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Each one of us has one—and if we're lucky more than one—person
who enters our life at just the right critical moment. Without
their influence our lives would be markedly different. Yet
sometimes these people don't even know, and might never know, how
important they've been.
Sam Antupit probably does not realize his impact on me because
until this moment I've never told him in so many words. But he had
a profound effect on my life twice—once before I met him, and once
I know for a fact that I am not the only one who claims this
privilege, but I am the only one given the opportunity to tell the
design community at this special event.
So here goes:
When I was 16 years old I wanted to be an illustrator for
magazines, and since Esquire was the magazine I devoured
most, I would have given anything to be in it. I scanned the
masthead to find the art director's name, and it was Sam Antupit
(which I pronounced as Ant-U-pit). I tried to make an
appointment, but could not get to see him. So on a regular basis I
sent him little drawings and doodles with self-addressed stamped
envelopes, and like clockwork they came back with kind little
rejection notes, which for some perverse reason gave me hope.
I figured, that if I continued to bombard him with these things
that one day he would see how good I was and invite me into his
office. Such are the delusions of a desperate wannabe. Regretably,
that day never came.
So now, you may ask how then did he influence my life? And the
answer is, his repeated thoughtful rejections made me aware that I
wasn't any good and that either I should become much better or
alter my life's plan. He also made me aware of what good really is.
You see, Sam Antupit was a great art director who published some of
the finest, conceptual illustration and photography I had ever seen
in a magazine. If I couldn't be an artist who met his standard, at
least I wanted to be like Antupit himself—a man who made the
So I became an art director.
Cut to ten years later, I'm 26, and I'd been an art director for
eight of those years. I finally met Sam at some event, and to my
surprise he knew who I was. I'm sure some of you have had the
opportunity to meet someone that you admired from afar. And some of
you may have had the thrill-of-your-life to learn that this same
somebody knew of your work—and even better, had good things to say
Can life (at least professional life) get any better than
Well, it did, when he was design director of Harry N. Abrams he
acquired five of my books, which certainly helped launch my
avocation as a design writer, and resulted in some of my favorite
So here I stand poised to repay the debt by telling all of you
about the accomplishments that have earned him the AIGA Medal and
the respect of many in our community. Sam will go down in design
history for his two professional lives. The first, which those who
conferred the award on him did not know, was his magazine art
Sam designed or art directed Harper's Bazaar,
Show, Vogue, Mademoiselle, House
& Garden. He was a member of Push Pin Studios where he
designed the typographical scheme for the New York Review of
Books, which is still used, and Art in America. He
also designed or consulted for Foreign Policy,
Harper's Magazine, Consumer Reports,
Ms., Scientific American, the AIGA
Journal during the '70s, and The Morning News, a
precursor to USA Today. And of course, he was art director
of Esquire from 1964 to 1968.
Sam and the late Richard Hess established Hess and/or Antupit in
1968, devoted to producing magazines, annual reports, record
albums, and package design. He was also the proprietor of Antupit
& Others, which consulted to book and magazine publishers. As
art director he nurtured scores of illustrators and photographers.
And if any of you practice in these fields you know how difficult
it is today to find such a devoted patron.
But the reason he has been given this award is for his
contribution to book design, and I might add authorship.
The authorship or auteur words get bandied around a lot these
days, but Antupit was one of the first design authors creating,
developing and packaging his own content as The Subsistence Press.
He viewed books as a means of opening up new worlds, and the range
of his subjects are vast. He has also been one of the most
influential book-makers of our time. He was Executive Art Director
for Book-of-the-Month Club, and most important from 1981-1996 he
served as Vice President, Director of Art and Design, at Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., where he designed or art directed scores of books a
year, including monographs for Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, Monet,
and art books about Fantasa, Krazy Kat, and Automobile and Culture.
He was also one of the founding directors of Documents of American
Design, the first major attempt to publish a series of monographs
on significant American graphic designers.
He is an interpretive designer whose approach is unique to the
problem at hand. But if there is a signature characteristic two
things prevail, an appreciation of fine printing and an acerbic
wit—two things that may not go together, but that is Sam's genius.
A case in point is his own Cycling Frog Press, a small letterpress
concern that he has operated out of his basement for over thirty
years. Each year he issues a little book of witty prose or poetry
by favored writers and beautifully printed and humorously
illustrated. Real gems.
In 1997 Sam left Abrams to open CommonPlace Publishing, a
packaging company that reflects his insatiable curiosity. He's
produced the American Story series will texts by James, Twain,
Jewett, Melville and Cather. Photobooks on Cuba, New York's Hudson,
Scotland and Wales, and a series for young adults called the
Turning Point Series of inventions inventions that changed the
course of history, including the clock, camera, lightbulb, and
telephone, and other other art books.
Okay, those are the tangible facts. But there is an intangible,
though quantifiable aspect of Sam's professional life that is even
more important. He is the most generous member of this insular
profession. I said at the outset that he had an impact on my life
and many others, and this is no accident. Of course being my art
director, editor, and ally is the obvious manifestation of his
But had he never sent me a rejection note, had he simply chose
NOT to acknowledge me, I would have given up. Silence would have
been worse. Sam never takes anyone for granted, and that is what it
takes to impact lives. And that is what makes him a deserved
recipient of this wonderful honor.
P.S. Saying he will be missed is an understatement.
Sam Antupit, president of CommonPlace Publishing, designed for
Harper's Bazaar, Show Magazine, Vogue,
Mademoiselle, Glamour, House &
Garden and Esquire. Since 1961, Sam was the
proprietor and printer of Cycling Frog Press, and was a member of
Push Pin Studios from 1963 to 1964 where he designed the New
York Review of Books and Art in America.
Through his companies Hess and/or Antupit (1968), Antupit &
Others, Inc. (1970) and Subsistence Press (1970), Antupit designed
and consulted with book and magazine publishers. From 1978 to 1981,
he was executive art director for Book-of-the-Month Club, and from
1981 to 1996 he served as director of art and design at Harry N.
Abrams, Inc., a publisher of fine art and illustrated books.
Antupit took a brief leave of absence in 1994, pursuing an NEA
American Fellow grant to print small books based on his
transcriptions of Native American storytellers, and in 1995 he
established CommonPlace Publishing, a producer of fine illustrated
books on the arts, sciences and American literature. He taught in
the graduate department of Columbia University's School of
New York Times obituary, April 9, 2003
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
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