Monday, October 24, 2011

Allan Fleming: The Man Who Branded A Nation

Martha Fleming, “Allan Fleming: The Man Who Branded A Nation,” Eye 79 (2011).

This article, by Allan Fleming’s daughter, Martha Fleming, contains much of the same information found in her two earlier articles published in the journal The Devil’s Artisan (“Allan Fleming’s Many Worlds: Making Design History in Canada,” Devil’s Artisan #62, Spring/Summer 2008; “Allan Fleming at Home: a Partial Reconstruction”, Devil’s Artisan #63, Fall/Winter 2008). The article outlines her father's career in graphic design, as well as the influence of his designs, his industry connections, and the effect of his work upon Canada’s national identity.

Fleming’s design education, which began with his attending Western Technical Collegiate in his home city of Toronto (1943-1945) followed by work as an illustrator for Eaton’s mail order advertising department from 1945 until 1947. From 1947 to 1951 Fleming worked in Toronto for Art Associates Studio and the advertising firm Aikin McCracken, and then until 1953 for the firm Art and Design Service. In 1953 Fleming and his wife moved to England where he studied type and book design, returning to Toronto in 1955 to pursue freelance work and teach part-time at the Ontario College of Art. In 1957 he joined the typesetting/advertising agency of Cooper & Beatty for whom, as a consultant typographic designer and then creative director, he designed materials for various art galleries, a cover for Mayfair magazine, as well as a series of agency advertisements which ran in Canadian Art magazine. Fleming worked with the magazine's art director, Paul Arthur, to increase the representation of graphic design to the country's artistic community through Canadian Art. As a result of their efforts, that traditionally fine art publication became the first national publication to regularly cover and critique the growing field of Canadian graphic design.

At Cooper & Beatty Fleming also helped to further connections between the Canadian and international design communities through talks and exhibitions at the company's Toronto headquarters which attracted leaders in the larger graphic design community including Paul Rand, Saul Bass, and Beatrice Ward. In addition, his expertise in designing and manipulating type to achieve specific effects attracted the attention of Marshal McLuhan who worked with Fleming and his agency on an article exploring typographic self-reflexivity. Fleming also provided designs for the magazine Explorations, which McLuhan edited, and designed several covers for Maclean's magazine. Fleming eventually left Cooper & Beatty in 1962 to assume the position of art director at Maclean's. That year he also joined MacLaren Advertising as director of creative services.

At MacLaren he designed a number of corporate identities, work for which he was well qualified after having designed a new, and highly influential, logo for Canadian National Railway in 1959 as a freelance job for James Valkus of New York, who had been looking for some Canadian design input on his account with the railway. Fleming's new corporate identity projects included such Ontario-centred government projects as designing new logo for Ontario Hydro in 1964, a logo for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1965, and a logo and materials for the Ontario Science Centre in 1968. He also designed the Liberal Party of Canada's logo for the 1965 election, and then worked on a number of federal government design projects under Liberal Prime Ministers during the mid-late 1960s and 1970s. These included designing a centennial photobook for the National Film Board in 1967; acting as a jurist for the centennial coins design competition (won by Alex Colville), and later advising on the typeface to be used for the coins; and leading a design review of the entire Canada Post Corporation, influencing the institution's identity, including the design format of its stamps for several decades. Martha Flaming even suggests that her father's design influence within Liberal Party ranks may have been significant enough to influence the design of the new flag which was introduced by the newly re-elected minority Liberal government in 1965. While Fleming had submitted a design to an earlier unofficial flag design competition run by Art Canada in 1963, she suggests that drawings from his archives imply that her father was at least hired to influence the design put forward in the public 1965 official competition by Colonel George Stanley, who is officially recognized as having designed the flag.

Leaving MacLaren in 1968, Fleming went to work for University of Toronto Press as chief of book design. Staying with the press until his death in 1977, Fleming made use of his keen understanding of how type and page design can affect the message of a text, as well as his cover design talents, to radically change, and modernize, the look of the books produced by UTP. Many of his book designs won national and international awards, including several World's Most Beautiful Book awards from the Leipzig Book Fair. Focusing upon publishing during his last years, Fleming also opened his own small volume press, and even designed the Hymn Book for the United and Anglican Churches of Canada in 1971.

In addition to his numerous awards, his influential designs, and the inspiration he gave to a generation of Canadian designers, Martha Fleming believes that her father was at least partially driven by the conviction that he was helping to create, and inspire the creation of, a national identity from the 1950s to the 1970s. Trained in the advertising and typography styles and traditions of Europe, the United States, and Britain, she believes that Allan Fleming contributed to the design of a uniquely Canadian national identity through graphic design. What she fails to mention directly, however, is how, in having such a strong influence upon the designs used and chosen by Canadian governments through his connections with the federal Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s, Fleming's modernist style may very well have had a direct influence upon the national visual identity policies and programs of the federal government and its various departments and crown corporations during those decades.

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