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Decoding the 1950's





I may be getting somewhat long-in the-tooth these days, but the 1950's were definitely before my time. Unlike the 70's, 80's, or 90's - I am unable to rely on my subjective memory to inform my design. During my (all too brief) time studying history at university level, I came to learn that primary source materials are the most reliable way to collect data on any given period. It is imperative to find reference materials that offer up a wide chronological vista so as to get an understanding of the numerous mutable trends within the existential chapter of a given decade. Not so long ago I came across several hefty volumes - magazines, bound in the fifties - that have proven to be an invaluable asset to the Backstory project. They are likely decommissioned library inventory, taken out of service to make way for more au courant material. It has to be said: that their age has bestowed them little favour: rampant hydrogen ions have broken down the Cellulose in the paper so that the pages are extremely brittle; I find myself cracking the open covers and leafing through the pages with the care of an archivist - sans white gloves. As a graphic designer and a chrononaut, these volumes are my treasure. Once inside, you are besieged by ads for all manner of produce: from well-known brands like Crisco Shortening, Kotex Sanitary Napkins and Dole Pineapple Chunks, to the altogether more esoteric - Sergeant's Skip-Flea Scratch Powder, Rusco Prime Tubular Steel Windows, Blue Jay Corn Plasters and the supposedly 'Miraculous' Swedish Milk Diet. How easily we have forgotten that home appliances often came in assorted colours. Want a hairdryer in fuschia or primrose? No problemo. 'Yours for $19.95 - including a matching hood - the perfect Christmas gift for busy mothers!' This was the heyday of the editorial illustrator. A significant portion of any ad agency's output was routinely offered up for the consumer's delectation, enrobed in florid gouache, and playful pen and ink. In between the calls-to-action and the money-off deals, there are articles that have become somewhat weathered by contemporary hindsight: a double-page paean to Joan Crawford's idyllic home life is one such example. Then there are the divergent futures: editorials predicting widespread atomic-powered automobiles by 1980. Last night I read a serialized tale concerning life after a nuclear apocalypse, set 'in the future of 1962'. A prescient vision, for sure. An eventuality that - due to a measure of divine providence and political detente - was narrowly avoided.



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