Tribute to Michael Harvey MBE HonFISTD 1931–2013

It don't mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing – was his mantra – jazz forming the rhythm to his many and varied creative pursuits. He loved to make things, and once sent me photographs of a chair saying, ‘Here's a crazy project I've just completed, a sax chair for my garden’. A wooden lean-to chair the sides and legs formed out of giant blue and red saxaphones. He even named several of his typefaces after jazz classics and musicians. Michael belonged to various ‘clubs’ and was always actively involved. I first met him through Letter Exchange and ATypI and we became firm friends. He was a great raconteur, loved to share a meal and a glass of wine – and, I discovered, was an inspired dancer delighted to be my partner and first on the dance floor at ATypI occasions. He was simply great fun to be with and I feel privileged to have known him. Although very sad on his passing, just to think of the twinkle in his eyes, and his infectious energy and enthusiasm, still makes me want to smile.

He was a special person, extremely gifted as a lettering artist and in other related fields. ISTD made Michael an Honorary Fellow in 2005 and he seemed as delighted about this as he was about an earlier much grander honour – MBE for Services to the Arts, 2001. His expertise as a letterer and maker was much sought after. He was on the Royal Mint Advisory Committee on the Design of Coins and Medals 1991–2004, chaired by HRH Prince Philip. His visits to the palace became a rich source of anecdotes, a few somewhat irreverent. Originally inspired by Eric Gill’s Autobiography, Michael’s early experience in letter carving was first under Joseph Cribb, Gill’s first apprentice, and then as assistant to Reynolds Stone. Since then he has designed and carved many inscriptions in Westminster Abbey, Winchester and Canterbury Cathedrals. One of his largest commissions was the great frieze of artists’ names in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, London, 1990, which he undertook assisted by Brenda Berman and Annet Stirling. At the time we had a studio a few streets away in Soho, and Michael ‘smuggled’ us [me and David Quay] in for a sneak preview, explaining that he had to do a quick temporary repair job on one of the overlapping stones – with super glue, as Prince Charles was about to visit. We then had to make a quick exit.

Michael was also an accomplished book jacket designer, author, typographer and type designer, and an inspiring teacher and lecturer. He stressed the importance of drawing in the creative process, and described lettering as an abstract art sharing affinities with music and architecture in the use of space, fluidity and expressiveness. His oft ‘Let’s see where this takes us...’ was a lead in to experimenting with line and form, and finding a connection between language and the letterforms. I envy the students that had the opportunity to study with him.

Although adamant about the hand and the pencil, he successfully transferred his type design skills to the mouse and the screen, creating typefaces for Adobe, Monotype, and Fine Fonts his own independent foundry with Andy Benedek. This move from traditional skills formed an entertaining lecture Goodbye Analogue, Hello Digital! In 2005 ISTD was invited to South Africa to take part in the AdobeLive ‘roadshow’ in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. We asked Michael if he would be willing to take part as the keynote speaker. No easy feat – an intense, fast pace, whistle-stop tour. With his characteristic enthusiasm’. We travelled over 32,000 miles by air, 970 miles by car and at the end of the tour Michael took up the offer by Adobe of a tented-safari involving a 400 mile helicopter journey to the ‘outback’. I only went along for the ride as his ‘minder’ and I was exhausted. Meeting him back in Jo’burg, he was full of the experience. On the flights we shared stories about type, type design, and much else. Michael made one comment that stays with me – about the importance of documenting your work and sharing expertise – he mentioned working with the British Library Sound Archive taking part in their National Life Stories: Craft Lives project. His many books, including the memoir Adventures with Letters, meticulously document for posterity not only his work, but his own inspirations, his ethos and process. Although sadly we have lost a great man, we still have access to his work, and more tangibly his views and thoughts are there to inspire and guide us. So much more to say – and I haven’t even touched on bicycles or Duke Ellington. Thank you Michael, you definitely had that Swing.

For a true insight into this man who will be sadly missed by his many friends and colleagues around the world, I would recommend you read Adventures with Letters, published by Michael in the summer of 2012. This book explores his 60 year fascination with letterforms, through a very personal account of his lifetime’s work. The title itself gives a flavour of the man who was indeed a great adventurer, who loved travel, photography, bicycles and jazz.

Freda Sack FISTD – London


Michael Harvey submitted an article called Meeting Jack Stauffacher for the ISTD Journal Typographic – number 66, the Contrast Issue. On reading his informed and informal text again, the admiration that Michael had for Jack clearly comes through. It shows an obvious friendship, mutual understanding and respect between the writer and his subject. The fact that on meeting they 'hit it off at once' is always a sign of a long and lasting friendship, and so it was. Both men had shared heroes and interests. I can see them laughing together, and swapping stories about printing presses, books, Eric Gill – and their respective latest models of bicycles. On the ISTD South African adventure I enjoyed his company hugely. He had a really dry sense of humour, with brilliant one-liners that shot out of nowhere! No subject seemed to phase him. After all the lecture tour flights, he booked himself on a helicopter ride to photograph wildlife. We all thought he was mad. Didn't he want a rest? – No, he was up for taking every exciting opportunity that South Africa and our hosts had to offer. Michael was a real hero in the field of 'lettering', and commanded high respect in the world of typography. He knew he was good at what he did, but he never overstated himself. That too is a sign of a great man. He and his talent will be sorely missed. Jonathan Doney – Somerset

Posted by Jonathan Doney FISTD on 7th December 2013 at 08:53pm

During my time as ISTD Chair, I was also involved with the ISTD student scheme in Johannesburg. An anecdote from this South African adventure always springs to mind, from Michael Harvey’s lecture Goodbye Analogue, Hello Digital! When Michael was explaining how type designers look out for ‘sightings’ of their new typefaces, he related that it was nearly two years after his new font Ellington was released before he saw it in use. A friend sent him a press cutting from The News of the World, where Ellington was employed for a double page spread feature – with images – the headline read ‘1001 Nights of Erotic Pleasure’ – in all caps! With a slight pause for the audience to take in the risqué subject matter, he quickly moved on to the next slide where he commented – but it was a pleasure to see The Times using Ellington (again in all caps) for their Guide to English Style and Usage. Michael was a true gentleman in all senses of the word – tempered with a mischievous sense of humour. The audience loved him. Peter Dawson – London

Posted by Peter Dawson FISTD on 7th December 2013 at 08:51pm

I was deeply saddened by the news of Michael Harvey’s passing. I did not know him very well, but had the pleasure of working with him (and Andy Benedek) on the Mentor typeface for Monotype. It was a particularly lengthy project with several fits and starts. Through it all Michael was patient, understanding and gracious. The outcome was a particularly handsome typeface family. Whether in stone, on paper, or defined by pixels, Michael was a consummate maker of letters. The letters Michael drew – like him – were at the same time robust and elegant. Michael’s accomplishments speak volumes, but I will remember him by the Mentor typeface, aptly named to pay tribute to the influences that started him on his life with letters – and now aptly named, as his work can serve as a mentor to those who would walk the same career path as he. Allan Haley MISTD – Woburn, Massachusetts USA

Posted by Allan Haley MISTD on 7th December 2013 at 08:49pm

I first had the honour of meeting Michael Harvey in 2005. We collaborated on a series of workshops in South Africa courtesy of ISTD. Words do little justice to the immense presence and keen intelligence of a person of this ilk. I learnt so much from this giant of a man, both in the design and typo-spheres. What resonated most was his humility despite international acclaim, and a genuine love of his craft. Michael’s presentations, in front of large audiences in South Africa, were every bit as inspirational as one would expect of such a prolific creative mind. It was when one had the opportunity to sit with him during a quite moment though, that you gained a true appreciation of the passion, the caring, the genius. We’d mull over the esoteric and his eyes would light up. He’d whip out his ever-present Moleskin containing his beautifully written meticulous notes and sketches, and share his deepest, most precious thoughts and ideas. This is what I cherish most about Michael, a giant amongst creative minds, who shared with such ease, cared with such intensity, and gave so generously of everything that makes what we do as designers special. Michael Harvey, friend, mentor, master typographer, we celebrate your life of love and letters. Hamba kahle – Go well dear friend. Mohammed Jogie – Johannesburg, South Africa

Posted by Mohammed Jogie MISTD on 7th December 2013 at 08:47pm

I was lucky enough to meet Michael Harvey when he kindly gave his precious time to come and visit South Africa with ISTD, to lecture and a give a series of workshops on type and typography to South African designers in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Sitting in the audience at one of those lectures myself, I know that Michael educated and entertained a significant number of young people over those few days, and like all great typographers, his inspirational words, and his type designs will continue to influence the work that’s being created – even thousand of miles away from the UK here in South Africa. Brian Palmer FISTD – Johannesburg, South Africa

Posted by Brian Palmer on 7th December 2013 at 08:48pm