The Chapel of St. Basil at the University of St. Thomas

An alluring piece of architecture, the Chapel of St. Basil is situated opposite the Doherty Library on the University of St. Thomas campus. It’s of no surprise the history of the chapel began with the deMenils, something that is true of so much in Houston. They hired Philip Johnson originally to design the campus, and years after the Academic Hall was built he designed the Chapel. One of the most intriguing qualities of the chapel is its lack of artificial light. The sun illuminates the space in a fluid way, and the experience is remarkable. We visited the chapel on several occasions to try to capture this feeling.












Non-Native Typography—The Japanese Writing System

As a Westerner and a native English speaker, my appreciation of Japanese writing is purely aesthetic and superficial—as one appreciates a painter’s brushstroke, an interesting composition of shapes, or something unfamiliar. It wasn’t until I needed to design with Japanese text myself that I realized how fundamentally different the modern Japanese writing system is from my own. Of course this seems obvious in hindsight—the East is unlike the West in so many ways, why would writing be any different.

What we call Japanese writing is actually the combination and appropriation of thousands of characters from six different scripts each with its own history, function, rules, and visual weight. Because if this, the modern Japanese writing system is often considered to be the most complex contemporary written language. Primarily, Japanese writing combines Chinese logographic Kanji characters with two syllabic scripts, Hiragana and Katakana (known collectively as Kana). Borrowed from China a couple thousand years ago, Kanji characters are used to represent objects, ideas, actions, as well as many Japanese names. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words and grammatical inflections that Kanji doesn’t cover. Katakana is somewhat similar to Latin italics—it is used to write words of foreign origin, onomatopoeic sound effects, scientific/technical terms, and simply for emphasis. Additionally, the Latin alphabet, Arabic numerals, and Greek characters are utilized, each playing a supporting but vital role in the modern Japanese writing system.

The vocabulary, measurement system, and aesthetics of Japanese writing are all a carryover from the days of movable type. Characters for Japanese composition were designed to have a square character frame so they would fit nicely on uniform blocks of metal type that could be set end to end. For more than a thousand years all text was set vertically, but because of the square character profile the same Japanese characters can be set horizontally as well. Contemporary Japanese composition utilizes both text directions, horizontal type setting being a fairly recent innovation. When text is set vertically it is read from top to bottom, right to left. When text is set horizontally it is read from left to right, top to bottom. This composition is taught with guides in much the same way we learn. Similar to our lined grade school paper, Japanese students use a paper called Genkō yōshi. It helps children write and place characters within a grid of uniform boxes.

By in large, Japanese glyphs are much more complex than Latin glyphs. This translates quite understandably into high-density glyphs that are approximately 10-15% larger than their Latin counterparts. Additionally, despite shape, density, or origin, every character is made to conform to the square character frame. This means there are no capitals, no ascenders, no descenders, and no predictable starting character for words or sentences—all of which contribute to the very high legibility of the Latin alphabet. Without these aids, the different scripts themselves have to indicate the sentence structure.

The differences are countless, but most typographic principles are universal and can transcend language. Balance the space within the letterforms with the space between the letterforms—counterspaces are counterspaces afterall, despite their shape or complexity.


Truck Nest, Art of New Guinea, Design for Space, and These Islands

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Truck Nest-Nine Years in the Making

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Truck Nest-Nine Years in the Making

Truck Nest: Nine Years in the Making
Tokuhiko Kise and Hiromi Karatsu
Published by Shueisha

Seeing the accomplishments of others and the culmination of their work, it’s simple to overlook the time that passed between conception and fruition. For Tokuhiku and Hiromi of TRUCK—it was nine years in the making.

“Seeing our friends in Noosa enjoying their everyday lives, the answer seemed clear. Now that we had a child, that perception struck us even more deeply. They were leading truly rich lives, with their feet planted firmly on the ground. Here, with abundant trees and space, they enjoyed their lives in their own way. “Isn’t this the kind of lifestyle we should lead?” we thought. I didn’t want to wait until I grew old and retired. I wanted to do this while we were still building and creating TRUCK. I became convinced we had to change our own lifestyle so we continue to make things that were good. That’s what I took away from our fifth visit to Noosa.” —Tokuhiko

The publication of TRUCK nest itself is a testament to the way Tokuhiku and Hiromi work and live their lives. The feeling they experienced each time they departed Noosa is, in a way, how we felt reading about their path to TRUCK. It was a motivator, but also a sounding board for many of the practices and philosophies we intend to follow in our own path.


“If we are together, I’m confident whatever we do will work.” —Hiromi

Their ideal life is one that keeps them together at home and at work, making things just the way they want. Timelines, expansion, and trends are distractions, the importance lies in making something genuinely good.

And they have. They’ve made something truly great, and it seeps from the pages of their book. It’s one we will reach for again and again, inspiring us to live a purposeful life, mixed with rituals and spontaneous moments. Each time we read it we will be reminded that the path is just as beautiful as the destination.


Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Art of New Guinea
Forward by Jay D. Frierman
Catalog Design by Saul Marks and Ted Organ (Orland)
Typography by The Plantin Press
Printing by California Litho-arts

You might assume that this book is missing its dust jacket as the binding is plain and the text simple—it’s not. This publication is not a book at all, but an exhibition catalog bound by a former owner. It documents an exhibition of Art in New Guinea presented in 1967 by the Museum and Laboratories of Ethnic Arts and Technology, UCLA, and the Ethnic Arts Council.

In our personal consumption of art we’ve never sought to appreciate ethnographic arts apart from their superficial aesthetic value, and this was still the main motivator behind the purchase of this catalog. While probably standard practice or an issue of cost, the black and white photographs throughout feel like pieces of art in their own right. The complementary page layouts and type are neutral and unassuming on first glance. However, it’s clear the design was considered and is a beautifully executed catalog specimen for the time period.

The designers Saul Marks and Ted Organ (Orland) were both part of Plantin Press, Marks being its co-founder and Organ, an apprentice. Excluding the title which was set in Alburtus, the entirety of the catalog was set in Bembo. We have learned that this was a hallmark of Plantin, who used few but very well-selected typefaces.

Aesthetics and content aside, there was a discovery that made this catalog an interesting and relevant find. It centered around the museum’s director, Ralph C. Altman, whose death preceded completion of the planning process and resulting exhibition. While the museum would go on to hold a proper memorial exhibition for Altman, the posthumous completion of The Art of New Guinea spoke to his staff’s dedication to honoring his memory and vision.

Our curiosity of Altman and a quick search lead us to Fondren Library at Rice University. Among their extensive arts and architecture collection was the catalog for the Ralph C. Altman Memorial Exhibition.

Within its pages we learned that, in addition to his role as museum director, Altman was a beloved lecturer at UCLA.  Jay D. Frierman wrote, “His courses, which included the whole sweep of primitive art, folk art, and ancient art, were to be his greatest achievement. His lectures were models

of lucid exposition, the result of infinite, painstaking, meticulous research—continuously re-examined with the most careful and critical scrutiny. Whether it was his lecture on the art of the Upper Paleolithic, which was a masterpiece, or a discussion of some minor ephemeral folk art, his lectures were always models of concise objectivity. There never was a compromise, even in the last spring semester, when the pain was so severe, the quality and enthusiasm never waned. It is not surprising that his students were so devoted to him. Ultimately this is the measure of a teacher, that he pass on not only information, but some kind of a weltanschauung , a sense of order and worth beyond the facts themselves. This Ralph Altman did to perfection.”

Altman’s collected works were listed at the end of the catalog, including articles, exhibition catalogs, and book reviews. We were delighted to discover the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on that list. It turns out, Altman wrote an essay for Totems Not Taboo (1959), an exhibition curated by the first professional director of the Contemporary Arts Museum (then Contemporary Arts Association), Jermayne MacAgy.  It’s known to be her most successful exhibition, and one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of primitive art organized in the United States by that time.

Looking at photographs of the exhibition, it felt approachable and immersive. MacAgy utilized Mies van der Rohes’ Cullinan Hall beautifully— intermixing the artifacts with plants, platforms, and plinths. It’s easy to see  why it remains one of the most remarkable and rememberable exhibitions in Houston’s history. Altman’s essay paralleled the exhibition. So often exhibition catalogs are written with fellow scholars in mind, and they are lost to the masses. Altman introduces primitive arts, explains the fault in this nomenclature, and expresses the nature in which you should view them in an approachable way.

We can only make assumptions as to why Altman was chosen, but it’s safe to say that he was an important figure in his field and played a vital role in the growing appreciation of ethnographic arts through his work.

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Art of New Guinea

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Totems Not TabooTotems Not Taboo



Art of New Guinea artifact photography by William Doherty with Dennis Olsen; isolated images seen here edited for this article.

Installation views of CAMH exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Totems Not Taboo, 2/26/1959- 3/29/1959. Photos: Maurice Miller, Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Archive.


Arnold, Miah. “Vim and Vigor, Indelicate Language and Bursts of Temper: The Story of the de Menil Cadre and the Emergence of Houston’s Counterculture Arts and Politics .” Cite Summer 2010: 3237. OffCite. Rice Design Alliance. Web.

De Lima Greene, Alison. “Modernism in Houston.” Art Lies 41.Winter (2003): 1923. The Portal to Texas History. Web.

Edwards, Katie Robinson, Ph.D. “The 1950s and Houston.” Midcentury Modern Art in Texas. Austin: U of Texas Press, 2014. 17475. Print.

Frierman, Jay D., and Franklin D. Murphy. Ralph C. Altman Memorial Exhibition. Los Angelas: UCLA Ethnic Art Galleries, 1968. Print.

Harmsen, Tyrus G. The Plantin Press of Saul and Lillian Marks. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1960. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web.

Herbert, Lynn M. “Seeing Was Believing: Installations of Jermayne MacAgy and James Johnson Sweeney.” Cite Winter 9798: 3033. OffCite. Rice Design Alliance. Web.

Reynolds, Sarah C. Houston Reflections: Art in the City, 1950s, 60s and 70s. Houston: Rice U Press, 2008. Print (Available online at OpenStax).

“Ruins of Exhibitions: Totems Not Taboo.” Nero Autumn 2012: 6173. Print (Available online as text or PDF).

Further Reading

Jermayne MacAgy: A Life Illustrated By an Exhibition
By Dominique de Menil, 1968

Saul Marks and The Plantin Press: The Life and Work of a Singular Man
By Lillian Marks, 1980


Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Design for Space

Design for Space
Alexander Glushko
Published by DOM

Words by steven shultz

Houston’s half-century long relationship with America’s space program began in 1963 when NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center, opened in Clear Lake near Galveston Bay on what used to be 1,600 acres of cattle grazing land. Primarily, Houston would become known for its Mission Control function during the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo–Soyuz, and Space Shuttle programs, à la “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. For as long as I can remember I’ve been enamored with all things NASA, and growing up just a stone’s throw away from the Johnson Space Center in the adjacent suburb of Pasadena certainly added a sense of immediacy to the Space Shuttle launches I watched religiously throughout the ’90s.

This is all to say that I’ve had plenty of exposure to American (i.e. NASA branded) space exploration, but what of our Russian counterparts? Alexander Glushko’s Design for Space documents almost 250 mission patches worn by Soviet and

Russian cosmonauts from the beginning of the Cold War to the present. Design for Space is thorough and clear, presenting each patch with a photograph of it in use along with a brief description, the date, and design credit if available. In this way the book achieves its primary objective to be the first comprehensive catalog of emblems and insignia of Soviet and Russian spacecraft and orbital stations. It’s a feat that in some ways sells Design for Space short. Glushko is one of the leading scholars on the history of Russian space exploration and 20th century military uniforms and medals. With this expertise, he is able to provide broader historical context while retracing the formation and evolution of Russian symbolism as it relates to space exploration.

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Design for Space

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: Design for Space


The back-up Soviet-Czechoslovakian crew of the Soyuz-28 spaceship (left to right): N. N. Rukavishnikov and O. Pelczak. Photo from the author’s personal archive.

Patches (left to right): (1)The first variant of the patch of the Russian-American crew on the ISS-1 mission. Used in 20002001. Worn on training and IVA spacesuits. (2) The first sleeve patch for members of crews on Voskhod-type spacecraft. First appeared in 1965 on spacesuits worn by the crew of Voskhod-2. Was subsequently used by several other crews until 1985. Worn on the spacesuits of the crews of the Voskhod-2, Soyuz-5 and Soyuz-11, and on training suits worn by several other cosmonauts, until 1985. (3) The interkosmos patch. Variant for the Soviet-Polish crew, in the Polish language. Used in 1978 by both Soviet and Polish cosmonauts from the principal and back-up crews of the Soyuz-30 spaceship. Worn on the right side of the chest or on the right sleeve of the spacesuit, and likewise on the upper and lower right sides of training suits.

Words by Steven Shultz.


Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: These Islands

These Islands
Cereal Magazine
Published by Francis

We’ve yet to travel outside the North American continent, but have plans to make London our first overseas destination. When we book our trip, we’d like to have a thorough itinerary with each day mapped out. The city is huge and while the bulk of our research will be done online, the designers in us cannot resist a good travel publication. When Cereal announced they were publishing their first book, an ode to the British Isles, we pre-ordered without hesitation. If you aren’t familiar with Cereal, they are a biannual travel and style magazine based in the United Kingdom. The photography that fills the pages of their publication and site are something to aspire to, and the destinations are chosen with great care. These Islands is no exception, and we look forward to planning our travels with this book in hand.

“In many ways, this book is Cereal’s tribute to these islands. It’s not only our opportunity to introduce a very special part of the world to those who aren’t familiar with it, but also a chance to celebrate it with those who know and love it. Within these pages, you’ll find essays, paintings, and poetry inspired by these islands, alongside stories dedicated to the 13 locations we chose simply because they are the ones we love the most.” —Rosa Park, Editor-in-Chief, Cereal

Curiosity and Curiosities. Publications I: These Islands