Elaine Lustig Cohen collection
Scope and Contents
The Elaine Lustig Cohen Collection contains two series: Clients and Personal. The Clients series encompasses most of the collection and focuses on Cohen's work as a graphic designer from the mid 1950s to the late 1960s, with much of the documentation consisting of letterheads, book covers, and catalogs. Her book cover designs for Meridan Books are well represented. Cohen counted cultural groups and galleries as her main clients, with these chiefly represented by Kootz Gallery, Jewish Museum, Sona, and the Museum of Modern Art. Other notables include architects Eero Saarinen and Philip Johnson and consist of letterheads and signage for buildings (GM Technical Center and Seagram Building, respectively). Lastly, the collection includes a small number of graphic identification projects that were never realized: Federal Aviation Agency (photocopies), Lincoln Center (designed with Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar), and Monsanto (photocopies).
Personal records include catalogs for posthumous exhibits on Alvin Lustig, Cohen's own exhibits, and giclée prints of her artwork ("alphabet series"). Also included are letterheads (for Cohen and family members), as well as invitations to the annual New Year's Day parties she held with her second husband, Arthur Cohen. Promotional materials designed for her bookstore Ex Libris comprise the main portion of records in this series, and consist of catalogs, shortlists, brochures, and letterheads.
- Creation: circa 1955-2008
- Cohen, Elaine Lustig (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Biographical / Historical
How do I divide my time? During the 1950s and early 1960s mostly graphic design, interior design and signage. Painting, collage, works on paper from the mid-1960s to the present, with some graphic design from time to time.1
Elaine Lustig Cohen was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1927. She attended Tulane University, and earned her BFA in 1948 from the University of Southern California. After graduation, she met and married graphic designer Alvin Lustig, and from 1948 until his death in 1955, she managed his studio. As Lustig's health and vision deteriorated, Cohen expanded her experience and carried out his ideas for clients. One such project was a 1955 catalog for Lightolier (see folder 2.6).
Cohen's earliest solo work was in finishing a number of Lustig's commissions after his death. These projects included signage for the Seagram Building in New York and a series of book covers for Meridian Books. Heavily influenced by European design, specifically Bauhaus and Modernism, her work has been described as having a "…typographic playfulness."2 Cohen's clients included book publishers (Meridian, George Braziller, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy), galleries (Jewish Museum, Kootz Gallery, Museum of Modern Art), and architects (Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson). Because she was the sole proprietor of her studio, much of her work was in smaller-scale projects, such as book covers, building signage, and letterheads. Of this last type, she is not only a designer, but a collector as well, stating:
This small-scale object is one of the most challenging design problems. It must be personal and strong, using minimal means to reflect the spirit of an individual or company. It is a direct encounter with a piece of paper that is usually more sensual and luxurious than the stock for other printed pieces…. At Ex Libris we offered the letterheads in our catalogues along with books and other works on paper, but they rarely sold. Greedily, I kept them for myself. 3
Since the late 1960s, Cohen moved away from designing for clients and focused on painting, having several exhibitions of her work since that time. In 1956, she married Arthur A. Cohen, and together they opened Ex Libris in 1973. The bookstore and gallery specialized in the avant-garde and included books, prints, artist archives, and all manner of printed material. Ex Libris closed in the late 1990s. Cohen continues to paint and exhibit her work.
1 Gomez-Placio, Bryony and Armin Vit. Women of Design: Influence and Inspiration from the Original Trailblazers to the New Groundbreakers. Cincinnati, Ohio: How Books, 2008, pp.22.
2 Heller, Steven, “A Place on the Map.” From I.D., vol. 42, no. 3 (May/June 1995), pp.51.
3 Cohen, Elaine Lustig, "Forward." From Letters from the Avant-Garde (written with Ellen Lupton). New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
4.67 Linear Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 2 oversize boxes, 1 slide box )
Collection of materials from graphic designer and artist Elaine Lustig Cohen, including brochures, catalogs, letterhead, and book covers.
The collection is arranged into three series: Series I. Clients, circa 1955-2001; Series II. Personal, circa 1956-2008, and Series III. Digital Images used in the Elaine Lustig Cohen Chapbook.
Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Elaine Lustig Cohen collection was donated to the Graphic Design Archives by Cohen’s daughter, Tamar Cohen, in October, 2008. An additional portion of the collection was donated by Tamar Cohen in June, 2017, and has been assimilated into the existing collection.
Collection processed by Amy Vilz, January 2012
Finding aid encoded by Amy Vilz, February 2012
Genre / Form
- Commercial art
- Covers (gathered matter components)
- Graphic design -- 1950-1980
- Promotional materials
- Elaine Lustig Cohen collection
- Cary Graphic Design Archives
- Amy Vilz, updated by Lauren Alberque 8/2018
- 08 February 2012
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note