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Recognizing a Living Legend

09/06/2012

Malcolm Grear recently celebrated his 80th birthday but is still exhibiting and active in the field of graphic design.

Professor Emeritus Malcolm Grear has been integrally connected to RISD for more than half a century. After arriving at the school to teach in 1960, the Kentucky native not only helped build the Graphic Design department into one of RISD’s most dynamic and popular majors – with more than 200 students now enrolled – he developed an increasingly strong reputation as an international force in design education. In the process, he mentored thousands of Graphic Design alumni and built a world-class design firm in Providence.

In recognition of the extraordinary impact Grear has made on design education overall and on the RISD community in particular, his friends, colleagues and former students are working to raise funds for an endowed scholarship in his name. Thanks to the generosity of initial donors, they have brought in more than half of the $100,000 they intend to raise by December 31, 2012. Each year the Malcolm Grear Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide financial assistance to a deserving junior or senior majoring in Graphic Design.

“Malcolm has been inspirational – as a designer, teacher and mentor,” notes Professor Bill Newkirk 68 GD, co-chair of the Grear scholarship fundraising effort. “He is relentless in the pursuit of excellence in his own designs and has been no less committed to his students in expecting the best. Those of us who have learned from him retain this essential objective no matter where our design paths have led.”

Pat Rhodes Appleton 70 GD, president of Malcolm Grear Designers and the other co-chair, adds that “we have discussed this initiative with Malcolm and he is deeply touched by the scholarship we’re establishing in his name. We now hope that as many people as possible will join us in helping to create an annual scholarship for Graphic Design majors in need of assistance.”

Teaching at RISD from 1960-98, Malcolm Grear was something of an icon on campus – a character full of wit, wisdom and wry commentary. “I don’t – indeed can’t – teach students to be designers,” he often said, “but I can and do teach attitudes and strategies that help them become designers.” During his 38-year tenure, he served as department head from 1965-69 and earned the John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1986. In the early ’90s, Grear published the design textbook Inside Outside: From the Basics to the Practice of Design, with an updated second edition released in 2006.

Malcolm Grear Designers (MGD), the Providence-based firm founded the same year he started at RISD, quickly became known for its clean lines and clarity of vision. It has since done memorable identity and print design work for national clients ranging from the US Veterans Administration to the Presbyterian Church, Vanderbilt University and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. The small studio is also well known for the many exhibitions and catalogues it has designed for the Guggenheim Museum, the RISD Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among many others.

“I am a lucky man,” Grear has noted in recent years. “Not by design but through design, I have gained a life full of friendships, respectful affections, delightful collaborations – all born of my work, which in itself – in its daily texture and visual diversity – brings pleasure to my soul.”

Grear has received numerous awards for his work, from local, national and international organizations, including AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts), the International Center of Typographic Arts, Printing World Annual and the Art Society of North America. Closer to home he earned the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Rhode Island Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts – all for lifetime achievement.

“Design – like music, language, mathematics, art, science (curiosity) and the rest – is part of the structure of the mind,” Grear has observed. “Done by nature with blind but dazzling elegance and by humans with our own purpose, design is no mere cultural confection. It is in us.”

Contributions to the Malcolm Grear Endowed Scholarship Fund may be made here


tags: alumni, faculty, Graphic Design, students

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A figure modeling class from 1916.