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6 Apr 2012

Lossless Toronto: The Harold Kurschenska Touch

Lossless Toronto: The Harold Kurschenska Touch

Harold Kurschenska cut his teeth at the University of Toronto Press starting in 1957 as an apprentice compositor where he quickly became a stand out. After gaining his journeyman’s papers Kurschenska soon left the world of metal plates and ink for a drafting desk and the life of type design. A founding member of the Guild for Hand Printers (f. 1956) and President of the Typography Designers of Canada in 1965 just as the organization was changing it’s name and scope to become the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, Kurschenska gave striking and dynamic publications to the academia of Toronto, Canada and the world.

When held up against other mid-century work by his contemporaries like Aldo Novarese , in a time of Andy Warhol, Kurschenska’s work hardly seems innovative, or edgy. His strengths lay in his ability to introduce touch and feel into typographical works, and his capacity to appeal to the public with clear and effective, as well as aesthetically pleasing, publications.

Kurschenska’s work was often bold and striking but he was also known for his smaller flourishes and details. During the year of 1961 Kurschenska would design a special insignia to be placed on each copyright page of every publication he worked on. Also in this year he would produce perhaps his most notable work, the landmark Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man by Marshall McLuhan. The treatment given to the integration of text and images was  pioneering and is seen today as blurring the division between academia and mass media. Kurschenska’s type and layout married perfectly with McLuhan’s unorthodox style, enhancing the readers understanding of the text. McLuhan would later say that any subsequent printings by American publishers never gave the book the same sensitive treatment. It was with The Gutenberg Galaxy that Kurschenska introduced touch into the typographical lexicon. (The Gutenberg Galaxy was published five years before McLuhan’s bestselling work, The Medium is the Message.)


An event held in October of 1963 by the International Center for the Typography Graphic Arts would give Kurschenska the momentum to leave UTP in search of independence and greater responsibility (a move he would later admit was less than successful as he would return to UTP in 1973 where he remained until retirement in 1996). Typomundus 20 was a gathering of 10 000 international design entries to be judged by a panel of judges including prominent figures such as  Hans Neuburg (Switzerland), Anton Stankowski (Germany), Lou Dorfsman (USA), Piet Zwart (Netherlands), Hiromu Hara (Japan) and Hermann Zapf (Germany). Typomundus 20’s organizers had the foresight to remove the usual time constraints, meaning works from the 30’s and 40’s are shown in tandem with the modern designs of the day and the compendium book to this event has become a cult classic.

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