Charles Coiner (1898-1989) was a giant in the history of American graphic design, recognized with the first National Society of Art Directors Annual Award and an AIGA medal. As an art director at N. W. Ayer & Son Coiner commissioned work by great artists of the era including Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pablo Picasso. His work for private and government clients helped popularize modernism in the United States.
In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt created the National Recovery Administration as part of his New Deal program to lift America out of the Great Depression. The NRA was intended to halt the collapse of American industry by replacing free markets with government mediated standards for pricing, wages, working hours, and other aspects of business.
Coiner was commissioned to design an identity for the NRA. His design was a radical departure from contemporary standards: a flat blue eagle appearing under the letters NRA drawn in a geometric style similar to Paul Renner’s typeface Futura. Using Coiner’s letters as a starting point, M. F. Benton designed the typeface Eagle Bold for American Type Founders. Eagle Bold is now regarded as a classic American headline face.
Businesses across America displayed Coiner’s logo on posters and flyers proclaiming their cooperation and NRA banners were lofted over propaganda parades. Then in 1935 a Supreme Court ruling shut down the NRA, and Coiner’s Eagle disappeared from the public eye—but not before it had helped plant modernism into the nations collective visual consciousness.
Recovery is a reinterpretation of Coiner’s letters and Benton’s Eagle Bold. I began drawing Eagle to explore the design of extremely heavy letters and as I worked on it I began to appreciate the design and its place in history. Coiner put the avant-garde style of Europe on display across America. His NRA logo is an icon of the years when American designers dove headfirst into modernism. This moment in history and its visuals deserve continued exploration, and connecting to our past like this helps remind us who we are and where we are going.
- James Puckett