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Ietswaart in Mexico: 1961-1962


In 1961 a young Dutch designer, Boudewijn Ietswaart, arrived in Mexico City. Schooled in hand lettering and a master of many graphic techniques Ietswaart came to the effervescent capital of Mexico as an assistant to Alexandre Stols, himself a famous book designer who had been sent abroad as part of a UNESCO.


Ietswaart was enormously productive these two years as a designer of book covers for the Fondo de Cultura Económica and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). A list of his work for the UNESCO spans more than 50 titles. Ietswaart himself, now 72, is modest about his efforts, saying he was “allowed to do the titles” and noting the pretentiousness of being sent on an aid mission to a publishing company of international stature such as the Fondo de Cultura Económica.


Nonetheless he took seriously his goal of making the presentation of mass produced books on academic subjects more accessible. A revision of his work gleaned from Mexico City’s second-hand bookshops displays a playful, fresh and elegant style to the layman’s eye. For an expert on hand lettering there is more to be seen in Ietswaart’s designs. Jan Middendorp author of Dutch Type, the canonical book on the history of typography in the Netherlands, titles one chapter the “Unrecognized brilliance of Boudewijn Ietswaart” giving Ietswaart pride of place among Holland’s great designers of letters. Nonetheless Ietswaart is still virtually unknown, largely because he was working as a freelance designer outside of his own country.


This period was also a golden age in Mexican letters. Gabriel Garcia Marquez moved to Mexico in 1961 and Nobel Prize winners Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes were regulars in the scene around the great Fondo de Cultura Económica. Artists such as the Catalan Vicente Rojo worked in the design section. And Mexico in general was at the peak of its 20th century cultural glory.


After his two-year stay in Mexico Ietswaart moved to Spain and Venezuela, eventually leaving book design and moving into scientific illustration. He is now retired and living in Amsterdam.


In 2008 during its investigations of Dutch typography the Circulo de Tipógrafos, a group of young designers in Mexico City, stumbled on the work of Ietswaart by way of Middendorp. Inspired by the designs of an unknown foreigner in the golden age of their country’s letters the Circulo de Tipógrafos has undertaken a project to convert his hand lettered alphabets into digital fonts compatible with computers anywhere, thereby commemorating the work of Ietswaart and this particularly important period in Mexican cultural history.


The aim of the Circulo de Tipógrafos is to present these fonts during the yearly congress of the Association Typographique International, the organisation of the international type community, which is to be held towards the end of October 2009 in Mexico City. This presentation is to be accompanied by an exposition to be held in a major venue in the city’s historical centre.


This presentation is a call to sponsors and interested parties for their proposals regarding this inspiring excursion into an unexplored byway of typographic history: Ietswaart in Mexico. 1961-1962.


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Taken on May 25, 2009