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Salter, George

Entry updated 23 January 2023. Tagged: Artist.

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(1897-1967) German theatrical designer, teacher, calligrapher and illustrator, born Georg Salter, in active service during World War One; in US from November 1934, after being stripped of his livelihood by the German state for being Jewish; in September 1940, on becoming an American citizen, he changed his name to George Salter. His career is marked throughout by his close association, as designer and illustrator, with particular firms, beginning with Verlag Die Schmiede and Kiepenheuer Verlag in Weimar Germany, designing two early Franz Kafka titles for the first firm and one for the second; he provided covers for thirty-three separate publishers before going into exile, further German-language authors for whom he did work including Alfred Döblin, Gerhard Hauptmann, Hermann Hesse, Bernhard Kellermann and others. Much of this Weimar output was transgressive, and many of the authors illustrated were left-wing; it was during this period that Salter did his most significant (and most daring) work.

In America, he was instrumental – along with W A Dwiggins, with whom he collaborated frequently – in establishing the unmistakable, calligraphy-dominated, fluently dignified look of the extremely influential Alfred A Knopf list; his covers for Knopf were numerous, as were those for other publishers; Thomas S Hansen's ill-written Classic Book Designs: The Design Legacy of George Salter (graph 2005) includes many illustrations from his career as a whole, though the text clumsily denigrates anything by nonmimetic authors. Though Salter was never in fact identified as a genre illustrator, his range was wide [for examples dismissed by Hansen see the Picture Gallery under links below].

Salter is of sf interest primarily for his relationship with the publisher and broadcaster Lawrence E Spivak (1900-1994) as director of design 1938-1958 for Mercury Publications, founded by Spivak in 1937 in conjunction with his purchase of The American Mercury (later The New American Mercury), which flourished under his supervision until 1950. Mercury Publications created several book labels, and published a number of magazines, almost always designed and illustrated by Salter – perhaps as many as 300 issues and books in all – easily identified by their digest size, an instantly recognizable calligraphic sophistication with an emphasis on cursive fonts, and use of single-column pages. Among these magazines is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, whose unique non-Pulp appearance, which has been maintained ever since 1949, was primarily due to Salter, who served as art editor of the journal until 1958.

Salter's brother Stefan Salter (1907-1985), in America from 1928, was also an illustrator; at least one example of his cover art, clearly influenced by George's example, is cited in this encyclopedia (see Gerald Heard). [JC]

George Salter

born Bremen, Germany: 5 October 1897

died New York: 31 October 1967

about the artist


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