Matthew Leibowitz papers
Scope and Contents
The collection is divided into 4 series: Clients, Bibliographic records, Photographic records, and Biographic records.
Series I. Clients
This series is comprised of project artwork, portfolios, and exhibition panels. Project artwork contains logo designs, mock-ups (Chanel, TWA, Fortune and Time magazines), drawings, and gouache paintings (Bamberger’s, Teleservice). Also noteworthy are mock-ups and drawings created for a conceptual film for General Dynamics. A small amount of business correspondence (in folder 1.2) includes a complaint regarding Leibowitz’s "Sleep and the Beautiful Lady" advertisement.
Portfolios focus on examples of finished publications with a focus on IBM, Caedmon Records, and Sharp and Dohme. Exhibition panels are mainly comprised of those created for Matthew Leibowitz: A Legendary Modernist, a 2007 retrospective exhibition held at the Philadelphia University of the Arts.
Series II. Bibliographic records
This is the largest series in the collection and includes Client publications; Writings on Leibowitz; Publicity; Awards and honors; and Organizations and conferences. The most important subseries is Client publications, containing print samples of advertisements, brochures, annual reports, record album covers, and letterhead. Major clients covered include: IBM, Caedmon Records, Sharp and Dohme, Otis, and Philip Morris. There are also small amounts of samples featuring well-known work for Reichhold Chemicals, Red Cross, and Arch Nadler. Also notable are a complete corporate identity manual created for Gulf + Western, and a set of paperweights encasing a vial of the drug Acth made for Sharp and Dohme.
Writings on Leibowitz include articles and annuals from the late 1940s to mid 1960s. "Dialogs on Graphic Design" (folder 5.8) includes a short essay by Leibowitz. Publicity includes article reprints, Leibowitz’s register with a listing of his work and research material, and leaflets of his 1959 IBM ad campaign published in Time magazine.
Series III. Photographic records
These include photographs, slides, and transparencies of his work, friends, family, and acquaintances, as well as portraits of Leibowitz from childhood and into his professional life. Some images were taken by photographer Naomi Savage and are noted as such. Significant photographs include images of Leibowitz with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Frank Lloyd Wright, Savignac, Harry Bertoia, and Jean Carlu. There are also interior and exterior images of the Leibowitz home in Rydal, Pennsylvania.
Most clients are represented in the photograph series. Of particular note are a set of transparencies and script description for a General Dynamics conceptual film. Also present is a Gulf + Western corporate identity program presentation of slides and speech notes, many featuring Leibowitz’s fondness for puns.
Series IV. Biographic records
Blueprints, correspondence, and receipts documenting the design and construction of the Leibowitz home (and studio) in Rydal, Pennsylvania are in this series. A small amount of correspondence includes charming handmade cards for Leibowitz made by his daughters Jan and Lynn. Leibowitz enjoyed painting in his personal life as well. Artwork included here contains paintings and works on paper from two series: Geoma and Spectra.
- Creation: circa 1917-2007, undated
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1945 - 1970
- Leibowitz, Matthew (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Biographical / Historical
Graphic designer Matthew Leibowitz was born on August 21, 1918 in Philadelphia. A practitioner of the International Style, Leibowitz would become well-known for his sure use of primary colors juxtaposed with stark white, and by his tendency to use found pictures in his work. In 1957, the German magazine Gebrauchsgraphik described his technique:
If the designer is true to his instincts, the design and typography of his concepts will automatically fulfill the standard of excellence for which he is retained to serve.1
…with sovereign mastership he makes use of all means of representation available today and frequently employs old pictorial elements wittily presenting them in a quite novel and always clearly planned picture, thereby bringing them closer to our modern way of feeling.2
Leibowitz attended night classes at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Arts (now the Philadelphia University of the Arts) and worked in layout and typography at Gray and Rogers design firm during the day. After earning his degree, he worked briefly as an art director in Paris before returning to the United States where he spent the next two years as art director of an advertising agency in Philadelphia. In 1942, Leibowitz left the agency and began working independently as a freelance designer, and would remain so for the rest of his career. It was then that he began creating for such clients as IBM, Container Corporation of America, Sharp and Dohme, Caedmon Records, General Dynamic, and Philip Morris. Describing his work for Caedmon, Leibowitz wrote, "The Caedmon record sleeves represent some recent assignments of sheer enjoyment, and an ideal client who encourages me to pursue an idea as I like to do it- meticulously and without limits."3
In 1949, Leibowitz began design and construction of his home at 929 Frog Hollow Road in Rydal, Pennsylvania. The modern aesthetics of the home received positive publicity. Leibowitz worked from home and designed the studio to suit his needs. Customizations included an adjustable desk that could be raised for painting, special fluorescent lighting above the desk allowed for no distortion of colors, and a bulletin board where Leibowitz posted a changing display of objects, pictures of interest and influence, and the works of other contemporary artists.
Over the course of his career, Leibowitz would earn over 260 gold medals in design and hold one man shows in Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United States. One of his many admired works was the symbol he designed for ITT. Of this design he said, "Everyone thought I wracked my brains over that one, but it really was one of the easiest"4 (Leibowitz had sketched the design on the back of an envelope while on a train from New York to Philadelphia).
Matthew Leibowitz died of leukemia at the age of 57 in 1974.
1 Leibowitz, Matthew. What is New in American Typography?, 1959. 9.6, Matthew Leibowitz Collection, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
2 "Matthew Leibowitz- New York," Gebrauchsgraphik, (May 1957), 6.1, Matthew Leibowitz Collection, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
3 "Dialogs on Graphic Design-V," Industrial Design, vol. 4 no. 1 (January 1957), 5.8, Matthew Leibowitz Collection, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
4 "Matthew Leibowitz, 57; Noted Graphic Designer", Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3?, 1974, 9.13, Matthew Leibowitz Collection, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
34 Linear Feet (13 manuscript boxes, 20 oversize boxes, 1 map drawer, 20 paintings, 1 sculpture)
Collection of materials from graphic designer Matthew Leibowitz (1918-1974), including advertisements, publications, publicity material, project artwork, correspondence, paintings, and photographs.
This collection is arranged into four series: Series I. Clients, circa 1940-2007, undated; Series II. Bibliographic records, circa 1942-1974, undated; Series III. Photographic records, circa 1918-1973, undated; and Series IV. Biographic records, circa 1917-1977, undated.
Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Matthew Leibowitz Collection was donated to Rochester Institute of Technology in December, 2008 by Leibowitz’s daughters, Jan Bresnick and Lynn Leibowitz.
Collection processed by Amy Vilz, June 2011
Finding aid encoded by Megan Moltrup, February 2012
Genre / Form
- Blueprints (reprographic copies)
- Color transparencies
- Commercial art
- Slides (photographs)
- Stats (copies)
- Tear sheets
- Matthew Leibowitz papers
- Cary Graphic Design Archives
- Ready To Publish
- Megan Moltrup
- 19 February 2012
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note