Alphabet Magic: A Centennial Exhibition of the Work of Hermann & Gudrum Zapf celebrates the life and art of two of the last century’s most influential designers. Few in the book arts have had as profound an impact as Hermann Zapf and Gudrun Zapf von Hesse. Their careers in the fields of type design and calligraphy are legendary. The arc of their work will be on public view at the Grolier Club in New York from February 20 through April 27, 2019. This centennial exhibition showcases 170 pieces, many of which are being shown for the very first time. A major biography, Hermann Zapf and the World He Designed, by the co-curator Jerry Kelly is published to coincide with the exhibition. Alphabet Magic chronicles the extraordinary artistic achievements of Gudrun and Hermann Zapf with the most comprehensive exhibition of their work to date. Zapf’s typefaces Palatino, Optima, and Zapfino (to name a few) are a part of our everyday lives in the United States and Europe, as well as around the world. He was also at the forefront of type technology. Zapf’s Marconi alphabet design was the first typeface ever created specifically for digital typography. Gudrun Zapf Von Hesse secured her own design legacy through typefaces such as Diotima, Carmina, and Shakespeare Roman.
Included in the exhibition are rare specimens of their typefaces, landmark works using their typefaces, original calligraphic works of art, and examples of fine bookbinding. In addition to completed works, ephemeral process work for some of Gudrun and Hermann Zapf’s most important typefaces and publications offers a behind-the-scenes look at the masters at work. Of special interest are sketches, layouts, and proofs for Hermann Zapf’s groundbreaking Feder und Stichel (1950), Manuale Typographicum (1954, 1968), and Orbis Typographicus (1990). As Robert Bringhurst has written, Hermann Zapf has been “widely recognized as one of the most poetic of type designers, or, to put it another way, as the author of some of the loveliest printing type ever made.”
Although Gudrun and Hermann Zapf are perhaps best known for their type design, over the course of their long careers they engaged with nearly every aspect of the book arts. Hermann considered himself a book designer at heart, Gudrun is a noted bookbinder, and both were master calligraphers.
Alphabet Magic is drawn primarily from the two largest Zapf collections in the United States: the private collection of exhibition curator Jerry Kelly—Zapf’s student and friend; and the Zapf Archive at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), headed by exhibition curator Steven Galbraith.
“The impact of Gudrun and Hermann Zapf on the book world is enormous,” says Galbraith. “Their archives are among the most consulted at the Cary Collection. We are grateful for the legacy they have shared with us, and we are thrilled with this opportunity to share their work with a wider audience.”
Jerry Kelly has authored a major biography of Hermann Zapf, which will be published to coincide with the exhibition. A printed checklist of all the items in the exhibition will also be available.
In conjunction with the exhibition, several Public Programs are offered:
Lunchtime Exhibition Tours:
Wednesday, March 13, 1-2 pm, Led by Co-Curator Jerry Kelly
Friday, April 12, 1-2 pm, Led by Co-curator Steven Galbraith
Thursday, February 27, 6–8 pm
New York Premier of the film by Alexandra Albrand
Wednesday, March 20, 5:30-8:30 pm
Author Robert Bringhurst (Canada), Type Historian Ferdinand Ulrich (Germany), Calligrapher Julian Waters, and Moderator David Pankow (USA).