Push Pin Studios was founded in 1954 by Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser, and Edward Sorel (Reynold Ruffins joined the group shortly thereafter). A revolutionary force in the field of graphic design, the celebrated partnership began when the foursome met as students at the Cooper Union in New York City. What followed was twenty years of collaborative graphic expression, as Push Pin redefined and expanded the imprimatur of the designer, illustrator, and visual culture at large.
Building on Design Plus, their first (albeit short-lived) combined effort, after graduation, Chwast, Sorel, and Ruffins developed the Push Pin Almanack. The monthly promotional mailer was designed to drum up freelance business, and its success allowed the fledgling studio to grow quickly. Glaser rejoined after returning from Italy on a Fulbright scholarship, and in 1957, the Push Pin Monthly Graphic made its debut. Inaugurated as a freeform publication sent to friends and clients (much like its predecessor), the Push Pin Graphic provided an ongoing outlet for the studio’s expanding membership, including designers Paul Davis, Jim McMullan, and John Alcorn, among many others. Their work, which rejected tradition in favor of reinvigorated interpretations of historical styles (Victorian, art nouveau, art deco), provided a fresh counterpoint to both the numbing rigidity of modernism, and the rote sentimental realism of commercial illustration. As readership grew, the Push Pin Graphic, and Push Pin Studios, attracted advertisers, clients, and acclaim.
“As a creative force in graphic affairs, it has wrought as much change upon the popular visual ambiance as is likely by any single body of designers and artists.”
— Joe Messina, foreword, Push Pin Studios, Fifteen Years of Heartache and Aggravation
In 1970, a retrospective of the studio’s output opened at the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, France. A sign of American design’s influence abroad, the landmark show marked the first time graphic design was displayed inside the famous museum. The European press praised the groundbreaking work, for what critics called Push Pin’s fearless innovation. The exhibition later traveled throughout Europe and to Japan, further spreading the group’s influence.
Chwast and Glaser directed Push Pin for two decades, until Glaser left to pursue his own interests in 1975 (Sorel and Ruffins had already departed years earlier). Chwast retained the studio, later adding representation services for illustrators, an audio visual arm, and a product line. The Push Pin Press, formed with J.C. Suares, and Pushpin Editions, in collaboration with Steven Heller, produced books on art and design. In the early 1980s, Chwast briefly joined with Alan Peckolick to form Pushpin Lubalin Peckolick, though the partnership only lasted a few years. The firm was later renamed The Pushpin Group, of which Chwast is the sole director.
The Push Pin Graphic ceased publication in 1980, due to rising production costs, ending its widely successful run of 23 years and 86 issues. The Nose, a more modest publication devoted to relevant and sometimes trivial social issues, launched in 1997. Designed and illustrated by Chwast, and edited by Steven Heller, the biannual journal continued Pushpin’s tradition of publishing and promotion. The last issue, number 20, focused on the subject of Crime.
A unique partnership and ultimately, a movement, the impact of Pushpin on contemporary graphic design and illustration is still being felt. Editorial projects and exhibitions continue to mine the group’s rich history, while Chwast continues to work and design under the aegis of Pushpin. The two are in fact inseparable, as Chwast quietly ushers the studio, now in its sixty-first year, to further distinction.
For more on Push Pin Studios, please see: The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design and Illustration (Chronicle Books, 2004).