Carl Regehr grew up in a German Mennonite community in Colorado, where, he later told an interviewer, “no ornament was allowed.” The interviewer asked him if he’d craved it. “No,” Regehr said,” I craved information.”
As a graphic designer in Chicago, Regehr’s job was to synthesize ornament and information. He came east in 1953; by 1960 he was able to start his own design shop, which turned out witty, sophisticated work for corporations and nonprofits. Regehr had a fruitful relationship with theater director Shozo Sato, for whom he designed posters. In one striking example, touting the 1981 Wisdom Bridge Theatre production of Sato’s Kabuki Macbeth, a bloodred arm rises upward out of a gold kimono, its hand where the wearer’s head should be. From 1972 until his death in 1983, Regehr taught design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Last year his daughter, Jana Regehr-Armstrong, discovered a trove of his journals, and the Society of Typographic Arts has edited them down to a compact, 154-page volume called Carl Regehr: The Lost Journals. The book features the designer’s sketches and notes interspersed with remembrances by his colleagues and students. A lot of it is just doodles, really—evidence of a fecund mind at play. A couple of anthropomorphized martini glasses, for instance, with the notation, “Brainstorming is fun at lunch . . . Back to work.” (Evidence that Mad Men is historically accurate.) There are rough sketches that got turned into finished work, bits of mordant commentary (a drawing of a female figure that’s all tits, legs, and hair, captioned, “after watching Miss America TV program”), and a couple New Yorker-caliber cartoons, whimsical and non sequiturial. The release party coincides with the STA’s 85th anniversary.