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 after.
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 standards.
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 about it.
Can life (at least professional life) get any better than that?
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 books.
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 director career.
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 generosity.
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 Journalism.