Milton Glaser Was a Good Friend of Ours

September 8, 2020

Legendary graphic designer left indelible mark on 1199.

milton.jpgLegendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, who passed away June 26 – his 91st birthday – played a major role in the cultural life of 1199.

Glaser is widely counted among artists who have exerted the most farreaching effects on the nation’s visual culture. He was one of the founders of Push Pin Studios–the revolutionary graphic design organization–and New York magazine. Over seven decades, he produced a vast quantity of powerful graphic imagery. The circulation of his 1966 psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan exceeded six million. His 1977 “I (heart) New York” is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. After the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, T-shirts with the logo became a symbol an international sign of solidarity.

Milton_fa.jpgHis political posters championed issues such as civil and women’s rights, peace, climate protection and the fight against AIDS. He designed the poster that helped win the yearslong grape boycott in the 1960s that led to a crucial union contract for the United Farm Workers.

Glaser’s work reflected his lifelong commitment to justice, equality and humankind.

That commitment and love of his hometown began in childhood. “I’m political because I grew up that way in the Bronx, in ‘The Coops,’ a left-wing cooperative building,” Glaser told a New York Observer interviewer in 2016. “And it was a politicized time.

Everyone was involved in politics— demonstrations every day. . . .It was about trying to eke out a way of living, it was about wages, it was about protecting workers, it was about the emergence of a strong labor force.”

Glaser was a long-time friend of Moe Foner, 1199’s public relations and cultural genius and founder of Bread and Roses (B&R), the Union’s celebrated cultural program. The two, born into the same radical tradition, did not veer from that course. Glaser served as an informal but highly valued consultant to B&R and was a member of the Program’s board of advisors.

He made a key contribution to B&R’s 1980 “Images of Labor” poster series, in which artists produced works to accompany quotes by labor and other progressive leaders. Glaser was the first artist to whom Foner pitched the idea. He responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up.

For the series, Glaser painted a dove rising from a pair of bound hands to illustrate the 1927 words of the framed Italian immigrant and anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti: “It is true indeed that they can execute the body, but they cannot execute the idea which is bound to live.” In addition to the extensive U.S. tour of the exhibit, Glaser’s poster was reproduced by the Swedish labor movement and distributed in union halls, schools and public institutions throughout the country.

In 1999, Glaser produced for B&R the simple but powerful poster ORGANIZE. The poster, with a timeless message produced in vertical descending letters, can be found today in 1199, SEIU and other union offices.

In 2009, Glaser became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts, presented to him by President Barack Obama.

Esther Cohen, Foner’s B&R successor, was also a friend of Glaser’s. It was she who commissioned him to produce ORGANIZE as well as the cover illustration for Foner’s biography, “Not for Bread Alone.”

Cohen attests to Glaser’s commitment and love for his profession. “I called him on his 90th birthday last year,” Cohen says. “He was at work.”

His enduring influence on 1199 extends to this magazine. It is designed by Maiarelli Studio, headed by Giona Maiarelli, a protégé of Milton Glaser.

1199 Magazine | July / August 2020