Will Burtin papers
Scope and Contents
The Will Burtin Papers, circa 1857-1972 [bulk 1955-1972], mainly cover his
professional work created through his firm, Will Burtin Inc., concentrating from the late
1950s to Burtin’s death in 1972. Previous professional work, including that created in
Germany, as well as Fortune and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), is not covered in
great detail. German work includes eleven pieces of artwork [located in 184.1-184.11:
“Early projects, original artwork,”], and publications and brochures
designed for German clients (Einst Jetzt, Fanal Flamme, Glas im Bau, Kristallspiegelglas, and Sie Wollen Bauen!).
Fortune and OSS documentation contains a small amount of correspondence. Records for Fortune also include mounted covers and spreads (mainly used for publicity and exhibition purposes), tear sheets of spreads, transparencies of magazine covers and images used in articles, and a magazine Christmas subscription card.
Although not extensive, documentation for Burtin’s tenure in the army includes his sextant, gunnery manuals he designed, photographs of him in uniform and with OSS colleagues, and his discharge papers. Letters from Burtin and Fortune publisher William D. Geer sent to the army discuss Burtin’s acceptance of employment as Fortune art director.
The collection is organized in five series: clients, photographic materials, bibliographic, business, and biographic records.
Series I. Clients, circa 1926-1971, 1984, 2006, undated
The largest of the five series, Series I contains records pertaining to the various aspects of work developed for clients of Will Burtin Inc. Correspondence regarding projects as well as draft and finished artwork, presentation portfolios, architectural drawings, posters, exhibition panels, three-dimensional exhibit models, and audio/visual materials are all present in this series. Through extensive documentation in these various formats, the process of Burtin’s work can be studied. Of particular interest are the Cell, Kalamazoo...and how it grew!, The Atom in Action, and Eastman Kodak 1964 World’s Fair pavilion. Major clients such as Union Carbide, Eastman Kodak, IBM, McGraw-Hill, and the University Circle Development Foundation are all represented, with documentation for Upjohn projects accounting for the bulk of this series records.
Work completed for Upjohn, most importantly, the large-scale exhibits of the Cell, Brain, Chromosome, and Inflammation are covered in great detail. Correspondence regarding these projects, as well as notes, publications, artwork, photographs, slides, transparencies, films, architectural drawings and plans, audio materials, and exhibit models can all be studied to give meaningful understanding to Burtin’s design process.
The majority of client correspondence and project artwork covers the years 1958- 1970. Records for clients vary from just a few documents to several folders, depending on the longevity of Burtin’s relationship with the client, as well as the length of the project. Project artwork contains mechanicals, sketches, drawings, mock-ups and dummies. Architectural drawings and plans offer a detailed view of various exhibits. Many are covered amongst the different subseries formats, such as The World of Brunswick, Eastman Kodak 1964 World’s Fair pavilion, University Circle Cleveland signage project, and IBM Community Living showcase exhibit. However, some projects, for example, the 1964 World’s Fair Illinois state pavilion and Hall of Science pavilion, have most of their documentation within the architectural plan subseries.
Posters and broadsides span Burtin’s career, from a 1948 poster for the 27th annual exhibition of the Art Directors Club of New York, to the Brain, Cell, Kalamazoo…and how it grew!, and Communication of Knowledge exhibits. Broadsides for speeches and lectures are also included. Exhibition panels almost exclusively consist of those used in Burtin’s Communication of Knowledge exhibit created for his receipt of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) medal award in 1971.
Major exhibits can also be studied via the 27 architectural models in the collection, some with numerous iterations. The Brain, Cell, Chromosome, Eastman Kodak film tower (part of 1964 World’s Fair pavilion), Inflammation, and the Muscle are all represented. Models of smaller projects include the Living Monument exhibit created for Société Générale du Banque, and a series of 5 trophy bases designed for Upjohn’s Salesman of the Year award. Please note: While most models are intact, some have sustained small amounts of damage, or are in pieces with original structure unknown.
Audio/visual materials provide additional insight into Burtin’s work. Several of Vision 67 conference addresses, including those of R. Buckminster Fuller and Burtin, are included. Additionally, the collection includes companion films created for some of Burtin’s most famous Upjohn exhibits: Inflammation: Defense of Life and Chromosome: Genes in Action. Publicity films include footage of television programs What is Life? (regarding the Cell) and Horizons (publicizing the Chromosome) for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Please note: Audiotape materials have been re-formatted and are accessed via compact disc. However, films have been re-housed only, with original packaging retained. Films cannot be played, but are available for cursory examination.
Series II. Photographic records, circa 1944-1971, 2006, undated
Photographic records are comprised of four subseries: photographs by client, photographs by subject, slides, transparencies, and negatives. Subseries A. Photographs by client/project, consist chiefly of images of exhibit models and finished exhibits. Some projects (for example, Upjohn’s Brain and Chromosome exhibits) contain images used for research during the creation of the exhibit, or were part of the explanatory material in the exhibit itself. All major clients and projects are represented, with an emphasis on Upjohn projects. Some projects are documented in more detail than others. For instance, the 1964 World’s Fair Eastman Kodak pavilion includes images of various models considered for the final exhibit.
Other images offer visual information only available within the photographic subseries. For example, images of the Brain, Cell, The Atom in Action, and Visual Communications 1957 include detail views of exhibit panels and stations. Furthermore, photographs offer documentation for events, such as a 1955 appearance by Burtin at the Art Center in Los Angeles and the 3rd and 5th International Design Conferences at Aspen (1953 and 1955 respectively). Photographs by subject serve mainly as a “picture file” of images, used either for research, or they appeared directly in numerous projects.
To a large extent, subseries slides, transparencies, and negative images overlap those found in photographs. Unique material to these subseries does exist; specifically in regards to slide presentations. For example, the slide subseries contain presentations created for Upjohn: Corporate Communications and Reality in 1970, as well as other slides used for lectures and other presentations. Events are also covered in the slide subseries, specifically the 1958 Art and Science of Typography conference at Silvermine, and the 6th International Design Conference at Aspen in 1956.
Please note: When known, photographers are listed for each folder’s contents. Most accredited photographs were taken by Ezra Stoller.
Series III. Bibliographic records, circa 1931-1972, undated
Series III consists of ten subseries, the largest of which is exhibition/client publications. Upjohn publications and advertising material comprises most of this subseries. However, exhibition booklets, journals, brochures, and letterhead designed for other clients are also documented to a great degree, including Herman Miller Furniture, ESTO, Reynolds Metals, and Strathmore Paper. Please note: Although all Upjohn materials were not designed by Burtin, they were created during his tenure as design consultant.
Bibliographic records also document Burtin’s professional work outside that completed for clients, and include writings on and by Burtin, speeches, teachings, professional organizations he belonged to, conferences he attended and organized, awards and honors, publicity, and research material (each its own subseries). Burtin’s prolific writings on design and communication are well-documented and include handwritten manuscripts.
As Burtin was heavily involved in professional organizations, documentation of various design organizations and conferences is especially strong. Alliance Graphique Internationale (with correspondence with Jean Carlu), American Institute of Graphic Arts, International Center for the Communication Arts and Sciences, and International Council of Graphic Design Associations are well represented. Design conferences are also welldocumented particularly the period from the mid-1950s to 1971. These include: the International Design Conference at Aspen series, 1958 Art and Science of Typography at Silvermine (organized by Burtin), 1959 Typography USA, and Vision 65, 67, and 69 (organized by Burtin).
Although the speeches and teachings subseries cover Burtin’s career from the mid- 1940s to 1971, their documentation is small in volume. The majority of teachings deal with Burtin’s work at the Pratt Institute, where he was on staff and served for a short time as chairman of the Visual Communication department.
Series IV. Business records, circa 1950-1971, undated
Business records consist of two subseries: general business records and accounts. Highlights in general business records include Burtin’s appointment book pages, office rolodex, designs in progress (which describe time, payroll, and staff for projects), and notes written by Cipe Pineles Burtin regarding the proposed creation of “Will Burtin Associates” in 1971. A small amount of records also describe work completed by Burtin’s wives Hilde and Cipe Pineles as staff members of Will Burtin Inc. Accounts consist mainly of invoices and receipts for client projects from 1951 to 1971.
Series V. Biographic records, circa 1857-1972
Series V contains records offering insight into Burtin’s personal life. The Burtins brought various documents with them upon their 1938 immigration into the United States, including family genealogical records, a 1933 German passport (Deutsches Reich Reisepass), and two books by Jan Tschichold: Die Neue Typographie and Eine Stunde Druckestaltung.
Personal correspondence consists of family, friends, and acquaintances, mainly wife Cipe Pineles Burtin, daughter Carol Burtin Fripp, and sister Rosa Lansbeck. Letters from friends include Robert Osborn, Alger Hiss, and Willem Sandberg, and many are get-well wishes for Burtin during his illness of 1971 to 1972. Letters to and from Dr. Phillip Knöll, (whom he apprenticed for as a young man in Germany), span 1955 to 1966, and document their lifelong friendship.
Images of Burtin, his family, travels, and home in New City, New York are also documented. A small amount of records, including bound check registers and Hilde Burtin’s estate, offer insight into Burtin’s financial matters.
Lastly, this series documents Burtin’s death. Tributes by Saul Bass, F.H.K. Henrion, and Parsons School of Design dean David C. Levy, obituary clippings and press releases announcing Burtin’s death, and the memorial service guestbook are all present. The guestbook contains the signatures of colleagues and friends of Will Burtin, including Lou Dorfsman, Saul Bass, Ezra Stoller, Dr. Robert L. Leslie, Edward Gottschall, Max Gschwind, and Alger Hiss.
- Majority of material found within 1955 - 1972
- Burtin, Will (Person)
Language of Materials
Majority in English, some in French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Chronology of Exhibits
- Early German work: Einst Jetzt, Glas im Bau, Sie Wollen Bauen!, Kristallspiegelglas
- Federal Works Exhibition, US Pavilion, New York World’s Fair
- Integration: The New Discipline in Design, the Composing Room, New York City
- Plastics in America, US Information Agency
- Cell exhibit at American Medical Association, Upjohn
- Kalamazoo…and how it grew!, US Information Agency, London
- Kalamazoo…Eine Mittelstadt im Mittelwesten, US Information Agency, Berlin
- Brain, Upjohn
- Brain II, Italia 61: Turin, Italy
- The Atom in Action, Union Carbide Corporation, New York City
- Visual Aspects of Science, Upjohn
- Metabolism: the Cycle of Life, Upjohn
- Eastman Kodak Pavilion, World’s Fair, New York City
- Hall of Science and Health, Upjohn, World’s Fair, New York City
- The World of Brunswick, Chicago
- Chromosome: Genes in Action, Upjohn, New York City
- Heredity and You, Upjohn, Time-Life headquarters, New York City
- McGraw-Hill: Communications Center, New York City
- University Circle Development Foundation signage project, Cleveland
- Inflammation: Defense of Life, Upjohn
- Muscle, Upjohn
- New World, IBM
- Communication of Knowledge, American Institute of Graphic Arts, New York City
- United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm
- Posthumous:Memorial exhibition, US London Embassy
Biographical / Historical
Designer, art director, and teacher, Will Burtin was born in 1908 in Cologne, Germany. Burtin initially trained as a typographer and served as an apprentice in 1922. At night, he expanded his education into design by attending and later teaching at the Cologne Werkschule. His successful design practice included the creation of exhibits and printed publications for industrial clients. By the late 30s, Burtin’s work had garnered so much attention in Germany, that he was approached by Hitler to design for the Nazis: “They were insidious. I couldn’t refuse and stay in Germany.”1
Quickly finding work, Burtin designed the Federal Works Exhibition for the United States Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and began teaching at the Pratt Institute. As a freelance designer, Burtin earned a medal from the New York Art Directors Club in 1941 for his cover design of Architectural Forum, and had an issue of A-D (vol. 8, no. 3) devoted entirely to his work from the previous decade. These would be the first of many honors awarded to Burtin over the course of his career.
In 1943, Will Burtin was drafted into the US Army and spent the next three years designing gunnery manuals. This unique ability to visually express complex concepts would emerge as a defining characteristic of Burtin’s work. Years later, photographer Ezra Stoller cited this experience, along with Burtin’s background in typography and printing as helping to define his tenure as art director (1945-1949) of Fortune magazine:
The layouts suddenly invested Fortune with a new dimension. Copy and illustrations were not just neatly organized; they were presented as counterpoint to each other. Indeed, one could get the sense of a story by simply following the layout with the text acting as a clarification and reinforcement.2
The mid to late 40s saw Burtin expand his role in professional organizations, serving as Director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). In 1948, Burtin’s Integration: The New Discipline in Design exhibit opened at the Composing Room in New York City. In the introduction to the exhibition, designer Serge Chermayeff stated:
This new art of ‘visualization,’ of giving visual form in two or three dimensions to a message, is the product of a new kind of artist functionary evolved by our complex society. This artist possesses the inclusive equipment of liberal knowledge, scientific and technical experience, and artisticability…. Among the small band of pioneers who have developed this new language by bringing patient research and brilliant inventiveness to their task is Will Burtin.3
In 1949, Will Burtin Inc., opened in New York City, later moving to fellow designer Alvin Lustig’s studio in 1956. Among his clients were IBM, the United States Information Agency (USIA), Union Carbide Corporation, and Eastman Kodak.
United States Information Agency (USIA), 1958
Burtin designed many exhibits for USIA; some were realized (such as Plastics in America and Werbepackung in Amerika), others were not. One of the most successful depicted life in a characteristic Midwestern American town, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo…and how it grew! traveled throughout England, and later to Berlin. A winding paper ribbon and oversize Gibson guitar represented the past and current industries of the region, and were exhibited along with personal insights of the average citizen of Kalamazoo.
Union Carbide, 1962
Portraying the complexities of atomic energy, Burtin designed The Atom in Action, showcased at Union Carbide’s headquarters in New York City. Once again, he condensed intricate scientific principles into an accessible, yet aesthetically sophisticated exhibit. The Atom in Action maintained popularity and remained on exhibit at Union Carbide for many years.
Eastman Kodak, 1960-1962
New construction techniques and a unique “flying carpet” design brought considerable attention to Burtin’s Eastman Kodak Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. The pavilion included an eighty foot high photo tower and moon deck. Although Burtin’s contract with Eastman Kodak was terminated before the pavilion was built, the Concrete Industry Board bestowed Burtin with a special award in 1964 for its design.
Most noteworthy, Burtin served for 22 years as both Upjohn’s design consultant and art director of its in-house publication, Scope. His work on Scope continued his use of graphics and imagery in communicating complicated journal text. He worked to create a unique corporate identity for Upjohn, a new concept at the time. For Upjohn, Burtin produced some of the most celebrated exhibits of his career: the Cell, the Brain, and Inflammation: Defense of Life. These immensely popular walk-in exhibits provided a clear, visual interpretation of abstract scientific processes.
Two important events impacted this final period. Burtin’s contract with Upjohn was terminated after two decades of a successful relationship between the designer and pharmaceutical giant. Also, Burtin was diagnosed with cancer. His illness and the loss of this long-time client led to a re-structuring of his design practice, Will Burtin Inc. This scaled-down practice, Will Burtin Associates, is described in detail in a proposal written by second-wife, designer Cipe Pineles. Burtin married Pineles in 1962. His first-wife, Hilde, passed away in 1961.
Although he kept working, his illness did take a toll. It seems that Cipe accepted increasing responsibilities of his practice, and assisted in Burtin’s final projects, the Living Monument exhibit for the Société Générale du Banque in Belgium, and a large-scale exhibit on the environment for the United Nations. Additionally, Burtin had accepted a 1971 appointment as Research Fellow and Lecturer in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. Regrettably, his illness prevented him from carrying out this assignment.
Will Burtin died January 18, 1972 at age 64. A memorial service was held January 22 at the Church Center for the United Nations. Many of Burtin’s close friends and colleagues attended, including Lou Dorfsman, Ezra Stoller, Dr. Robert L. Leslie, Edward Gottschall, Saul Bass, Max Gschwind, and Alger Hiss. Longtime friend and colleague Saul Bass gave the eulogy. Will Burtin’s work in design was not short-lived or forgotten. Indeed, friend and photographer Ezra Stoller wrote in 1984:
Long after Burtin left Fortune the imprint of his ideas lingered on, mostly in ‘On the Frontier,’ which was one color page per issue illustrating a radically new work or industrial process….Merely a remnant left behind by the high water mark of the unique genius. There never has been anyone the likes of Will Burtin.4
1 Scotford, Martha, Cipe Pineles: A Life of Design, Norton: New York, 1999, p 107.
2 Letter [photocopy] by Ezra Stoller to Chris Mullen, October 5, 1984, 9.2, Will Burtin papers, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
3 Integration exhibition booklet, 1949, pp. 2, 55.6, Will Burtin papers, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
4 Letter [photocopy] by Ezra Stoller to Chris Mullen, October 5, 1984, 9.2, Will Burtin papers, RIT Libraries: Graphic Design Archives, Rochester Institute of Technology.
195 Linear Feet (124 manuscript boxes, 74 oversize boxes, 10 architectural rolls, 27 models, 27 audiotapes, 40 films, 20 compact discs)
Collection of materials from graphic designer Will Burtin, (1908- 1972). Includes extensive client project files and documentation (sketches, mechanicals, models, printed samples, photographs), business and professional correspondence, financial records, publications, personal papers, exhibit plans, and audio/visual materials.
The collection is arranged in five series: Clients, Photographic records, Bibliographic records, Business records, and Biographic records.
Due to a rehousing of film material in January 2020, boxes 159-168 have been removed from the collection. All films are now contained in boxes up through 158.
Other Finding Aids
In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the Cary Graphic Arts Collection.
Will Burtin papers
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Although the Will Burtin Collection was deposited to RIT Special Collections in June 1991 by Burtin's daughter, Carol Burtin Fripp, it was officially deeded to RIT in December, 2000. An extensive inventory was completed of the unprocessed collection in July, 2001 and is available upon request.
Graphic Identity Manual materials in the Will Burtin papers
Upjohn: Graphic Identification Manual, Typewritten draft copy content for manual, 1965-1967. Box 15, Folder 1
Upjohn: Brand Identification Manual, Various loose pages of manual and typewritten draft, 1964-1966. Box 186, Folder 12
Upjohn: Various loose mechanicals and paste-ups for identity manuals and standards, 1964-1966. Box 187, Folders 5-7
Upjohn: Various loose mechanicals and paste-ups for identity manuals and standards, circa 1959. Box 188, Folders 2-4
Collection processed by Amy Vilz, 2005-2006. Assisted by Anna Kuipers, Lindsay Sidlauskas, Sara Tkac.
Finding aid encoded by Amy Vilz, February 2012.
- Advertising -- Drugs
- Alliance graphique internationale
- American Institute of Graphic Arts
- Brunswick Corporation
- Color transparencies
- Commercial art
- Commercial artists -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Corporate identity
- Corporation reports
- Design -- History -- Congresses
- Designers -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Diazotypes (copies)
- Drawings (visual works)
- Drugs -- Packaging
- Dummies (printed matter)
- Eastman Kodak Company
- Graphic artists -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Graphic arts -- History -- Congresses
- Graphic design -- 1950-1980
- Identity Manuals
- International Business Machines Corporation
- International Center for the Communication Arts and Sciences
- International Center for the Typographic Arts
- International Council of Graphic Design Associations
- McGraw-Hill Book Company
- Models (representations)
- Motion pictures (visual work)
- Plans (drawings)
- Pratt Institute. Dept. of Graphic Arts
- Scope publication (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
- Slides (photographs)
- Stats (copies)
- Stoller, Ezra
- Tear sheets
- Union Carbide Corporation
- University Circle Development Foundation (Cleveland, Ohio)
- Upjohn Company
- negatives (photographs)
- Will Burtin papers
- Cary Graphic Design Archives
- Amy Vilz
- 22 February 2012
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- 6 January 2023: Scope cover tear sheet, vol. 1, no. 1, 1941 moved to Box 181, folder 3a, because the object was being damaged in its former box. The cover depicts a photomontage and illustration of a baby inside a test tube.