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Five Lesser-Known Works from Push Pin’s Archives

With a Glaser and Chwast design thrown in for good measure

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of Push Pin Studio — the legendary collective of designers whose collective work revolutionized the field of commercial illustration. But there’s more to Push Pin than its most famous contributors like Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast. In a new exhibition at Poster House called The Push Pin Legacy, Poster House’s chief curator, Angelina Lippert, explores how the studio’s eclectic style helped to define the counterculture aesthetic of the 1960s and move beyond the austere minimalism that dominated the Mad Men era of advertising. It’s a comprehensive look at Push Pin’s work, not just from its most prominent designers, but of the 85 other talented designers and illustrators who passed through the studio.

The exhibition has been in development for the past three years with Lippert working closely with Chwast and Glaser, before he passed away in 2020. After the pandemic put everything on hold, Lippert spent the time shaping the show through one-on-one interviews with surviving member of Push Pin, from support staff to premiere illustrators. We caught up with her recently to talk us through the backstories of five lesser known but impactful posters that were produced by Push Pin.

1
Visit Dante's Inferno

Seymour Chwast, 1967

Visit Dante’s Inferno is one in a series of three travel posters that Push Pin sent to various ad agencies and companies as a creative way of promoting the studio. Typically based around a theme, in this case travel, the poster mailers included fictional destinations like Oz, the Land of the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey, and one of the nine circles of Hell. “It shows you the whimsical lens through which Push Pin viewed its own work, and also shows how people’s response was different from normal promotional products,” Lippert says. “It wasn’t just a little notepad that tells agencies, ‘come work with us.’ It was selling something so ridiculous that you had to smile, you had to engage with it, and you wanted to keep it.”

These posters, folded into pamphlets and printed in limited runs, became highly collected pieces of design ephemera even at the time of their distribution in the late 1960s. Lippert notes that Visit Dante’s Inferno even makes a cameo in the last season of Mad Men, appearing on the wall in Roger Sterling’s office. “Whoever was working on the Mad Men set knew that an ad agency would have been sent that and would have kept it.”

2
Unbreakable

Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, 1969 (Collection of Seymour Chwast)

A rare poster on view in the exhibition is Unbreakable, the collaborative poster by Glaser and Chwast designed in 1969. Lippert says that the print on display is actually Chwast’s personal copy because it was impossible to find anywhere else on loan or for sale. It was designed to advertise the exhibition Pushpin Studios: 15 years of Heartache and Aggravation, and it featured the work of both current and former members of the studio.

The only image on the poster is of an Unbreakable brand black plastic comb, the kind your grandfather might have kept in his pocket, only in this case the comb is ironically broken. Lippert says, “this image shows the tension and grit that the studio had, and how it thought of itself as a very utilitarian, very down in the muck kind of group.” The design itself is printed on rough butcher paper, which is also a nod to the craftsmanship nature of the studio’s approach to design.

3
New York Times

Ed Sorel, 1972

Another rare addition to the show is a set of two political posters by Ed Sorel for the New York Times. Drawn in his signature caricature style, full of movement and biting satire, they’re printed large scale to fit on the side of a subway. One depicts a reporter underneath the table at the Democratic National Convention when they didn’t know who the next nominee would be, and the other is of Nixon and McGovern, “dressed as Roman charioteers, glaring at each other while steering these wild, galloping horses, presumably metaphors for steering political policy,” Lippert explains. Given their scale, she was shocked to find that no one had ever seen these before. “They’re just beautiful pieces of satire.”

4
The Belle Of 14th Street

Tim Lewis, 1967

One of Lippert’s personal favorites from the music section of the show is the series of three designs that Tim Lewis made for the Belle of 14th Street, a Barbara Streisand special on CBS in 1967. “These are very inside baseball for poster enthusiasts because they’re all referencing very famous Art Nouveau prints,” Lippert explains. Push Pin was known for its mastery of the referential. Lippert says they’d often send assistants on research trips to the New York Public Library, pulling images to remix and reimagine from sources as varied as comic books, old woodblock prints, or Toulouse-Lautrec’s illustrations of the Belle Époque.

This poster series is no exception to that referential design process. Lewis places Streisand inside of an Alphonse Mucha poster from the 1890s but Push Pin also knew Streisand collected Mucha posters, so the decision to reference the Art Nouveau aesthetic, “feels very full circle and very meta,” Lippert says.

5
Cool Rock, Hot Rolls

John Alcorn, 1969 (Collection of Stephen Alcorn)

Most of us are familiar with the iconic work by Glaser and Chwast but there were so many other lesser-known designers who contributed beautiful work during their time at Push Pin. John Alcorn, who lived till age 56, was one such designer. Poster House worked with Alcorn’s son who loaned most of his father’s work for the show due to the limited amount of prints still available for sale. Alcorn’s work was a key component in the development of the commercial psychedelic style of the time. “There were the San Francisco rock scene poster designers, and then there was John Alcorn,” Lippert says.

One of his posters featured in the exhibition is the 1969 print Cool Rock and Hot Rolls, advertising an event that was sponsored by the Cooper Union Alumni Association. “It was essentially an all-night dance party advertising to a crowd that’s the equivalent of what today’s hipsters would have been then,” Lippert says. It’s an image of a larger-than-life female figure, adorned with various suggestive foods like voluptuous bread rolls and a slice of cherry pie, all strategically placed on her naked body. “It’s obviously very erotic,” Lippert says, indicating the giant sausage looming in the background, “and yet it’s still so beautiful.” Alcorn drew the image on rough Strathmore paper with a lot of tooth so there’s a textured grain that is still visible when reproduced as a poster.

“Alcorn was very aware of how limited the budget was because this was an Alumni Association so it’s only two colors; even though when the colors are blended and shaded, it looks like it’s four or five colors. Everyone at Push Pin had a very economic sense for printing and color and knew how to make the most with the least.”

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