Sean Adams | Essays

Harris Lewine

A collection of books and book covers art directed by Harris Lewine. Clockwise from top left: The Chocolate Deal, 1967. Designer: Milton Glaser. Good-bye To All That, 1971. Designer: Alan Peckolick. Black Beauty, White Heat, 1996. Designer: Paul Bacon. Harlem on My Mind, 1968. Designers: Herb Lubalin, Ernie Smith. Beards, 1975. Designer: Tom Carnase. The American Political Dictionary, 1968. Designers: Alan Peckolick, Herb Lubalin

The publishing industry in the 1960s and 70s had the same impact and exuberance as the online industry today. Book covers were collected, discussed, and cherished. This was the age of the art director and Harris Lewine was without equal. Sadly, he died on December 13, 2016 in New York city at the age of 87.

Lewine may not be a household name, but he launched the careers of illustrators and designers we now recognize as leaders such as Seymour Chwast, Herb Lubalin, Milton Glaser, and Louise Fili. His brilliance was to find the best designers and illustrators, point them in the right direction and leave them alone.

He was not the art director who clocked in at nine, left the office at five, and kept his head down. Lewine was infamous for his frequent firings at a long list of publishers including Collier and McGraw-Hill. He fought the battles and defended the work at the peril of his own employment. He worked with Seymour Chwast, who recognized Lewine's obstinate and staunch support for good work: “He was principled and stubborn. I benefitted from his behavior with cover designs I am still proud of.”

Paula Scher recalls showing Lewine her portfolio in 1970, which led to a description of her work as “picaresque” and an introduction to her future husband. “He often hired my teacher, the Polish illustrator Stanislaw Zagorski, to illustrate book covers. Zagorski sent me to New York from Philadelphia to meet Harris. I showed him my college portfolio and Harris got on the phone, called up his friend Seymour Chwast, and got me an appointment.”

Velvet Eden, 1979. Book cover art director: Harris Lewine; designer: Louise Fili.

Louise Fili worked with Lewine early in her career at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. She recalls him as “brilliant and brash, this Gauloise-smoking Humphrey Bogart doppelgänger had already been fired from half the publishing companies in New York; the other half had caught on and would have nothing to do with him.” Fili adopted his take-no-prisoners approach when dealing with editors when she became art director of Pantheon Books.

Lewine’s legacy is some of the best work of the late 20th century (his art direction for Tom Carnese’s cover of Beards in 1975 continues to be reproduced in hipster circles in Brooklyn, Silverlake, or the Mission). But it was his investment in good design and good designers that is the true gift.

Thelonious Monk album cover, 1960. Designers: Harris Lewine, Paul Bacon.

Would you Hire a Man Who’s Humphrey Bogart on the Outside and Leslie Howard on the Inside?, 1973. Poster designers: Herb Lubalin, Ellen Shapiro

Posted in: Obituaries

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