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George Salter
German-American book designer and artist

George Salter

George Salter
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German-American book designer and artist
Was Artist Illustrator Designer Graphic designer
From United States of America Germany
Field Arts Creativity
Gender male
Birth 5 October 1897, Bremen, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Trizone, Germany
Death 31 October 1967, New York City, New York, USA (aged 70 years)
Star sign Libra
Residence Germany; New York City, New York, USA
Family
Mother: Stefanie Salter
Father: Norbert Salter
Siblings: Julius SalterStefan SalterLili Salter
Spouse: Agnes O'Shea
Children: Janet Salter
The details

Biography

George Salter (5 October 1897 – 31 October 1967), was a German-American graphic designer and illustrator, known for revolutionizing cover design for books. 

He is recognized for his design for Alfred Döblin's book Berlin Alexanderplatz. For all his talent, Salter stayed closer to the style of highbrow publishing graphics than to pulp fiction.

Early life and education

George Salter was born as Georg Salter on October 5, 1897, in Bremen, Germany, to Norbert and Stefanie Salter. His father studied at the Vienna Conservatory and later played the cello in the Hamburg symphony orchestra under the young Gustav Mahler. His mother also came from a musically inclined Hungarian family. George grew up playing the cello and experimenting with technical problems of set design, costumes, and lighting.

He had three siblings: brothers Julius and Stefan, and a sister Lili.

In the year of his birth, his parents converted from Judaism to Christian faith—following the path of assimilation typically taken by secular Jews in Germany. George received his certificate of confirmation at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtnis-Kirche in Berlin on March 13, 1913. 

Salter graduated from Werner Siemens Realgymnasium zu Schöneberg in 1911. He was left-handed and eventually taught himself to write and draw with his right hand, which he later urged his own students to do as well. In 1916 at age nineteen, Salter finished secondary school (Gymnasium) and immediately joined the German army. One of his duties was mapmaking, which further advanced his nascent skill as a draftsman. He and his brother Julius survived the war unharmed and returned to civilian life. 

Career

Early years

After returning from the service, while Julius worked on the business side of a publishing firm he helped found, George began to study art. He enrolled in the Kunstgewerbe- und Handwerkerschule [School of Applied Arts and Crafts] in Berlin-Charlottenburg, where from 1919-1921 he concentrated on scene painting. In the years 1921-1922, he worked at the studio for set and stage design at the Prussian State Opera. He also worked for the Berliner Volksoper where he designed several productions.

Beginning in 1927, he started working as a designer for the publisher Die Schmiede.

Between 1922 and 1934, he produced over 350 different designs for 33 different German publishers—both binding designs and book jackets. Between 1927 and 1933 he designed several jackets that became his trademark and greatest legacy. 

Salter's talent was noticed by acclaimed German calligrapher and typographer Georg Trump, who hired him to direct the Commercial Art Department at the Höhere Graphische Fachschule [Institute of Graphic Arts] in Berlin in 1931. After leaving his teaching position, Salter first moved to Baden-Baden in May 1933, where he awaited his American visa, which finally came through the consulate in Stuttgart on October 1, 1934. 

Migration to the United States

Salter emigrated to the United States on November 16, 1934. His younger brother Stefan (who had moved to the United States in 1928) submitted an affidavit, which helped Georg join the first wave of refugee artists and intellectuals to leave Germany.

Salter settled in New York where he designed book jackets for US publishers. He came to America with contacts in the publishing business and a reputation already established. For example, one of his German contacts, writer Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt (who had come to the United States in 1929), was Curator of the Department of Rare Books at Columbia University from 1930 to 1937 and a historian of the American publishing trade devoted to the art of the book. He set up an exhibition of 50 book jackets by Salter at Columbia University in November 1933.

Salter's first job was at H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Company on West 26th Street, New York, where he established himself as a freelance designer and jacket artist.

In 1938, he started leading the design department of Mercury Publications, and in 1939, became the firm's art director. In the 1940s, he designed 185 book covers and around 30 magazine covers.

Salter became an American citizen in September 1940. After this event, he began signing his name as George instead of Georg.

Over his career, Salter created the covers for several noteworthy books, including Norah Lofts's I Met a Gypsy (1935), Igor Stravinsky's An Autobiography (1936), Carl Zuckmayer's The Moons Ride Over (1937), and William L. Shirer's Berlin Diary(1941).

Personal life

Salter was married to Agnes O'Shea and had one daughter, Janet.

Death

Salter died on October 31, 1967, in New York City. He is buried beside his wife Agnes O'Shea Salter (1901-1989) in Cummington, Massachusetts, in the Hampshire Hills where the family used to spend their summer vacations.

Legacy

In 2005, Thomas S. Hansen (Professor Emeritus of German at Wellesley College) authored a book celebrating Salter's legacy, titled Classic Book Jackets: The Design Legacy of George Salter. The book has a foreword by famed American graphic designer Milton Glaser.

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