November – December 1989
Adrian Wilson was an internationally known printer, book designer, typographer, author, teacher and scholar. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on July 1, 1923, he found a fascination with the miracle of printing that began in his childhood and continued until his death in 1988. As a registered conscientious objector he was drafted into the Civilian Public Service System in 1943. After working in a variety of projects for a year, he transferred to an Oregon C.P.S. camp with an active arts program, joining the artists, musicians, writers, actors and printers who, after their 48-hour work week, exercised their creative talents. At the camp’s press, his typesetting and presswork skills progressed rapidly as did his new friendship with William Everson. Another new acquaintance, actress and artist Joyce Lancaster, became Adrian’s collaborator and wife.
The Wilsons settled in San Francisco in 1946. As they helped establish The Interplayers, an innovative theater group, Adrian developed his craft with the Grabhorns, the Greenwood Press and other Bay Area printers. Many of the programs he designed and printed for the repertory company are presented in Printing for Theater (1957) and More Printing for Theater (1987).
Early publications bear the imprint of The Ark Press, but in 1951 the work was moved to a room just off the lobby of the theater and the mark changed to At The Sign of the Interplayers. From 1960 on his design work was accomplished from a studio at home and imprinted The Press at Tuscany Alley.
In addition to the scores of books he designed for the University of California Press, which include Life of Dante (1954) and The Drum and the Hoe (1960), he designed books for other presses such as Ansel Adams: Images 1923-1974 for the New York Graphic Society (1974) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1960) for the University of Chicago Press. He also designed 13 books for The Limited Editions Club, including Nostromo and The Orestia (1961), and Bel-Ami (1968). Among books he designed and printed are those for the Roxburghe Club such as Bully Waterman (1955), and for the Book Club of California, The Young Miner (1965) and Images of Chinatown (1976).
Among the books he wrote, all with Joyce Lancaster, are The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1976), A Medieval Mirror (1984), and The Work & Play of Adrian Wilson (1983). The books for which he was designer, printer, and publisher range from Weldon Kees’ Poems 1947-1954 (1954) to The Ark of Noah (1975) written and illustrated by Joyce Lancaster, to William Everson’s In Medias Res (1984).
The descriptions and comments presented in this exhibition are those of Wilson himself, excerpted from his bibliographical autobiograpy, The Work & Play of Adrian Wilson. In their Postscript, the Wilsons declared that “our work has become our play with the exception of making a little music now and then. Bookmaking has for us more excitment than any form of gambling or sport. if we recline on a beach it is usually with a book about books in hand.”
Adrian Wilson died on February 3, 1988, in San Francisco.
This exhibition was prepared by David Schoonover, Rijn Templeton, and Penny McKean, coinciding with the acquisition of the 3-millionth volume by The University of Iowa Libraries.