dynamic,’ an excellent example of the integration of corporate identity and design (no. 63, 76). Yet Allan Fleming was also an art director at one of Canada’s premier magazines (Maclean’s), and chief designer at Canada’s pre-eminent scholarly press (University of Toronto Press). Furthermore he was a teacher and a mentor. ‘His design pedagogy — both formal and informal — shaped an entire generation of graphic designers in Canada’ (no. 62, 6). And while he may have trained in the UK he was uniquely defined by his nationality, his work contributing to ‘the creation of a true Canadian vernacular’ (no. 63, 15). In the words of Martha Fleming, ‘all this and more is as much about a Canada he could see in his mind’s eye as it is about the work of the man’ (no. 63, 16). Pursuing an art which had become his life he was guided by a sense of responsibility. As he said in 1958, ‘For the past three centuries, men have worked honestly and hard and long to carry the main stream of design in this field, and give us integrity of statement. Responsibility to one’s society would seem to require the picking up of the custody of achievement, as a great many people continue to do’ (no. 62, 8).
There are eleven articles devoted to Allan Fleming in these two issues of DA, four of them authored or co-authored by Martha Fleming. Issue no. 62, ‘Allan Fleming’s Many Worlds,’ focuses on the design career of Fleming. Among the questions it intends to broach are, ‘How did — and does — his work communicate, and to whom? And ultimately, how has this shaped the landscape of Canadian graphic design today?’ (no. 62, 9). It is also designed to ‘make available to researchers and students alike some of the scholarly apparatus that will open up Allan’s work as a case study for this nascent field of graphic design history in Canada’ (no. 62, 10). It includes a chronology and images of Fleming’s life and work, autobiographical fragments, and a survey of Fleming archival resources (no. 63, i). The first essay by Martha Fleming, ‘Allan Fleming’s Many Worlds: Making Design History in Canada,’ introduces us to Allan Fleming the man and the designer, providing an overview of a ‘varied and prodigious’ practice comprising ‘logos, book design, medals, coins, stamps, television, commercials, advertising campaigns, typographic ephemera and magazine design, to name but a few (no. 62, 6). It is followed by a chronology and selected autobiographical writings. The autobiographical fragments are composed of two parts. The first is a reminiscence and reflection on his career and childhood chronicling his first interest in illustration, commercial art, and typography. The second is a piece written by Fleming which originally appeared in Typographic. Here he reveals his Canadianness, tracing his evolution into what he describes as a ‘typographer’s folk hero.’ In the following essay, ‘Of Gravestones, Lettering, and Circus Wagons: A Look at the Work of Allan Fleming,’ award-winning designer Robert Tombs provides an overview illustrating the breadth and range of Fleming’s work from the signage at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario, to The Correspondence of Erasmusdesigned by Fleming for the University of Toronto Press. A survey of archival evidence spanning the full length of Fleming’s career is provided by librarian Devin Crawley and Martha Fleming. Archival collections ranging from Allan Fleming’s personal papers recently acquired by the Clara Cooper & Beatty fonds at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the MacLaren advertising fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described, followed by a list of archival resources by project.
Issue no. 63, ‘In Allan Fleming’s Archive,’ is a companion volume containing articles about the work of Fleming by historians of design, photography, and the book (no. 62, i). There is a personal look at Fleming by his daughter in ‘Allan Fleming at Home: A Partial Reconstruction.’ It provides a window into his personal library, his taste in music, the interior decor of his home, and his difficult final years. Donna Braggins, former art director at Maclean’s, outlines Fleming’s brief yet significant stint as designer and art director for the magazine, in which he ‘demonstrated to the Canadian design world that there was the possibility of a distinctly Canadian approach to design’ and left a legacy that ‘showed remarkable strength, humour and a successful marriage between the content and the design’ (no. 63, 29, 45). Carol Payne, photo studies scholar, discusses Allan Fleming’s award-winning work, Canada: A Year of the Land / Canada, du temps qui passe, produced with Lorraine Monk as a National Film Boad of Canada Still Photography Division Centennial project. It is a project which Fleming called ‘the most important commission of my career’ (no. 63, 53). Brian Donnelly discusses Allan Fleming’s work on a logo redesign at the Bay, a company with which the designer had a long association. Donnelly describes it as one of ‘the ones that got away’ (he lost the commission); nevertheless, Fleming succeeded in shaping ‘the process which in turn shaped the design’ (no. 63, 80). The issue concludes with Devin Crawley’s overview of the designer’s final ‘frustrating years’ in Canadian publishing at the University of Toronto Press where ‘a conflict between creative idealism and stern fiscal management’ played out between Fleming and the Press’s director (no. 63, 97).
These two issues of DA are meant to encourage in readers serious study of the work of Allan Fleming ‘by putting the research means at their disposal’ and giving them ‘a sense of just how much there is to discover’ (no. 62, 10). ‘The complete book is yet to be written, its author yet found’ (no. 63, 19). The challenge has been issued, the groundwork laid. Who will give this brilliant designer the recognition he is due? In the meantime DA has provided a welcome and long overdue treatment of the work and life of Allan Fleming.