Remembering Alex Steinweiss, the creator of album art
Before gatefolds and cut-outs and embossments and screen prints, the record was a drab little thing, wrapped in brown paper and presenting you a just-the-facts textual representation of the culture your phonograph was about to holler at you. Until, in 1939, a twenty-two-years-young man named Alex Steinweiss began working at Columbia Records.
Steinweiss, who died this past Sunday at the age of 94, developed the grammar and syntax of album design from scratch, and ultimately designed around 2500 album covers (his figure) in his lifetime. Think about it: there was no natural approach to visualizing music -- it was a thing you went to see, and you heard, and that was fine. But then, as quickly as the technology allowed all those sounds to enter our personal space, music was a business, and that business wanted to sell things. Enter Steinweiss.
Steinweiss' work is bright, stark, and consistent, bringing a levity to the rather heavy pieces of classical music he was trying to describe. The influence of pioneering Bauhaus typographer Jan Tschichold is evident in his composition, though Steinweiss' work is playful where Tschichold preached austerity, and his love of graphical type presentation wouldn't have won him many fans in the European avant-garde. Spümcø were obviously fans.
Below, we've collected some of our favorite Steinweiss covers, many more of which are available to view on his website.
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