When the phrase “San Francisco rock posters” is uttered in certain circles, most people picture bold blocks of psychedelicized Art Nouveau lettering, a skeleton crowned by a garland of roses, shimmering collisions of equiluminant colors, and a flying eyeball peering through a burning ring of fire.
That describes the most iconic work of the so-called Big Five poster artists—Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin.
But as good as those artists were (in the case of the late Griffin and Kelley) and are (in the case of the rest), it took more than just five artists to create all the posters and handbills required to publicize all the concerts produced during these years.
In addition, if it weren’t for the career pressmen at companies such as Bindweed Press, Cal Litho, West Coast Litho, and Tea Lautrec Litho, the drug-fueled dreams of some of these artists might never have seen the light of day.
“One of the best pressmen in the business was Levon Mosgofian, who owned and operated Tea Lautrec Litho.”
Recently, I was invited to curate an exhibition of San Francisco Bay Area rock posters at the San Francisco International Airport, whose SFO Museum produces more than 50 shows a year across 25 exhibition spaces for the 44 million travelers who pass through the airport annually.
My qualifications for this incredible honor are essentially a love of rock posters since I was a kid, membership on the board of The Rock Poster Society as an adult, and a collection of maybe 400 pieces, which is paltry compared to the holdings of most of the collectors who supplied posters to the show.
Thanks to their generosity, I was able to organize “When Art Rocked: San Francisco Music Posters, 1966-1971,” which features about 160 posters, along with another 100 or so postcards, handbills, tickets, and other scraps of ephemera from the era.
A smaller companion exhibit of 1960s fashion and design, curated by SFO’s Nicole Mullen, is located conveniently nearby.
Romeo y Julieta, imported Havana cigars. Rodriguez, Arguelles y Ca., n.d. [after 1902]. Published by the Compania Litografica, Havana. Chromolithographic poster. 62 x 50.4 cm. Graphic Arts Collection GC149 Ephemera.
The French expatriot artist Frédéric Mialhe (1810-1881) lived and worked in Cuba from 1838 to 1854.
He was brought there to be a landscape painter for the newly established lithographic press of François Cosnier and Alexandre Moreau de Jonnes under the sponsorship of the Royal Patriotic and Economic Society of Cuba.
With three presses, five operators, and one master painter, it was “one of the most outstanding enterprises of its kind ever attempted in Cuba” (Cueto).
A particular relationship between the tobacco industry and the chromolithographic printers developed.
Everything from the largest posters to the smallest cigar bands were printed and embossed in elaborate multicolor designs.
“The Taishō period^ (大正時代 Taishō jidai?), or Taishō era, is a period in the history of Japan dating from July 30, 1912, to December 25, 1926, coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō”.
Some of the posters carry over to the early Shōwa era: Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito)^ reigned from 1926 to 1989.
Title: Puraton mannenhitshu: Puraton inki [Woman with an ink bottle] Description: A woman holding an ink bottle. Nakayama Taiyodo. Platon ink and pen (プラトンインキ, プラトン万年筆). Subject (company): Nakayama Taiyōdō; 中山太陽堂
Title: Kabushiki Kaisha Tōkyō Tsukiji Kappan Seizōsho = The Tokyo Tsukiji Type Foundry, Ltd. [Goddess] 株式會社東京築地活版製造所 Description: A goddess holding a musical instrument. Tokyo Tsukiji Type Foundry, Ltd. (東京築地活版製造所). Marked with “H” [Hirano, Tomiji 平野富二?]. Subject (Company): Foundries
Wonderfully Kitschy Propaganda Posters Champion the Chinese Space Program (1962-2003)
A joint operation of five participating countries and the European Space Agency, the International Space Station is an enormous achievement of human cooperation across ideological and national boundaries.
Generations of people born in the nineties and beyond will have grown up with the ISS as a symbol of the triumph of STEM education and decades of space travel and research.
What they will not have experienced is something that seems almost fundamental to the cultural and political landscape of the Boomers and Gen Xers—the Cold War space race.
But it is worth noting that while Russia is one of the most prominent partners in ISS operations, current Communist republic China has virtually no presence on it at all.
But this does not mean that China has been absent from the space race—quite the contrary.
While it seems to those of us who witnessed the exciting interstellar competition between superpowers that the only players were the big two, the Chinese entered the race in the 1960s and launched their first satellite in 1970.
This craft, writes space history enthusiast Sven Grahn, “would lead to China being a major player in the commercial space field.” Since its launch into orbit, the satellite has continuously broadcast a song called Dong Fang Hong, a eulogy for Mao Zedong (which “effectively replaced the National Anthem” during the Cultural Revolution.
The satellite, now referred to, after its song, as DFH-1 (or CHINA-1), marked a significant breakthrough for the Chinese space program, spearheaded by rocket engineer Qian Xuesen, who had been previously expelled from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena for suspected Communist sympathies.
One panel of a folder for a tea merchant. This is an amazingly creative piece of work, with letters formed from “printers flowers” and border elements, and the letters made structural parts of a scene constructed in Oriental style metal type elements:
Combination Chinese Border Series 91, Patented January 18, 1881 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.
Letterpress “type pictures”—scenes constructed from metal type elements—became particularly common during the 1870s and 1880s, especially with the popularity of Oriental, Egyptian, Assyrian, Moorish, Chinese and Japanese motif type elements. (
During that era, lithographers also produced Oriental, etc. themed pieces, but I am here focusing on work done by typesetters/letterpress printers.)
As with all “creative” arrangements of type, the quality varied. Some typesetters created lively and interesting scenes, while less talented workers seemed to have thrown together elements rather randomly.
There is a lot of cringingly poor work out there to be found.
Trade card. This printer, Harding, put together a little scene unusual in that five colors were used.
Most of the metal type elements are from Combination Chinese Border Series 88, Patented September 30, 1879 by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, designed and cut by William W. Jackson.