Joseph Churchward Exhibition – Diamond in the Rough

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Mary Faber drowning in letterforms.

During a recent trip to Wellington, Mash’s Mary stumbled across an exhibition of the works of the somewhat-unsung hero, but one of the few NZ typographic heroes for certain, Joseph Churchward (1932-2013).

M –
It was pure luck, or perhaps another dose of fontastic fate, that I happened across the Churchward Samoa exhibition while on time-kill during a recent Wellington outing. Seeking warm refuge in the City Gallery Wellington, I asked the host to share what exhibits of interest were on – she rattled off a few unknowns, and then threw in a final mention of a Churchward typographic exhibit. Now I had more than just climatic reason to admire the Gallery’s insides.

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Churchward Samoa exhibition introduction.

Now before we enter the exhibit, let’s just take a second to first admire and then ascertain what the entry heading font is…it took me all of two seconds to guess, and a quick visit to the Klim Type Foundry website to confirm (who else other than Kris Sowersby could it be, I mean really). Yes, Founders Grotesk Bold of course – that cap ‘C’ captivates and leaves little by way of counterparts, so to speak. The body text however, decidedly more fitting for such, is a Churchward design – Churchward Samoa Light. I have since discovered that BluHead Studio, an American Foundry, digitised this typeface and is currently in the process of digitalising all of Churchward’s designs. I’m not 100% sure how to feel about this just yet, but at least someone is taking the time to do it. As long as they obtained ol’ Joe’s stamp of approval then digitise away.

So, while this vinyl was important at introducing the exhibition, alas it really was the main source of information as there was little else on entry despite the book on the glass cabinet and some wall-displayed exerpts regarding his business closure. Nevertheless, this intro effectively shared Churchward’s history for those entering without previous insight. Alright – time to go in…

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Exhibition entrance, luminous lettering.

SURPRISE! Huge lettering on the wall is what one might expect at an exhibition dedicated to the life of a type designer, and this exhibit certainly didn’t disappoint. The back wall lettering assured I felt welcome on entering, and although I wasn’t really in Samoa, compared to outside it was comfortingly tropical. Or was that the adrenal-pumping heat flush from hot type…

Since visiting, I discovered that the back wall was actually painted on! How exquisite. Check out a short clip on the process here.

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Joseph Churchward’s gouache lettering.

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Mary Faber’s gouache lettering.

 

Once my initial excitement for the walls had partially subsided, I perused the glass cabinet near the entrance – full of emphemera and delectable delicacies from Churchwards typographic treasure chest. And while its contents were alluring, I was disappointed by the obvious lack of space to showcase these relics. Many items were placed (in my opinion hapahazardly, but probably every last page had intention) overlapping one another – and to my dismay, Churchwards gouache lettering examples were also sitting in a pile – taunting me with solely one visible page and the shadowy outlines of another. If only I could have had access to scour that pile! I guess having completed innumerous of these during my training at Dalton Maag I now have an affinity for the art and love to see examples from others – it would have been great to see at least a couple more (but perhaps BluStudio own the rights now). I nevertheless enjoyed the morsels I could see, but I certainly think the works might have been given more justice (space to breathe) from an extra glass cabinet or three.

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The man, posing with an example of Churchward Maori.

 

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Lorina in the cabinet display.

Another pile of goodies that I only saw the top of – just look above at the k!
Lorina puts the k in quirky, that’s for sure.

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Martyn Turner reaching out.

Alas, typographic trails can be tumultuous. These kind words from the Chairman of Olgivy and Mather in 1988 not only highlight the tough times, but also Churchward’s revered status in the New Zealand advertising scene. Unfortunately Churchward suffered with the Wall Street crash, following which he moved to Samoa where thankfully he continued his typographic endeavours.

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Interview excerpt from The National Grid #3.

The National Grid managed to score a wall feature too – although personally I would have preferred more huge lettering to an enlarged photocopy of an interview. I did however appreciate it’s relevance to painting the picture of Churchward. And yes, I did ‘please take one’ of the printouts on the left. It took all my might not to take two.

So, what does one do to finish such a gallery visit? Get the young employee to take photos of you next to big letters of course (what else).

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Mary Faber and Churchward Lorina. ‘Twas ‘a’ okay.

En fin, I would have liked to see more of the glass cabinet display contents (and less highlighting of his business closure) but I was certainly glad to see what was on show. And I can’t express enough my fondness of the BIG TYPE – I would recommend going for that alone. It’s also comforting to know that despite Churchward’s recent passing the development and exhibition of his work continues.

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Thanks Mr Churchward, I did enjoy myself.
See you on the other side.
Gouache showdown.
Be there.

– Mary Faber

 

 

 

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