Currently I am a graphic design student, and recently I was working on a group project highlighting a “type master” in history. Much to my surprise, there were no women on the list of “masters” to choose from. Our teacher said we could do our project on a woman type designer if we could find one who made substantial contributions to the world of type. After research, we chose Carol Twombly. When I asked my teacher if she would be added to the list for future classes, he said he doesn’t feel her contributions warrant the title “type master”. Is he right? If not, can you provide me with a poignant argument in favor of Twombly?
The first time I read your email, I had to close the tab and take some deep breaths. I don’t know why it struck a particular nerve – I’m newish here but I’m already pretty used to the work of highly accomplished women being underestimated, undervalued and dismissed. C’est la vie, am I right?
At Alphabettes, we made a quick list of women designers we think deserve to be called “type masters.” But you know what, Alicia? I hate that we felt the knee-jerk reaction do that. The issue, as I’m sure you know, is not that only white men do good work, it’s that people in positions of power consistently fail to see the problem in excluding the work of women and people of color from what they deem worthy. Hitting your teacher with a bunch of women designers (lists of whom are already out there tenfold) and good reasons to include them (same) isn’t going to change his mind. It is absolutely on him to reflect on why his list of who counts as a “master” skews so male and so white, and feel a duty to do better by those of his students who are not white men.
Adobe Caslon drawings by Carol Twombly, via Adobe
Your teacher has already seen your group’s presentation on Carol Twombly’s work. I could recall her accomplishments, but if he wasn’t asleep while you were talking (and for the entirety of his career as a designer or educator, tbh) he already knows she was more prolific and influential in only eleven years than most type designers hope to be.
By all means, discuss the structural inequalities that resulted in an all-male “type masters” list with your fellow students. Rally any other professors and professionals in your circles who see this as the belittlement of Twombly’s contributions that it is. But if that isn’t enough, who am I to convince your teacher? I’m a type designer with three years’ experience at a respected foundry. Important people in the industry admire my work and believe in my potential. Some of them are on his list of “type masters.” I bet you if I called them up, they would all vouch for Twombly’s mastery. I’m sorry I can’t give you something more inspiring or helpful or poignant to tell him, but if your teacher doesn’t already believe Carol Twombly is a type master, it won’t ever be enough to hear it from me. Wait, that’s actually kinda poignant.
All my best,
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