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Subject: Philip B. Meggs, 60, Educator and Historian of Graphic Design

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Date Posted: December 01, 2002 1:33:17 EDT

Philip B. Meggs, a scholar of graphic and advertising design who wrote the first full history of the field, from the time of Gutenberg to the postmodern era, died on Nov. 24 in Richmond, Va. He was 60.

The cause was leukemia, said his wife, Libby Phillips Meggs.

Mr. Meggs, who began his career as a designer specializing in corporate identity and promotion, became the first educator both to teach graphic design and to write its history.

Soon after joining the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in 1968, Mr. Meggs found that his layout and typography students lacked a fundamental knowledge of graphic design's past and its relationship to art, architecture, industrial design and popular culture.

He believed that a student's ability to practice graphic design as more than a commercial service or craft would be limited by ignorance of historical context. He eventually developed the first academic curriculum to start with the invention of the printing press and movable type, continue through the modern era and conclude with the influence of the computer. His history classes also critically addressed formal, theoretical and aesthetic issues that were ignored by most programs.

With the initial success of his courses, Mr. Meggs received a grant in the late 1970's from the National Endowment for the Arts for a series of traveling lectures for any college or university that asked for them. Becoming an itinerant design historian necessitated developing standardized syllabuses, and they later became the core of his 1983 book, "A History of Graphic Design." It is still required reading in courses around the country.

Born on May 30, 1942, in Florence, S.C., Philip Baxter Meggs attended Virginia Commonwealth University, receiving a master of fine arts degree in 1964. He worked as a senior designer for Reynolds Aluminum and as art director of A. H. Robins Pharmaceuticals before starting his teaching career. From 1974 until 1987 he was chairman of Virginia Commonwealth's department of communication arts and design.

In addition to preparing three revised editions of his textbook, Mr. Meggs wrote articles for Print magazine and wrote or edited a dozen other books, including "Typographic Design: Form and Communication," "Type and Image: The Language of Graphic Design" and "Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces."

Mr. Meggs was not trained as a historian, but his original research on once-forgotten pioneers, movements and styles, as well as a series of essays on book design and contemporary practitioners, became the foundation for broader scholarship.

"He was the first person I ever heard talk about design history in a way that seamlessly, warmly and elegantly connected past and present," said the designer Paula Scher. "He made me feel like I was part of a movement of my time, not an irrelevant practitioner grinding out trivial works for yet another bureaucratic corporation."

This year Mr. Meggs was given the Educator Award of the hall of fame of the Art Directors Club of New York.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Meggs is survived by his parents, Wallace and Elizabeth Pruitt Meggs of Florence; two brothers, William J. of Greenville, N.C., and Wally of Laurens, S.C.; a sister, Beth Meggs Lever of Lexington, S.C.; a son, Andrew, of Tustin, Calif.; and a daughter, Elizabeth, of Richmond.

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