New Albany Institute of History and Art exhibit features designs of the past

As an art form, graphic design really hasn't gotten its due, Doug McCombs says.

McCombs, a curator at the Albany Institute of History and Art, isn't the only one who thinks so. He recently read a story about how the Museum of Modern Art in New York City accepted 23 digital fonts into its collection. Curator Paola Antonelli said the acquisition was important because there was a gap in the museum's holdings when it came to graphic design.

In the case of the Albany Institute, it had plenty of examples of graphic design, but there had never been a display or exhibit dedicated to it.

Until now.

On Saturday, Feb. 5, the institute will open a new exhibition entitled Graphic Design -- Get the Message. It will focus on four themes: typography and early printing; commerce and graphic design; political and social messages; and the creative process.

Graphic design, McCombs says, is everywhere. He points to people's morning cups of coffee emblazoned with the Starbucks logo and the flags atop the newspapers they read. In fact, graphic design is so prevalent, McCombs thinks, that people rarely stop and contemplate it.

"It's something we take for granted," he said.

Staff at the institute started thinking about putting together an exhibit on graphic design when it received two collections that were heavy on the medium. The first centered on Hajo Christoph, an immigrant from Berlin who worked at the Fort Orange Paper Co. in Castleton. Considered something of a graphic design pioneer, Christoph created "just very eye-catching" products for the company and other manufacturers, McCombs said.

The second collection was 80 games and toys in their original boxes from the Albany-based Embossing Co., which was founded in 1870. The company's trademark products were checkers, alphabet blocks and dominoes, McCombs said.

"They never really changed their product, but they changed the package design to entice new generations," McCombs said.

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