Friday, May 18, 2018

Somerville's Michael Russem: An Architect for Books

Somerville's Michael Russem: An Architect for Books

Article by Doug Holder

It was an unusual chilly morning for mid-May, so I found my self huddled in the backroom of my old haunt-- the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. A balding man, with a biblical beard took his place at my table. His name, Michael Russem. Russem is a book designer and printer, and he just opened the Katherine Smith Gallery on 108 Beacon Street in Somerville. The gallery, according to Rusesm will be, “ a place that will promote affordable collecting by graphic designers and others.” Russem continued, “The gallery will tell the story of graphic design that can be discerned from books, stamps, logos, etc...

The first show the gallery will exhibit is the work of the noted designer Ivan Chermayeff—who recently passed away. He designed the logo for WGBH, the NBC Peacock, and other projects. Russem told me, “ He really brought modernism to graphic design. He introduced abstract logos that are not connected with what a business or institution does, but rather what they are. For instance a bank back in the day may have had a dollar sign as a logo. Now—the same bank may have a hexagon with a square—like Chase. Certainly more abstract and it symbolizes to an extent who they are.”

Russem is also the owner of the Kat Ran Press that now resides in Somerville. He has done design work for such prestigious organizations like, David R. Godine Publishing, New York Review of Books, Vassar College, etc... As for his job as a book designer, Russem explained, “ I first look at a manuscript-- then I determine the typeface. To be very simplistic--if for instance if I am doing a book for a French artist, then I would use a French typeface. I also determine the length, and size of a line."

Russem showed me a book he designed by the late poet/ professor Taylor Stoehr-- published by the Pressed Wafer Press, once located in Boston --now in Brooklyn, NY. I knew Stoehr—and published some of his poems in The Somerville Times, and we would often chat in the now defunct Sherman's Cafe in Union Square. This book is titled, Little Prayers. It is a collection of daily meditations. The book is designed in a style that lets the words and lines breath, so as to be read in a calm and contemplative fashion.

Russem, who originally had a shop in North Hampton, MA, told me he designed books of photographs by such noted practitioners of the art as Sally Mann, and Joel Peter Wikin. But many of these books were very expensive and bought by few. He is now more expansive in what he designs.

For right now the hours for his Gallery are —from 11AM to 7PM Saturday and Sunday. .

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