This coming fall Rochester Institute of Technology continues its excellent lecture series, “Women Design Pioneers.” One of those featured is designer Henrietta Condak.

Back in 1992 Seymour Chwast invited me to be a judge on the panel of the Art Directors Club Annual Awards show. My first such venture, I have to admit I was awestruck by my renowned co-judges. At lunch I sat between AIGA medalist Fred Woodward and Henrietta Condak. Fred leaned over me and told her what a great influence her work had been on him. You can also add to that stellar list AIGA medalists Paula Scher and Caren Goldberg, both of whom worked with Henrietta.

Photograph by David Michael Kennedy
Photograph by David Michael Kennedy

A native New Yorker born in Manhattan, Henrietta attended Cooper Union. Upon graduation she began her career at Esquire’s GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly) magazine and moved on to the Esquire Magazine promotion department. After leaving Esquire/GQ, she traveled with Massachusetts-born illustrator Cliff Condak, who had just quit had his job at the J. Walter Thompson Agency, to Florence, Italy, where they married.

Billie Holiday /God Bless the Child LP cover, design by Henrietta Condak, Illustration by Cliff Condak
Billie Holiday /God Bless the Child LP cover, design by Henrietta Condak, Illustration by Cliff Condak

In 1963 she joined the Columbia Records art department as a designer, working for art directors Bob Cato and John Berg. There, Henrietta and Cliff collaborated on occasion, but she also worked with many other illustrators, including David Levine, Robert Van Nutt, Philip Hays, Robert Weaver, John Collier, Milton Glaser, David Wilcox, et al. Cliff passed away in 1985.

Other album covers she designed were purely conceptual. Henrietta soon established a high standard of typographic excellence and design, making the most out of post-modern historical references, albeit in a completely contemporary and personal milieu. She was eventually joined at Columbia by other young designers like Scher and Goldberg, as well as Richard Mantel, Tony Lane, Anne Garner, Lloyd Ziff, Gerry Huerta, Andy Engle, Chris Austopchuk, Nancy Donald, et al.

Leaving Columbia in 1984, she opened her own studio, Condak Design, with music clients such as Nonesuch/Elektra Records, Score Productions, Balanchine Foundation, and publishing clients that included Simon & Schuster, Random House, Crown Publishing, Business Week, Time, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times, among others, designing books as disparate as Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts, The United States and China , and Damon Runyon, A Life by Jimmy Breslin.

Book jacket design by Henrietta Condak
Book jacket design by Henrietta Condak

Today Henrietta is fully engaged in her own design and fine art projects, the two at times overlapping. A professor at the School of Visual Arts since 1982, there was a recent exhibition of her senior Type Design students’ work “Form and Letterform: Interventions 2010-2013” at the SVA Gallery. The following year the show was exhibited in Paris at the Ensa Paris–Malaquais Galerie (affiliated with L’Ecole Nationale Superieure D’Architecture). In ample evidence was Henrietta’s continued influence on future generations.

SVA Gallery, "Form and Letterform: Interventions 2010-2013”
SVA Gallery, “Form and Letterform: Interventions 2010-2013”