Visual Identity

In 1948, the year that Folkways was founded, the long-play vinyl record was just being introduced to the recording industry. The LP "sleeve" or "cover" quickly evolved beyond its original function as a protective envelope for the record into a site of graphic experimentation and innovation. By the late 1950s and into the pop era of the 1960s, album covers had assumed an important position in defining cultural identity, becoming icons of a succession of subcultures from beat through rock 'n' roll, psychedelic, and far beyond. Against this backdrop of commercial design aimed at the mass market, Moe Asch recognized the importance of creating a strong visual identity for "the product" in order to attract the attention of the customer. The necessity for more financially modest design production, at times, inspired the most innovative and groundbreaking of covers.

 
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The Unquiet Grave

FW02364
1951
Ronald Clyne
Rubbing by Ann Parker and Avon Neal
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Geordie (Georgie) — Andrew Rowan Summers

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The elegant, roman capital letters of the title echo the hand-carved letterforms of the textured, historical gravestone rubbing. The muted colour scheme, with printing in two colours on beige paper, gives this design a contemplative tone.

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The Pit and the Pendulum image1The Pit and the Pendulum image2The Pit and the Pendulum image3
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The Pit and the Pendulum

FW09705
1967
Ronald Clyne
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Begins: "I was sick - sick unto death..." — David Kurlan

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Animation of the typographic pendulum is created by gradually decreasing the height of the repeated titles and tapering the top of each one. Visual weight is suggested by the white "M" hanging at the bottom. The dark background and stark design reinforce the macabre and mysterious quality of Edgar Allan Poe's short story.

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The Fugue image1The Fugue image2The Fugue image3
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The Fugue

FW03609
1964
Ronald Clyne
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Subject — Vaclav Nelhybel

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Repetition of the word "fugue," gradually increasing in size, creates a sense of depth in this cover design. The smallest, and, in terms of contrast, most emphatic title represents the single musical subject from which the fugue grows step by step into a complex polyphonic texture. Muted colours give the cover a dignified, austere, and historical feeling.

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Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image1Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image2Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image3
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Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca

FW09580
1960
Ronald Clyne
Ronald Clyne
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Oda a Walt Whitman — Jorge Juan Rodríguez

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This abstract, multi-layered design makes effective use of two colours to create a somber, dreamlike backdrop for the clean, sans serif typography that emphasizes the poet's name, through a change in scale, and the subtitle, through a change in direction. The visual tone of the design subtly evokes the tragic circumstance of Lorca's death at the hands of the Spanish fascists.

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This Land is My Land image1This Land is My Land image2This Land is My Land image3
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This Land is My Land

FW07027
1951
Unknown
Irwin Rosenhouse
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The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn — Pete Seeger

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This rough, organic, stamped image reinforces the notion of hands-on labour involved in farm work, further epitomized by the silhouetted worker, hoe in hand. Overprinting of various tints of pink and blue makes effective use of two-colour printing, creating a rich third colour, dark purple. The hand-generated Rosenhouse letterforms across the top animate the whole.

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Music Hall Sidelights

FW09811
1963
Unknown
Claire Luce
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The Halt — Claire Luce and Julie Haydon Nathan

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This sketchy, expressive image captures Colette's coquettish stage presence. Both the hair of a performer and the curtain of the music hall are playfully suggested. Green has been overprinted on red to create the black elements. Typography is hand-rendered in the style of the image and well integrated, with the word "Collette" tracing the outline of her jaw. The book Music-Hall Sidelights (1913), on which this album is based, was inspired by writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette's experiences as a music-hall mime and dancer.

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This is the Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee image1This is the Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee image2This is the Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee image3
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This is the Blues with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

FW03817
1959
Designers Collaborative
David Gahr
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When the Saints Go Marching In — Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee

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A graduated dot screen pulls the viewer's attention back into the image space where the strongly horizontal format of the photograph recreates the sense of an animated, late-night "jam session." Recorded at radio station WFMT in Chicago, the three musicians and broadcaster Studs Terkel "sat informally around one studio microphone and exchanged views and songs...with emphasis on the blues" (liner notes).

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God Bless the Grass

FW37232
1982
R. O. Blechman
R. O. Blechman
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God Bless the Grass — Pete Seeger

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This album deals with issues of conservation, and the cover was produced, appropriately, on recycled paper. Printed only in green, the charming illustration lends a friendly, accessible tone to the cover design. The blocky, slab serif typeface provides dramatic contrast to the humorous, finely rendered line drawing of Seeger.

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Songs and Dances of Quebec

FW06951
1956
Unknown
Irwin Rosenhouse
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Ma Femme Avait un Grand Chapeau — Bob Hill and Gerard Delorier

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La Bastringue — Jean Carignan, Aldor Morin, Bob Hill, Madame Richard, and Gerard Delorier

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The lively silhouetted dancing legs, framed at the upper right against the forest pattern of sketchily drawn evergreens, combine with Rosenhouse's animated script at the lower left to playfully evoke the Quebec landscape as a backdrop to the party songs, reels and square dances on the album.

Folkways cover designs are unique and distinctive in several ways. The limited colour printing, trademark black background and edges, and tactile, uncoated paper used in their production differentiated these covers from most others. The matte, black edges and feel of the warm, textured paper made Folkways albums easy to identify among the cold, glossy "mainstream" covers in the record stores. These features created a consistent visual relationship among Folkways covers yet allowed for visual differentiation of specific audio genres. In some cover designs, inexpensive two-colour printing yielded a third colour through careful overprinting of one colour on another.

 

Occasionally the same image was used on more than one cover, printed in different colour combinations to create a series of covers.

 
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Jazz Volume 1: The South image1Jazz Volume 1: The South image2Jazz Volume 1: The South image3
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Jazz Volume 1: The South

FW02801
1950
Ronald Clyne
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When a 'Gator Holler, Folks Say It's a Sign of Rain — Margaret Johnson, Black & Blue Trio, and King Oliver

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This album is one of eleven covers to use an identical layout scheme. Printed in different two-colour combinations, with changes in titling information, they form a series of visually related designs. The oversize word "jazz," which dominates the cover, becomes the visual identity for the series.

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Jazz Volume 2: The Blues image1Jazz Volume 2: The Blues image2Jazz Volume 2: The Blues image3
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Jazz Volume 2: The Blues

FW02802
1950
Ronald Clyne
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Dark Was the Night — Blind Willie Johnson

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Jazz Volume 3: New Orleans image1Jazz Volume 3: New Orleans image2Jazz Volume 3: New Orleans image3
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Jazz Volume 3: New Orleans

FW02803
1950
Ronald Clyne
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Dippermouth Blues — King Oliver Creole Jazz Band

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Jazz Volume 4: Jazz Singers image1Jazz Volume 4: Jazz Singers image2Jazz Volume 4: Jazz Singers image3
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Jazz Volume 4: Jazz Singers

FW02804
1951
Ronald Clyne
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Organ Grinder's Swing — Ella Fitzgerald and the Savoy Eight

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Jazz Volume 5: Chicago, No.1 image1Jazz Volume 5: Chicago, No.1 image2Jazz Volume 5: Chicago, No.1 image3
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Jazz Volume 5: Chicago, No.1

FW02805
1951
Ronald Clyne
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Big Butter and Egg Man from the West — Louis Armstrong Hot 5

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Jazz Volume 6: Chicago, No.2 (Alternate) image1Jazz Volume 6: Chicago, No.2 (Alternate) image2Jazz Volume 6: Chicago, No.2 (Alternate) image3
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Jazz Volume 6: Chicago, No.2 (Alternate)

FW02806
1952
Ronald Clyne
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Somebody Stole My Gal — Bix Biederbecker and his Gang

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Jazz Volume 7: New York (1922-1934) image1Jazz Volume 7: New York (1922-1934) image2Jazz Volume 7: New York (1922-1934) image3
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Jazz Volume 7: New York (1922-1934)

FW02807
1953
Ronald Clyne
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Harlem Fuss — Fats Waller and his Buddies

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Jazz Volume 8: Big Bands Before 1935 image1Jazz Volume 8: Big Bands Before 1935 image2Jazz Volume 8: Big Bands Before 1935 image3
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Jazz Volume 8: Big Bands Before 1935

FW02808
1953
Ronald Clyne
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Hot and Bothered — Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

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Jazz Volume 9: Piano image1Jazz Volume 9: Piano image2Jazz Volume 9: Piano image3
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Jazz Volume 9: Piano

FW02809
1953
Ronald Clyne
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Tom Cat Blues — Jelly Roll Morton

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Jazz Volume 10: Boogie Woogie and Jump and Kansas City image1Jazz Volume 10: Boogie Woogie and Jump and Kansas City image2Jazz Volume 10: Boogie Woogie and Jump and Kansas City image3
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Jazz Volume 10: Boogie Woogie and Jump and Kansas City

FW02810
1953
Ronald Clyne
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Yancey Stomp — Jimmy Yancey

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Jazz Volume 11: Addenda image1Jazz Volume 11: Addenda image2Jazz Volume 11: Addenda image3
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Jazz Volume 11: Addenda

FW02811
1953
Ronald Clyne
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I'm Coming Virginia — Bunny Berrigan and his Blue Boys

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Moe Asch's respect for his designers' abilities gave them great freedom to be innovative. The project briefs and working processes were simple. Asch would describe the album's content to the designers, leaving them on their own to devise a concept and design a cover suited to the content, occasionally providing a photograph or illustration that he or the recording artist wished to include.

 
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American Banjo image1American Banjo image2American Banjo image3
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American Banjo

FW02314
1966
Designers Collaborative
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Cripple Creek — Oren Jenkins

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Shaped typography defines the "head" of the banjo, while thin rules act as the strings. The letterforms combine the look of American wood type with 1960s styling in a "sunny" combination of yellow and green. The album features numerous performers--including the "granddaddy of them all," DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins--picking in the three-finger style pioneered by bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs to enable the banjo to play lead.

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The Stoneman Family

FW02315
1957
Unknown
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Bile Them Cabbage Down — Ernest V. Stoneman

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The cutout image parts make up a lively banjo with type running along two of the strings. The stamped flowers in the background activate the image space and, together with the vibrant colour scheme, capture the spirited rhythms of the old-time tunes.

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The Fisk Jubilee Singers image1The Fisk Jubilee Singers image2The Fisk Jubilee Singers image3
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The Fisk Jubilee Singers

FW02372
1955
Unknown
Aaron Douglas
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Great Camp Meeting — Fisk Jubilee Singers

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The cut-out style of the type echoes the paper-cut art of the image. The figures, foliage, and radiating lines, all directed upward, complement the spiritual quality of the music. The design was produced in other colour combinations with successive printings. Aaron Douglas, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance, founded the Fisk University Art Department where he taught for twenty-nine years.

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Goethe: Urfaust image1Goethe: Urfaust image2Goethe: Urfaust image3
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Goethe: Urfaust

FW09571
1962
Ronald Clyne
Harry Clarke
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Opening Scene - Night — n/a

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Provocatively dramatic and mannered figures, stylistically reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, are rendered in a stage-like setting. Combined with the Fractur letterforms, they create a gothic mood. Psychological tension between the two figures highlights the complexities and sense of the diabolical within Goethe's masterwork in this unusual, somewhat rarefied interpretation.

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Berkeley Farms image1Berkeley Farms image2Berkeley Farms image3
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Berkeley Farms

FW02436
1972
Globe Propaganda
George Hunter
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Beasties in the Sugar — The Spare Change Boys

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Brush script type for the title contrasts the simple, hard-edged image forms of this farm scene. The two colours and reversals of type, clouds, and sunrays, give the black, "cutout" silhouettes a sense of depth and space. The country image, which complements the bluegrass style of music on the album, also serves as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the complexity of cultures and countercultures that flourished in Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area at the height of the hippie era.

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Van Ronk Sings

FW02383
1961
Ronald Clyne
Eric von Schmidt
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Please See That My Grave Is Kept Clean — Dave Van Ronk

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Lively, hand-rendered letterforms harmonize with the expressive monoprint-style image of a guitarist. Subdued shades of pink and blue combine to yield purple, contrasting sharply with the strongly expressive, primitivist quality of the image. The cover art, signed von Schmidt, is likely the work of influential folk-blues guitarist and artist Eric von Schmidt.

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This is Rhythm image1This is Rhythm image2This is Rhythm image3
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This is Rhythm

FW07652
1961
Unknown
Ella Jenkins
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A Rabbit with a Flea — Ella Jenkins

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The childlike line drawings of percussion instruments are anthropomorphized, creating two rows of rhythmic dancing figures. The tone of the image and character of the lettering reflect Jenkins's playful instructional style.

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The World Music Theatre of Jon Appleton image1The World Music Theatre of Jon Appleton image2The World Music Theatre of Jon Appleton image3
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The World Music Theatre of Jon Appleton

FW33437
1974
Ronald Clyne
Lufti Ozkok
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Chef d'Oeuvre — Jon Appleton

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Linear forms of the typeface relate to the modulated sound of the electronic music on this album. Appleton's "hip," tinted sunglasses are rendered in a tone derived from the red "o's," a subtle play on the "apple" in his name and a visual device that commands the viewer's attention.

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Indian Music of the Canadian Plains

FW04464
1955
Ronald Clyne
Kenneth Peacock
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Blood: Grass Dance Song — n/a

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Blood: Sun Dance Song — Jim Low Horn, Jack Low Horn, and Mrs. Emil Wings

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Blackfoot: War Song — Wilfred Calf Robe and Albert Scalp Lock

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The cover photograph captures the elaborate dress and movements of the Cree Grass Dance, included on this recording of Cree, Blood, Blackfoot, and Assiniboine songs. Ethnomusicologist Kenneth Peacock, who researched and recorded this music for the National Museum of Canada, took the photograph.

Carefully considered images, typography, and cover layout contributed to and reinforced the source of the sounds on the recording. The social, political, and stylistic attributes of the music and the moment were "recorded" visually with integrity on Folkways album covers.

 
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Little Brother Montgomery image1Little Brother Montgomery image2Little Brother Montgomery image3
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Little Brother Montgomery

FW03527
1961
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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Storyville Blues — Little Brother Montgomery

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The image of barrelhouse blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery is overprinted in blue on the brown ground, creating some blue type as well as a third colour, charcoal grey. The placement and contrast of the stark, white title "Blues" against the ground is particularly strong visually. The scale of the face creates a sense of intimacy with the viewer-listener.

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Precious Memories image1Precious Memories image2Precious Memories image3
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Precious Memories

FW02427
1962
Ronald Clyne
George Pickow
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Precious Memories — Jean Ritchie

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The Great Speckled Bird — Jean Ritchie

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The evocative photograph of this humble interior, which dominates the cover, is rendered in warm black and marigold, lending a nostalgic tone to the design. The neck of the banjo suggests a structure line that separates the performer's name from the title of the album, and together with the dulcimer, frames the mirror in which Jean Ritchie's image is reflected.

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Take This Hammer image1Take This Hammer image2Take This Hammer image3
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Take This Hammer

FW31019
1950, 1968
Craig Meirop
Craig Meirop
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Take This Hammer — Lead Belly

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This image of Lead Belly shows him wearing his customary suit and tie. The capital sans serif letterforms create a simple band of typographic elements along the top edge, which allows the powerful, full-colour illustration to dominate. This album contains many of Lead Belly's signature songs and demonstrates how the legendary artist captivated audiences everywhere with "his steel voice, his steel arm on the twelve strings, and his high-voltage personality" (liner notes).

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Folksongs of Saskatchewan image1Folksongs of Saskatchewan image2Folksongs of Saskatchewan image3
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Folksongs of Saskatchewan

FW04312
1963
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Saskatchewan — Jim Young

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The stark expanse of prairie sky dominates and serves as a backdrop for worn, degraded "typewriter" letterforms. The low horizontal format of the photograph superimposed on a taupe ground evokes the isolation of a prairie town. This photograph, taken in 1913, is of Vanguard, Saskatchewan.

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Shigin

FW04220
1975
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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In a Heian Inn, Offering a Parting to Tan'an — Abe Shũfũ I

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The simple, minimal layout structure, sand-coloured ground, and snowflake pattern allude to a nature-based Japanese aesthetic. The photograph refers specifically to the music, while the type style relates clearly to a 1970s version of pop-derived typography.

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Stories and Poems of New Guinea image1Stories and Poems of New Guinea image2Stories and Poems of New Guinea image3
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Stories and Poems of New Guinea

FW09786
1979
Ronald Clyne
Ronald Clyne
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Papua New Guinea — Bernard Barshay

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Clyne illustrates this album cover with carved New Guinea houseposts from his own collection to dramatic effect. Each part of the title, set along the top edge, is anchored to one of the heads. The strong layout structure, which divides the square format into three equal parts, exhibits the modernist aesthetic so prominent in his work.

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The Nuru Taa African Musical Idiom image1The Nuru Taa African Musical Idiom image2The Nuru Taa African Musical Idiom image3
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The Nuru Taa African Musical Idiom

FW31306
1975
Unknown
David Stone Martin
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After Glow — Nadi Qamar

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The lively ink drawing of transparent hands, superimposed on a layering of African instruments, creates a sense of animation and rhythm. The quirky forms of the hand lettering contrast the capital letters in sans serif typeface used for the subtitle.

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Songs of Nature and the Environment image1Songs of Nature and the Environment image2Songs of Nature and the Environment image3
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Songs of Nature and the Environment

FW07605
1978
Henry Post
Irwin Rosenhouse
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Turtles and Snakes — Gerry Axelrod and Robert Macklin

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The silhouetted children's faces create a framework for the interior "fantasy space," containing simple representations of creatures of the earth, air, and water. Curvilinear Rosenhouse cursive script is well integrated with the organic imagery. Clever overprinting of the three colours creates a rich, textural palette. Naturalists at the West Rock Nature Center in Hamden, CT, devised these songs to bring natural history to life and to teach the importance of protecting the environment.

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Songs from the Out-ports of Newfoundland image1Songs from the Out-ports of Newfoundland image2Songs from the Out-ports of Newfoundland image3
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Songs from the Out-ports of Newfoundland

FW04075
1966
Irwin Rosenhouse
Unknown
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The Farmyard — John Curtis

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Created by renowned folklorist MacEdward Leach, this recording documents the rich oral heritage of the isolated outports and fishing villages of Newfoundland, including well-preserved songs and stories brought from the British Isles. The photograph depicts a row of large anchors lined up near the shore, vivid reminders of a life--and songs--tied to the sea.

Although many production techniques were used in the interest of economy, they also succeeded in creating a strong, distinctive identity in the marketplace. The Folkways visual identity remained constant over the decades. Later designers far and beyond Folkways adopted the original Folkways "look".

 
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14 Numbers, Letters and Animal Songs image114 Numbers, Letters and Animal Songs image214 Numbers, Letters and Animal Songs image3
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14 Numbers, Letters and Animal Songs

FW07545
1972
Henry Post
Chris Davis
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Six Little Ducks — Alan Mills

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Davis' charming, child-like drawing of a rabbit in a windy landscape is defined by the striking yellow ground. The irregular, hand-printed style of the letterforms above reinforces the whimsical nature of the image.

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Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 1 image1Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 1 image2Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 1 image3
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Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 1

FW04091
1980
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Lan Huahua — Yanping Liu, Cultural Troupe Orch North China Military District

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A traditional, centered layout contrasts with the contemporary sans serif type, helping focus the viewer's attention on the paper-cut image of the agricultural worker below. The warmth of the orange colour, against the black ground, reinforces the rural nature of the scene.

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Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 2 image1Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 2 image2Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 2 image3
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Vocal Music of Contemporary China, Vol. 2

FW04092
1980
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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The Breeze — Jibzeng and Namujina

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The second album in this series uses the same layout structure as the first and features a playful, paper cut image of two musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments. The bright, red and yellow colour scheme emphasizes the lively music of contemporary China.

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The Way of Eiheiji image1The Way of Eiheiji image2The Way of Eiheiji image3
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The Way of Eiheiji

FW08980
1960
Unknown
Unknown
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Breakfast Preparation Bells and Gongs… — n/a

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The vertical emphasis of the elegant Japanese calligraphic character for "Buddha" is echoed by the composition of the western typography to the right. The colour scheme, light sans serif typeface, and simple, spare structure create a quiet, contemplative mood.

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Electronic Music image1Electronic Music image2Electronic Music image3
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Electronic Music

FW03436
1967
Ronald Clyne
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Dripsody — University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio

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This typographic cover design uses a sans serif typeface with contrasts of size and colour as well a rectilinear, diagonal composition of the title, repeated to generate a visual representation of the modern, "electronic" energy captured on this album.

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Songs of Shakespeares Plays and Popular Songs of Shakespeares Time image1Songs of Shakespeares Plays and Popular Songs of Shakespeares Time image2Songs of Shakespeares Plays and Popular Songs of Shakespeares Time image3
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Songs of Shakespeare's Plays and Popular Songs of Shakespeare's Time

FW08767
1961
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Willow, Willow (Othello) — Tom Kines

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The cover image is a popular print of an actor on stage as he might have appeared during the Elizabethan period. Tom Kines sings songs from Shakespeare's plays and other songs from the period, with instrumental accompaniments composed or arranged in the popular style of the time.

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Folk Music of Ethiopia image1Folk Music of Ethiopia image2Folk Music of Ethiopia image3
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Folk Music of Ethiopia

FW04405
1951
Unknown
R. W. Kane
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Masonquo Solo (Eritrea) — Masonquo player from Gura Valley, Eritrea

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This is the first of three albums from the earliest recordings in the Ethnic Library series included in the exhibition. Each uses the same print to symbolize the flora, fauna, and musical and artistic styles of the various regions. In this case, the image and surrounding type are not integrated into a structured layout. The colours create a sense of life within an arid world.

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Music of South Arabia image1Music of South Arabia image2Music of South Arabia image3
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Music of South Arabia

FW04421
1951
Unknown
R. W. Kane
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Song About the Paying of Taxes — n/a

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In the second example of the use of this design, lighter tints of the two colours create an illusion of depth in a colour scheme that emphasizes a strong relationship between the people and the earth.

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Religious Music of the Falashas image1Religious Music of the Falashas image2Religious Music of the Falashas image3
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Religious Music of the Falashas

FW04442
1951
Unknown
R. W. Kane
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Prayer of Absolution — n/a

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This album picks up on the previous two in the series, using the same image and compartmentalized structure. In this case, the colour scheme is vibrant and warm, with the orange advancing from the neutral grey ground. The geometric sans serif type is made bolder and condensed for added emphasis.