Designers in the Archives

In 2018, the Newberry, along with dozens of other institutions, is celebrating Chicago’s design history as part of Art Design Chicago. Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation of American Art, is a year-long project exploring Chicago's art and design legacy through more than 25 exhibitions and many more programs and events across the city.

As we started considering the ways our collection reveals Chicago’s design history, it was impossible to ignore the ways in which these pieces of the past inspire new design. Designers and artists—typographers, calligraphers, printers, you name it—come to the Newberry to consult our incunables, type specimens, calligraphy books, and other items as they produce their own commercial and creative projects.

When you think of library research, you might picture a scholar poring over a book or a manuscript. This work is tremendously fruitful, and yields important new findings about history and culture. But there are other modes of research as well. Designers often look to archival collections for inspiration or to frame their work within larger traditions.

Over the next few months, we’re collaborating with the Chicago Design Museum on a live video series featuring designers who go into archives and emerge with new ideas. We’ll talk about their work, what historical objects catch their eye, and how research informs the creative process.

Join us for the first video on February 28 at 11 am, with Tanner Woodford, the founder and executive director of the Chicago Design Museum. Tanner will talk with Jill Gage, the Newberry's curator of printing history, about the Cooper Black typeface, circus posters, and other unexpected finds from our collection. Mark your calendars, and tune in at