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LP Art

Page history last edited by elainewong 11 years, 6 months ago

    1939 Collection of songs by Rodgers and Hart




In 1939, Alex Steinweiss designed the first illustrated album cover art for Columbia Records. His illustrations replaced generic plain brown wrappers that only showed the title and the artist's name. "The simple idea revolutionalized the record business and spawned an entire new field of illustration - album cover art - that is now inseperable from the product it annouces." [1] 


LP Art History:


Records were 12-inch 78 RPMS, with 4-5 min of music on each side, that were packaged in cardboard sleeves that had the artist names embossed with gold or silver on the side.  As Alex puts it, "I was unhappy with the situation existing there. Mostly with how they were packaging these beautiful symphonies and orchestrations in crappy generic sleeves." [2] "Alex was a favorite of CBS president William Paley, who had created Columbia and hired Alex at the tender age of 23. He believed in him so much that, despite the fact that they were in the midst of cutting costs and building the young record company, he gave his new concept a trial run. Alex was given five records to design five covers for. What he brought to the table would change the record industry and the history of packaging forever, as his cover design for the Rogers and Hart collection brought back a sales jump of some 894 percent!" [3]




LP Design


By June 1948, the development of the long playing record came full circle. The innovation in the recording allowed for twenty music of playtime on either side of the record. The change between 78's to 45's created an oppurtunity for Alex to customize the design of the LP. Alex designed the 33 1/3" cardboard jacket which became the industry standard.


Lp Art Influence:


"Steinweiss covers were designed as mini-posters in the 1930s French and German tradition (See European Moderism style). Though the graphic style was his own, the lessons he learned as an assistant to Binder stood to him in good stead, particulary the application of flat colors and isolated surreal, symbolic forms used for metaphoric effect. Steinweiss believed that rather than show a portrait of the recording artist, musical and cultural symbols would stimulate the audience's interest. "I tried to get into the subject," Steinweiss explained, " either through the music or the life and times of the artist/composer".  The best Steinweiss covers maximized the limited image area by using all the attributes of a large poster:strong central image, eye-catching type and lettering and distinctive color combinations." [4]


"The limitations of working in Bridgeport also significantly influenced Steinweiss' design as far as formal or stylistic considerations were concerned. Without type shops nearby he was pressured by time and financial constraints to hand letter the titles himself, and so devleoped his own trademark script which was eventually licensed by Photolettering Inc in the early 1950's (known as the Steinweiss scrawl)." [5]


About Alex Steinweiss: 



I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music.” — Alex Steinweiss


Alex Steinweiss was born in 1917 in a music loving home in Brooklyn. The young Alex met Leon Friend in Abraham Lincoln High School, a teacher and lifelong mentor, that exposed Steinweiss to the works of the great graphic designers of the time, including Lucian Bernhard, A.M. Cassandre, and Joseph Binder. Friend's range of images included Kathe Kathe Kollwitz' prints of war's destruction, Cassandre's posters of the delight of drinking Dubonnet and Savignac's utopian thrill of locomotives. Under the mentoring of Friend, Alex joined the "Art Squad" which as a group designed school publications, posters and signs. Steinweiss’s work was showcased in PM Magazine when he was just 17.


Upon his completion at Parsons School of Design in 1937, Alex boldly approached Lucian Berhard's studio unannounced. His portfolio secured him a job to become Joseph Binder's assistant, a prominent Viennese poster artist.


In 1939 he became first art director of Columbia Records and single-handedly invented the album cover.



Please click here for more of Alex Steinweiss's cover album work.


During World War II, concurrent with his Columbia duties he served as an exhibits engineer with the U.S. Navy's Tactical Air Direction Center, creating cautionary posters and displays.


Steinweiss created album covers for musical luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinisky and Benny Goodman.  Over time Steinweiss expanded his creative palette via photographic covers known for their garish colors, eccentric lighting, and visual puns. By the early '70s he fully embraced new developments in mass production to produce covers in die-cut designs and collages.


"He made thousands of classical, jazz, and pop covers for Columbia, London, Decca, and Everest and his modern designs graced the packaging, logos, and covers of dozens of distilleries, film studios, and magazines; earning him an AIGA Medal and the Art Directors Hall of Fame lifetime achievement award." [7]


In 2007, Robert Berman Gallery presented The Steinweiss exhibition that featured 50 of his original cover designs. 50 original "tribute" work were created specifically from artists Clive Barker, Bill Barminski, Ron English, Mick Haggerty, Raymond Pettibon, Shag, and Glenn Wexler. Alex also has a book published by Taschen called Alex Steinweiss, The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover


Exhibit at Robert Berman Gallery




" Today the best of Steinweiss record work should be judged for the it way revolutionized music packaging, and how it influenced and reflected the styles and trends in the music industry duing that curiously adolescent period of American culture." [6]


Alex's idea to pair music with art still exist in the 21st century during technological advancements in the music business. In September 2009, Apple introduced iTunes LP, a format for interactive artwork. The notion is replicate the feeling of buying a full album downloads with add ons like liner notes, artwork, lyrics and video. "It's supposed to revitalize the music industry by encouraging consumers to once again purchase entire albums as opposed to single tracks." Providing a digital experience through detailed art is reminiscent of the Alex's LP cover artwork experience. 


In retrospect, album has art has become an integral part on music and popculture.  It has allowed the musicians greater control over the content and another important avenue in which to express themselves. Gary Freiberg says, “However; regardless of the graphic method, album cover art has always depicted our social values, racial attitudes, lifestyles, fashion and political views in a way that is only seen in the art form. It reflected who we were, who we were supposed to be, and at times, led who we became.”




[1] -  http://www.alexsteinweiss.com/as_index.html

[2], [3] -  http://www.nathanspoor.com/NS_GE_steinweiss.html

[4], [5] - http://hellerbooks.com/pdfs/alex_steinweiss.pdf

[6] - http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-alexsteinweiss

[7] - http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/design/all/01099/facts.alex_steinweiss_inventor_of_the_modern_album_cover_art_edition.htm




Robert Berman Gallery http://www.robertbermangallery.com/robertbermangallery/exhibitions/Green/steinweiss.htm

Alex Steinweiss http://www.alexsteinweiss.com/as_index.html

Records http://www.undependent.com/blog/2008/01/13/the-worlds-first-album-cover-alex-steinweiss-greatest-hit/

The Remington site http://www.soundfountain.org/rem/remcovart.html


Album Cover History:





Steven Heller Video on Steinweiss- Part 1:  http://design.sva.edu/site/episodes/show/21 Part 2: http://design.sva.edu/site/episodes/show/22

Leon Friend: http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=5717

Examples of record sleeves: http://crossedcombs.typepad.com/recordenvelope/page/8/ and http://lpcoverlover.com/


Comments (5)

Christopher Swift said

at 10:47 pm on Oct 12, 2009

Did you happen to look at the Steven Heller lecture on Steinweiss in itunes? Its part of his Paul Rand lecture series.

Christopher Swift said

at 10:52 pm on Oct 12, 2009

Leon Friend introduced Steinweiss to the Bauhaus.

Christopher Swift said

at 10:53 pm on Oct 12, 2009

Take a look at the Prokofiev cover. It ties into a lot of different things.

elainewong said

at 11:10 pm on Oct 12, 2009

Thank you for the tips!

Marianela Ramos Capelo said

at 11:43 am on Oct 13, 2009

The styles are very very similar to de DeSijl movement, which had elements from the earlier Russian Constructivism (dynamic shapes), the Dada cutouts and even Bauhaus grid and primarycolours. W. Kandinsky was Herbert Bayer's teacher in the original Bauhaus school in Weimar(http://hogd.pbworks.com/Herbert-Bayer-banknote-1923) before it had to be moved and later closed by nazis. You should check Kandinsky's influence.

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