Aaron Burns: Till we meet again

3 August 2021


Maxim Zhukov

Aaron Burns:
Till we meet again

When I first came to New York, in the fall of 1977, ITC already had sev­en years of suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion in its unique ca­pa­city of a type design stu­dio. None of the world-fam­ous New York stu­di­os—Cher­mayeff & Geis­mar, Milton Glaser, Pen­ta­gram, Push Pin, Vign­elli, and many, many oth­ers—offered, let alone spe­cial­ized in, type design. ITC did. Pre­dict­ably, one of my first pil­grim­ages was to the stu­dio of Herb Lub­al­in, one of the three found­ing fath­ers, and the lead­ing de­sign­er at ITC. At the time his shop was loc­ated in a con­ver­ted fire­house on East 28th Street. If memory serves, the vis­it­ors were greeted by a very im­press­ive young wo­man. Her name was Eloise Coleman.

I felt like I was present­ing cre­den­tials to a Mas­ter whose work was well known and ad­mired in my home coun­try. There was only one per­son in Mo­scow lucky enough to re­ceive at his home ad­dress the quarterly is­sues of the com­pany’s news­let­ter, Up­per and Lower Case (U&lc). His name was Misha, and he was a good friend of mine. From time to time I used to come by his place to check out the new ar­rivals, to see what typefaces had been re­leased, and to sa­vour the de­light­ful and soph­ist­ic­ated ty­po­graph­ic pieces for which U&lc was fam­ous. Most of those mas­ter­works were signed ‘Herb Lub­al­in’.

Herb Lub­al­in with Aaron Burns. 1970s•lub­al­in­100.com

One of the first things I did after I settled down in River­dale was to ap­ply for a sub­scrip­tion. I was in for an­oth­er pleas­ant sur­prise. The cheque I sent to U&lc (in the US single cop­ies were $1.50 each) was re­turned to me be­cause sub­scrip­tions were free of charge for the design pro­fes­sion­als. Wow.

At that time, to my em­bar­ras­ment, I did not know Aaron Burns. Our paths had not crossed, and if he at­ten­ded the same events as I, I was not sure if that el­eg­ant sil­ver-haired gen­tle­man was Aaron Burns. However, what I knew well was the build­ing in which he and his as­so­ci­ates were loc­ated. I walked past it al­most every day. That was 2 Ham­marsköld Plaza, two blocks away from the United Na­tions com­pound.

ITC’s ad­dress was prin­ted in U&lc, but I did not need to know it: the build­ing sign on the façade said ‘2 Ham­marskjöld Plaza’, in, yes, Av­ant Garde Goth­ic, the flag­ship typeface of the ITC. No graph­ic de­sign­er had to ask the pass­ersby for dir­ec­tions. When I first saw the sign, I just smiled, and muttered to my­self, ‘Priv­et ITC’. On April 20 the ITC Cen­ter opened its doors at the same ad­dress.

Photo: Mack­lowe Prop­er­ties

That was where I fi­nally made Aaron Burns’s ac­quaint­ance. The Cen­ter func­tioned as a gal­lery, a sem­in­ar fa­cil­ity, a lib­rary, and a minitheat­er. In or­der to build pub­lic aware­ness of ty­po­graphy, classes and sem­inars, as well as edu­ca­tion­al pro­grammes for schools, stu­dents, and pro­fes­sion­als were offered. They worked in con­junc­tion with U&lc.

There were more than a few edu­ca­tion­al or pro­fes­sion­al centres of this kind In New York City. What made the ITC Cen­ter dif­fer­ent was that it was es­tab­lished, and run, not by a non-profit, pro bono pro­fes­sion­al so­ci­ety, or a club—like the Gro­li­er Club, or the So­ci­ety of Il­lus­trat­ors, or AIGA, etc.—but by a high-powered com­mer­cial en­ter­prise. Sure enough, that helped—in­dir­ec­tly—grow and ex­pand ITC’s main line of busi­ness—type design, li­cens­ing, and mar­ket­ing. That was very clev­er.

The Cen­ter’s pro­grammes were so di­verse and in­form­at­ive, so edu­ca­tion­al and en­ter­tain­ing. To give you an idea, just off the top of my head: Lub­al­in in Par­is, In­ter­na­tion­al Cal­li­graphy Today, Vis­ion ’80s, Pol­ish cir­cus posters, Franco Maria Ricci. I doubt that I missed any of those events when I worked in New York.

In the late fall of 1981, after al­most five years of work­ing for the United Na­tions, I re­turned to the USSR. A few months pri­or to my de­par­ture I came to see Aaron. We had a long meet­ing. We agreed to stay in touch, and he offered to keep me on the list of over­seas sub­scribers to U&lc, and to add to it more names of Rus­si­an de­sign­ers. We asked each oth­er what else we could do to se­cure and ex­pand pro­fes­sion­al coöper­a­tion and ex­change between Amer­ic­an and Rus­si­an de­sign­ers. In the course of that dis­cus­sion the idea of Ty­po­graph­ica USSR was born.

Aaron said he would gladly help in fa­cil­it­at­ing ar­range­ments for an ex­hib­i­tion of ty­po­graph­ic design by So­viet artists. In­spired by Aaron’s sup­port, I pre­pared a form­al pro­pos­al for the Artists Uni­on of the USSR, and first ran it past H.E. Oleg Troy­an­ovsky, Per­man­ent Rep­res­ent­at­ive to the United Na­tions, and the top So­viet of­fi­cial in New York. Without his en­dorse­ment no ini­ti­at­ive in either bi-, or uni­lat­er­al act­iv­it­ies—cul­tur­al, aca­dem­ic, edu­ca­tion­al, etc.—would have been pos­sible. Luck­ily, I man­aged to se­cure his en­dorse­ment.

On my re­turn to Mo­scow I worked for Mir, a pub­lish­er of sci­en­ce books in 20 lan­guages. I also taught ty­po­graph­ic design at my alma ma­ter, Mo­scow Print­ing In­sti­tu­te. In my spare time I worked on the ex­hib­i­tion. I col­lec­ted ex­hib­its, su­per­vised their fram­ing, ed­ited and de­signed a book­let that was pack­aged with the ex­hib­i­tion (The art of let­ter­ing in the So­viet Uni­on, by Yuri Gh­er­chuk. Mo­scow: So­vi­et­sky Khudozh­nik, 1983).

After a while the moun­ted ex­hib­its and the prin­ted book­lets were shipped to New York City, care of Mr. Aaron Burns. The open­ing of Ty­po­graph­ica USSR was first an­nounced in 1983. The show was sup­posed to be on dis­play at the ITC Cen­ter. An an­nounce­ment to that ef­fect was placed in the June is­sue of U&lc (vol. 10 no. 2; p. 76).

The ex­hib­it fi­nally opened fif­teen months later, on Janu­ary 8, 1985, at Cooper Uni­on. Cut­ting the rib­bon along­side Mr. Oleg Sa­vosty­uk, Sec­ret­ary of the Board of the Artists Uni­on of the USSR, was Mr. Valentin Man­tur­ov, first sec­ret­ary to the Per­man­ent Mis­sion of the USSR to the UN.

The reas­on for the show’s res­chedul­ing was the tra­gic in­cid­ent with Korean Air Lines flight KAL007, from New York to Seoul. On Thursday, Septem­ber 1, 1983 it was shot down over the Sea of Ja­pan by the So­viet mil­it­ary. Overnight the Dag Ham­marskjöld Plaza be­came a ral­ly­ing place for out­raged and in­dig­nant protest­ors, who de­man­ded that the USSR be taken to task for this shock­ing and sense­less act. There was a big thun­der in the air over Dag Ham­marskjöld Plaza. All pub­lic events at the ITC Cen­ter were al­ways coördin­ated with, and cleared by, the build­ing man­age­ment. As the site of the So­viet ex­hib­i­tion, the build­ing came un­der a real risk of be­ing van­dal­ized by angry pro­test­ers. The build­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion sug­ges­ted that ITC cov­er the en­tire build­ing with ad­di­tion­al ‘emer­gency’ in­sur­ance. So Aaron reas­on­ably de­cided to take a time-out un­til the dust settled, and the bull­horns be­came less deaf­en­ing.

Aaron con­vinced George Sadek, then the dean of the Cooper Uni­on and founder of its Cen­ter for Design and Ty­po­graphy, to ar­range for its show­ing at Cooper. He also offered to un­der­write the trans­port­a­tion, the un­pack­ing, and the hanging of the ex­hib­its. To his cred­it, George did a ter­rif­ic job, as in­de­pend­ent ob­serv­ers ac­know­ledged.

Ne­go­ti­ations between George Shultz and An­drei Gromyko have marked an aus­pi­cious start for re­la­tions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in 1985. Something of sec­u­lar break­through is in evid­en­ce In New York this week: The first Amer­ic­an show of So­viet let­ter­ing, cal­li­graphy and type design is be­ing ex­hib­ited un­til Janu­ary 30. “Ty­po­graph­ica U.S.S.R.” be­gins with the spelling out of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet. But the ex­hib­it is not just for aca­dem­ics. The dis­play shows how So­viet artists can make let­ters in­to works of art. [The Cour­i­er-News, Bridge­wa­ter, NJ. Fri­day, Janu­ary 25, 1985, p. 30.]

The writ­ing we read has its own beauty apart from the mes­sages it bears. While ex­hib­i­tions de­mon­strat­ing the man­ner in which artists have handled the writ­ing of the Chinese, Ja­pan­ese and Ar­abs are not hard to find in New York, there has been some­what less of a stir about the writ­ing of the Rus­si­ans, the al­pha­bet called Cyril­lic.

This state of af­fairs is rec­ti­fied dra­mat­ic­ally with “Ty­po­graph­ica U.S.S.R.: The Art of Let­ter­ing, Cal­li­graphy and Type Design in the So­viet Uni­on,” which opens today in the Ar­thur A. Houghton Gal­lery of the Cooper Uni­on, Sev­enth Street and Third Av­en­ue (254-6300). This cul­tur­al im­port, com­ing dur­ing re­l­at­ively lean years of such ex­changes between the two coun­tries, has a nov­elty about it and is the first show of So­viet let­ter­ing, cal­li­graphy and type design ever held here. Even the eye that can­not de­cipher the let­ters will find pleas­ure, right from the cor­ridor where the al­pha­bet is graph­ic­ally spelled out, in see­ing the way So­viet artists make let­ters dance free from (or catch the spir­it of) the work to which they are usu­ally as­signed. [Richard F. Shep­ard. ‘Design­ing Let­ters’. The New York Times, New York, NY. Wed­nes­day, Janu­ary 9, 1985, p. C15.]

Now that was suc­cess. Aaron in New York and I in Mo­scow were so happy that a solu­tion had been found to put the show on dis­play. I briefed Sa­vosty­uk, the of­fi­cial at the Artists Uni­on, be­fore he hit the road to New York, and urged him to take more pic­tures at the open­ing of the show. After he was back I or­gan­ised a spe­cial, ‘re­mote ver­n­is­sage’ for the Mo­scow-based par­ti­cipants of that ex­hib­i­tion. We cel­eb­rated, drank and cheered, and Sa­vosty­uk com­men­ted on his slides show­ing the ce­re­mony at Cooper and the dis­play of the ex­hib­its.

It was dur­ing that time of un­cer­tainty of 1983–1985 that I re­ceived a mes­sage from Aaron ask­ing me to give a hand to Ed Gott­schall, the vice-chair­man of the com­pany, and ed­it­or of U&lc, who was col­lect­ing in­form­a­tion for a mono­graph on ty­po­graph­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions at the time. That book was pub­lished jointly by ITC and MIT Press in 1989.

Ed trav­elled to Mo­scow and Len­in­grad in late Ju­ly–early Au­gust 1984. The early 1980s were lean times in So­viet Uni­on’s cul­tur­al ex­change with the West. Us­ing the words of the 19th-cen­tury dram­at­ist Eu­gène Labiche, tout était rompu—no tours, no trips, no shows, no noth­ing. Even though neither the Artists Uni­on, nor the Min­istry of Cul­ture nor the rank-and-file de­sign­ers and artists, were re­spons­ible for the in­va­sion of Afgh­anistan, one way or an­oth­er, we all had to pay its high price. The thirst for re­newed cul­tur­al ex­changes was clear in the hos­pit­al­ity of Ed’s So­viet hosts. He was quickly gran­ted the status of VIP, with all perks, free­bees, and priv­il­iges—from a per­son­al full-time in­ter­pret­er to skip­ping the queue to get in­to the Her­mit­age Mu­seum. On my part, I worked hard to con­nect Ed with the Rus­si­an design pro­fes­sion­als who could fill him in on the cur­rent state and trends of So­viet ty­po­graphy, and help him col­lect il­lus­tra­tions for his book.

Gott­schall E. Ty­po­graph­ic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Today, Cam­bridge: The MIT Press, 1991.

Aaron was a vis­ion­ary. He felt, and knew, that change was in the air. In everything he did he tried to keep up with the change, and, if at all pos­sible, to get ahead of it, at least by one step. One of the reas­ons he star­ted his news­let­ter, and opened the Cen­ter was to get more feed­back from the ever-evolving in­dustry and design com­mu­nity, to bet­ter un­der­stand where it was all go­ing . One of the de­vel­op­ing dir­ec­tions of the evol­u­tion of ty­po­graphy was glob­al­isa­tion. To some ex­tent Ty­po­graph­ica USSR could have been an eye-open­er: the ex­hib­i­tion showed 175 lay­outs and designs by eighty artists from the con­stitu­ent re­pub­lics of Rus­sia, Ukraine, Be­lor­us­sia, Lithuania, Es­to­nia, and Geor­gia, us­ing vari­ous al­pha­bets.

Against all head­winds, and there were quite a few, he seemed genu­inely in­ter­es­ted in de­vel­op­ing more pro­duct­ive re­la­tion­ship with de­sign­ers from all na­tions and re­gions, no mat­ter where they lived and worked. He saw a huge, un­tapped po­ten­tial in ex­pand­ing that coöper­a­tion.

Herb Lub­al­in, Ed­ward Rondthaler, Aaron Burns. 1970s. Un­known au­thor•Photo: The Herb Lub­al­in Study Cen­ter

To get a taste of a cul­ture that it is not West­ern he un­der­took his own jour­ney to the So­viet Uni­on. Aaron and Florence came to Mo­scow on Sat­urday, Septem­ber 28, and took a flight back from Len­in­grad on Sunday, Oc­to­ber 6, 1985. Dur­ing their so­journ, they were offered the full red-car­pet treat­ment. Their it­in­er­ary and sched­ule of stay, both en­ter­tain­ing and in­form­at­ive, had been care­fully planned and put to­geth­er for them—with my par­ti­cip­a­tion, and their own ap­prov­al—by the for­eign re­la­tions of­fice of the Artists Uni­on. Guests were offered a full-time es­cort/in­ter­pret­er, and free ground trans­port­a­tion. Their pro­gramme was packed and in­tense. It in­cluded not only sight-see­ing, mu­seums, lib­rar­ies, and meet­ings with se­lec­ted pub­lish­ers and de­sign­ers, but also a bal­let (at Bolshoi, of course), an op­era, and a cir­cus per­form­ance. It was a lucky co­in­cid­en­ce that on the night of Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 4 at the op­era house they per­formed Goun­od’s Faust, Aaron’s fa­vour­ite.

Come to think of it, that kind of ‘all-in­clus­ive’ pro­gramme was part of a stand­ard pack­age de­signed for, and offered to, VI­Ps hos­ted by the Artists Uni­on. The year be­fore and the year after Aaron and Florence came over, I’d man­aged to se­cure sim­il­ar status for Ed Gott­schall in 1984, and for Lou Dorf­s­man in 1987.

Aaron’s meet­ings with fel­low col­leagues and vari­ous of­fi­cials were al­ways held in an ex­cep­tion­ally cor­di­al at­mo­sphere. His in­ter­locutors knew well who he was, and ap­pre­ci­ated his in­terest in Rus­si­an design. One im­port­ant factor be­hind that af­fec­tion and pop­ular­ity with people in Mo­scow and Len­in­grad, and the suc­cess of the talks Aaron gave, was that those meet­ings took place only few months after the show­ing of Ty­po­graph­ica USSR in New York City. One very emo­tion­al meet­ing that Aaron had with my stu­dents was the present­a­tion of cer­ti­fic­ates to the win­ners in The Fate of the Earth, the first Herb Lub­al­in in­ter­na­tion­al design com­pet­i­tion or­gan­ised by ITC in 1985. Later same year the 77 win­ning entries from 21 coun­tries (in­clud­ing four win­ners from the USSR— Olga Bogo­mo­lova, Al­bert Kapitonov, Sergey Nikolayev, Vladi­mir Per­lin) were shown in an ex­hib­i­tion at the ITC Cen­ter.

Two of the most mem­or­able in­cid­ents took place on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 1, in the stu­dio of Valery Akop­ov, where Aaron and Florence were treated to a hearty home-cooked din­ner. Shortly be­fore the Burn­ses ar­rived to Mo­scow I re­ceived a private note from Ed Gott­schall. Among oth­er things Ed ex­pressed con­cern about Aaron’s de­clin­ing health, and his get­ting tired and ex­hausted fairly quickly. Ed spe­cif­ic­ally asked me to make that Rus­si­an jour­ney—packed with sight-see­ing, mu­seums, meet­ings and ap­point­ments—a little less dif­fi­cult for Aaron.

Valery and friends worked in a small stu­dio in the at­tic of a six-story build­ing. There was no el­ev­at­or. To get there, one had to climb many, many steep steps. That felt like a chal­lenge. A solu­tion, and a bril­li­ant one, was found by Vladi­mir Chaika. He first washed and scrubbed clean all the steps of that filthy back stair­case, from ground floor to at­tic. Then he coun­ted all steps, and di­vided their num­ber by 26. And last, us­ing his best wide flat paint­brush, and a jar of the first-class Dutch gou­ache he painted beau­ti­ful let­ters of the al­pha­bet, back to front, on every flight—start­ing with the Z and end­ing, pre­dict­ably, with the A. The trick worked won­der­fully. Aaron was so taken by the beauty of Vladi­mir’s cal­li­graphy. He of­ten stopped, ex­amined the let­ters, com­men­ted on their shapes… He ef­fort­lessly climbed that stair­case. The end of the painted mes­sage was ‘…BurnsAaronWel­come!’.


A sketch by Vladi­mir Chayka: the design of Aaron Burns’ “route” to Valery Akop­ov’s stu­dio. Drawn from memory at the re­quest of the au­thor of the art­icle.

That even­ing was marked by yet an­oth­er thrill­ing situ­ation. One of the de­sign­ers present at Akop­ov’s, Vladi­mir Se­menikh­in, asked Aaron for an auto­graph. When Aaron wondered what was that large fuzzy im­age he was about to sign, Vladi­mir said that was a fac­sim­ile of a page from U&lc, same size as the ori­gin­al, of course. It turned out that he and his friends used to take pic­tures (on 35 mm film!) of the only copy of the newly-ob­tained is­sue they were able to find (Misha’s?), and privately shared those blurred, washy re­pros. At Akop­ov’s din­ner party I sat far away from Aaron but I can bet my bot­tom dol­lar he al­most broke out in tears. It was just too much for him. Much later Valery told me that when the Burn­ses re­turned to New York Aaron had cop­ies of all is­sues of the news­let­ter, start­ing from volume 1, Num­ber 1, mailed to Mo­scow, to sev­er­al postal ad­dresses he wrote down at Valery’s stu­dio.


Aaron Burns in the work­shop of Valery Akop­ov. Mo­scow, 1985.

In 1986 I signed a new con­tract with the United Na­tions, and re­sumed my work in New York. I was very happy to re­new the con­tacts and re­la­tion­ships in­ter­rup­ted by my ab­sence. Very soon I was back to my earli­er, un­fin­ished en­deav­ours, put­ting to­geth­er a joint So­viet-Amer­ic­an ex­hib­i­tion of cal­li­graphy. That idea, deemed bold and dar­ing at the time, was pro­posed as if on cue, by Lili Wronker, my old friend and act­ive mem­ber of the New York-based So­ci­ety of Scribes. I ran it past Aaron, and he as­sured me of his full sup­port. Thus the ITC be­came a spon­sor of an­oth­er pro­ject aimed at deep­en­ing and ex­pand­ing the coöper­a­tion of de­sign­ers from both na­tions.

A 1994 CNN re­port from the open­ing of Cal­li­graph­ia USA / USSR Lili Wronker cur­ated with Max­im Zhukov.

That ex­hib­i­tion lived a very long life. Be­fore com­ing to the United States in 1992, it was first shown in Mo­scow (from Oc­to­ber 23 to Novem­ber 4, 1990) and next in Kiev, Minsk and oth­er former re­pub­lics of the USSR. It was shipped to Amer­ica where it trav­elled to sev­en loc­a­tions in the US, start­ing with the UN World Headquar­ters in New York City, and later in Michigan, Ok­lahoma, and Cali­for­nia; it quietly ex­pired at a private SOMArts gal­lery in San Fran­cisco where it was on dis­play from Septem­ber 8 to 13, 1994. The ex­hib­i­tion sur­vived not only Aaron (he died on Ju­ly 16, 1991) but the So­viet Uni­on it­self (it was dis­ban­ded on Decem­ber 8, 1991). Con­ceived as a bi­lat­er­al af­fair it trans­formed, rather lo­gic­ally, in­to a mul­ti­lat­er­al un­der­tak­ing: it showed works by artists from Be­larus, Geor­gia, Lithuania, Mol­dova, Rus­sia, Ukraine, and the United States.

Our rap­port with Aaron kept get­ting stronger, and our friend­ship even more con­fid­ent. He re­com­men­ded me for mem­ber­ship in ITC’s newly-cre­ated Type Re­view Board, that was an­nounced in the May is­sue of U&lc (vol. 15, no. 2; pp. 14–17). In my new ca­pa­city I kept ask­ing him, ‘Why is it that you call your com­pany ‘In­ter­na­tion­al’? It is ex­clus­ively Euro­cent­ric, de­vel­op­ing and mar­ket­ing only typefaces for Lat­in-based ty­po­graphy’. Aaron’s an­swer, pre­dict­ably, was, ‘Well, we mar­ket world-wide, and the best de­sign­ers from all over the world—e.g. Carter, No­varese, Spieker­mann, Vel­jović, Za­pf—work for us. Isn’t that in­ter­na­tion­al enough for you?’. Ob­vi­ously, we spoke dif­fer­ent lan­guages (pun un­in­ten­ded). But as I men­tioned above, the change was com­ing right up. Fi­nally, the roll-out of ITC Ar­ab­ic, a series of six typefaces all de­signed by a team led by Mourad Boutros, was an­nounced in the Au­gust is­sue of U&lc (vol. 15, no. 3; pp. 8–11).

I felt I had to in­crease my ef­forts to have the ITC type lib­rary ex­ten­ded to cov­er at least the most es­sen­tial non-Lat­in scripts. In May 1988, I made a present­a­tion to the Type Re­view Board on the pos­sible ex­ten­sion of the ITC type lib­rary to cov­er not only Ar­ab­ic but Cyril­lic, Devanagari, Greek, and Hebrew. After a lively dis­cus­sion a de­cision was made to have the Cyril­lic ver­sions of the most pop­u­lar ITC typefaces de­ve­loped by a con­tract­or in Mo­scow, Para­Type.

Aaron Burns, everything he and his as­so­ci­ates did, con­trib­uted quite sig­ni­fic­antly to the post-So­viet ty­po­graph­ic­al re­viv­al in Rus­sia and oth­er parts of the USSR where Cyril­lic script is used. ITC ended up sign­ing an agree­ment with Para­Type, which au­thor­ized its ex­pand­ing the syn­opses of ITC typefaces bey­ond the lim­its of Lat­in script.

Mul­til­an­guage ITC Av­ant­Garde: Lat­in, Cyril­lic, Greek, Ar­ab­ic, Hebrew and Bengali. Vladi­mir Efimov’s archive.

With the ‘ITC Cyril­lics’ pro­ject rev­ving up in­to high gear, the fu­ture should have seemed bright and prom­ising. What I did not know was that time was run­ning out for Aaron. In 1990 he lost his wife Florence. Soon after her re­turn from Mo­scow she fell gravely ill. She lost a lot of weight, grew weak­er and weak­er. I once ran in­to her at ITC; she was a shad­ow of her former self. She nev­er re­covered. 

My last time see­ing Aaron was in early Septem­ber 1990, at a con­fer­en­ce or­gan­ised by ATypI (As­so­ci­ation Ty­po­graph­ique In­ter­na­tionale) in Ox­ford. In cel­eb­ra­tion of the twen­ti­eth an­niversary of the com­pany, ITC threw an im­press­ive re­cep­tion for the at­tendees of the con­fer­en­ce. It took place at the loc­al mu­seum of mod­ern art. I saw my friend sit­ting in a wheel­chair in the centre of a spa­cious hall, greet­ing his guests. Big Afric­an masks hung from the walls, look­ing like dark spir­its hov­er­ing over their prey. Aaron looked frail and ex­hausted but he sol­diered on.

He died at his home in Boyn­ton Beach, Fla. on Tues­day, Ju­ly 16, 1991, of AIDS con­trac­ted through a blood trans­fu­sion ages ago, dur­ing coron­ary by­pass sur­gery in 1982.

Aaron Burns (1922–1991)•Photo: Greig Cranna.

Con­tacts between ITC and Rus­si­an de­sign­ers, mostly in­form­al, star­ted even be­fore the ad­vent of peres­troika, glas­nost, and the at­tend­ant free­dom of press. They res­ul­ted in the de­vel­op­ment of about two hun­dred qual­ity Cyril­lic fonts, both text and dis­play—us­ing mostly code­page 1251 for Win­dows or Cyril­lic 10007 for Mac OS—cov­er­ing the needs of type­set­ting for most Slavic lan­guages. The re­lease of those fonts provided a sol­id found­a­tion for sig­ni­fic­ant im­prove­ment of Cyril­lic-based ty­po­graphy. ITC be­came the first type foundry in the US to start an am­bi­tious new ven­ture with Para­Type (then Para­Graph), the new­born Rus­si­an com­pany that quickly emerged as an in­dustry lead­er in de­vel­op­ing Cyril­lic di­git­al fonts. The Rus­si­an leg­acy of Aaron Burns lives on, even if he did not live to see the res­ults of our hard work.

The design and pro­duc­tion of the ITC Cyril­lics had to be di­vided in­to stages, in which pack­ages of as­sor­ted typefaces, of­ten batched as stand­ard ‘four-packs’ of re­lated fonts. This think­ing res­ul­ted in the com­pos­i­tion of the first four sets:

First set (Spring 1994): Av­ant Garde Goth­ic (4 fonts); Book­man (4 fonts); Fat Face (1 font);  Gara­mond (4 fonts); Ka­bel (5 fonts); New Bask­erville (4 fonts); Stu­dio Script (1 font); Za­pf Chan­cery (1 font).

Second set (Spring 1995): Anna (3 fonts); Bauhaus (5 fonts); Beesknees (1 fonts); Ben­gui­at Goth­ic (4 fonts); Gara­mond Nar­row (4 fonts); Ma­chine (2 fonts); Of­fi­cina Sans (4 fonts);  Of­fi­cina Serif (4 fonts).

Third set (Winter 1995): Frank­lin Goth­ic (8 fonts); Korinna (4 fonts); Flora (2 fonts); Gara­mond (4 ad­di­tion­al fonts); Gara­mond Nar­row (2 ad­di­tion­al fonts).

Fourth set (Sum­mer 1997): Ben­gui­at Goth­ic (4 ad­di­tion­al fonts); Korinna (4 ad­di­tion­al fonts); Friz Quad­rata (4 fonts); True Grit (1 font).

ITC Sten­berg, ITC Banco, ITC Charter, ITC Bodoni 72, and ITC Frank­lin Goth­ic (Con­densed, Com­pressed and X-Com­pressed) were ad­ded to the Cyril­lic col­lec­tion later: in 1997, 2000, 2001, and 2002, re­spect­ively.

A num­ber of highly ex­per­i­en­ced pro­fes­sion­als worked on ITC Cyril­lics with much fer­vor and en­thu­si­asm— both the stal­warts of So­viet type design (Bary­sh­nikov, Yer­molaeva, Za­khar­ova, Kuznet­sova, Slut­sker, Sly­sh), and the de­sign­ers of the post-So­viet nou­velle vague (Kirsan­ov, Lyskova, Safayev, Shmavonyan, Tar­beev). The pro­ject was coördin­ated by Ilene Strizver and me in New York, and by Vladi­mir Ye­fimov in Mo­scow.

A page from the U&lc magazine (Spring 1994: vol. 20, no. 4) an­noun­cing the re­lease of the first set of ITC Cyril­lics typefaces. All an­nounce­ments are avail­able in the archive on our Pin­terest page.

There are things in life you nev­er for­get. They stay with you to the rest of your days. I re­mem­ber my com­ing to see Aaron in June 1986, after my re­turn to New York. He stood up from his desk, walked over to me, gave me a bear­hug, and said, Wel­come home.

In this photo, a smil­ing Eloise is stand­ing right be­hind the maitre.

Aaron Burns (1922–1991), co-founder and pres­id­ent of ITC, was a ty­po­graph­er and ty­po­graphy en­thu­si­ast who made a massive im­pact on the de­vel­op­ment of ty­po­graphy and type design in post-So­viet Rus­sia. Today, few people are aware of this side of his work, so we in­vite the read­er to take a closer look. A short es­say by Max­im Zhukov on meet­ing the mas­ter, or­gan­iz­ing ex­hib­i­tions to­geth­er and part­ner­ing on ITC Cyril­lics.