Sunday, May 5, 2013

R.I.P Joseph Churchward Q.S.M, Great Samoan New Zealand Typographer

This week marked the passing of Joseph Churchward Q.S.M, the great Samoan New Zealand typographer who is famous in typography circles worldwide for having created over 660 beautiful fonts, all hand-drawn and many with ethnic origins; Churchward Maori, Churchward Samoa, Churchward Asia, Chinatype, Ta Tiki among them. Many more can be found on My Fonts including the iconic Churchward Maricia and Churchward Marianna named after his daughters. He is also Black Creative Director Rachael Churchward's relative on her Samoan side. New Zealand typography has never seen the likes of him, and is unlikely to again. Rest in peace Uncle Joe. In remembrance here is the interview with Joseph Churchward by his daughter Maricia which was published in BLK #15; Photos by Louis Hatton and Grant Fell

Maricia Churchward: I’ve a few questions for you Dad. First of all, coming from Samoa and your aiga, what was it like, coming to New Zealand in 1946 and did you have an interest in painting, design and art coming to NZ? Joseph Churchward: No, I didn’t. I first came, in February 1946 to Wellington but before that I arrived on a banana boat in Auckland called The Matua. I was one of four half-castes that were going to school in New Zealand. The Wetzel twins, they looked just like Pakehas, and Eric Allen, I’m related to Eric Allen. He was Captain Allen’s grandson. What happened when you first arrived in New Zealand. You went to school? Yes. I went to Miramar South School first and early on a teacher used to get me to do signs for the (classroom) door so that was my first lettering work. Then I took up art at Wellington Technical College, behind the old museum in Wellington. They taught me everything to do with art. We even had to draw naked women! (Laughs) We did modelling with clay but one of the things that interested me most was the lettering. I happened to pick that up. You received the Wellington Technical College Art of Distinction award for that…Yes, yes. That’s right…it was an honour. I felt honoured. It was 1946…my one and only job after that was as a commercial artist at Charles Haines Advertising on the 4th floor of the Dominion Buildings and from there, I started my own business. I had twenty-five staff. We were doing work at the time for a lot of the other agencies in Wellington. But I lost everything in the recession of 1987/88. When you arrived in NZ from Samoa you immediately had a connection with the Maori people, through your family… We mixed with a lot of Maori when we first came. We used to go to Maori dances, opposite Wellington Railway Station. The name of the club was Ngati Poneke, I think. We’d go there each weekend, Friday, Saturday. Do a bit of dancing with the Maori girls! (Laughs). That would have been a lot of fun! Yes, it was a lot of fun! Do you think the Samoans and the Maori related well together? Oh yes. I think they are very connected. When I was a little boy, I heard an old Samoan story that the Maori used to live in Savaii, one of the islands of Samoa. When the mountain exploded the Maori went away to go back to China, and found New Zealand on the way back to China. 

Let’s talk about your lettering, your fonts. Which font of yours was published for the first time? My very first fonts…I used to do all of the advertising for Woolworths, and Four Square. That’s how I started my business. With the roughs for Woolworths advertising, they always used to scribble the word “Woolworths” at the bottom of the ads. It used to impress me. And that is how I started to design typefaces. My first typefaces, I made them up with the word ‘Woolworths’ underneath the ad. My very first font was called Churchward Bold. That’s what I first used for Woolworths advertising. What were the most popular typefaces around at that time? Helvetica was a very popular one. Tell us about your early relationship with the German type foundry Berthold? When I first went into business, the man who sold me my (typesetting) machines from Germany saw me designing typefaces. He asked me to design some typefaces to send to “Berthold in Germany. They make fonts.” I gave him five and Berthold accepted them straight away and I was absolutely thrilled. It was then I started to concentrate on designing typefaces. Did you find it difficult to start with, designing fonts? Oh, yes. Like everything else it is very tough, but once I became interested… I only need to see three or four letters and I can make up what’s missing. When you first started with that font, Churchward Bold, how long did it take you to create it? Did it take many hours? One typeface takes me 150 hours to 300 hours to do. I start off with scribbling tracings and then I have to trace it onto good paper and then outline it in black. Then I fill it with black ink and retouch every letter with white paint to make it look good. Let’s discuss the fonts you named after my sister and myself. Let’s start with my font, the Churchward Maricia typeface. What made you decide that it would look like this as it is a very Western typeface..
Yes…What was your influence back then? While I am designing a typeface, I have no name at all but sometimes I come across a name that suits it, so I put that down. Churchward Mariana is a very popular typeface around the world, right now. It’s a plumpy typeface and when Marianna was a little girl she was a plumpy girl so I called it Marianna. It’s a cute typeface and has a bit of humour in it. The Maricia typeface is very appropriate for me now as my partner Simon works in the film industry and he loves Westerns with actors like Clint Eastwood so that’s very appropriate now, my typeface… Let’s talk through your company Churchward International Typefaces. You started that in 1969…which was also when you first started getting international recognition and awards. Do you remember 1969? (Laughs) I was absolutely thrilled to be doing typefaces worldwide. It’s an honour. I still feel honoured. Was it Berthold that gave you the chance to set up Churchward International Typefaces? Yes Berthold. Pretty early on I bought a computer from Berthold. It took ten girls to operate it! That was before the Apple Mac came out. I was the first one to be interviewed about the Apple Mac computer in NZ. It did so many tricks I got suspicious about it. I found out that Walt Disney was a big shareholder in it so I thought it was a cartoonists’ machine! But that actually cost me my business, it took all of the work away from me. I remember the Compugraphic machines…doing the typesetting on the Compugraphic machines. Photo lettering computers and things… Yes…What happened to that long-term relationship you had with Berthold? I bought all of my machines from them and then they collapsed just before I did, in 1988. They were very, very good to deal with. They respected me but I have completely lost contact with them now. I heard that they might start up again in America. The Evening Post masthead. Was that a bit of a turning point for you? Did your work begin to be recognised after that? It was a job for me to be honest, a contract, but they used it as The Evening Post masthead for twenty-six years! Can you discuss your unique style of designing your alphabets? What is your technique with your hands? How do you start designing fonts? Well, a lot of people say to me that they are using the Apple Mac to design typefaces but I keep telling them that the way I work, it comes from my head, to my hand, and onto the paper. I am still doing that. Like I said, I only need to see three of four letters and I do what is missing to match it all. And that becomes a typeface. You start off with sketches though, don’t you? Yes. I do a lot of sketching before I get serious with it. And you do that free hand, still? Oh yes. I still do it free hand but where I can use a ruler or a curve I will take advantage of that but normally I do it by hand. The hand gives me a lot of swing! What about the licensing of your fonts? How does that happen? The fonts are being made in America from my original typefaces and then sold worldwide on computers through My Fonts. I was introduced to My Fonts and they took me on immediately. Has it been a good thing, going through My Fonts? Ahh yes, I think so. It’s all ok at present. Did you really just want your fonts out there? Yes, yes, yes... I’ve now completed six-hundred-and-sixty-six and I am working on twelve more, which will take me to six-hundred-and-seventy-eight! Awesome…what are these new fonts that you are working on now? What are you going to call them? I’m going to call them Churchward Mia and there’s twelve of them. Mia, your granddaughter to Georgie and Nigel Barker. Let’s talk about when you were younger and what it was that got you interested in art and fonts. Were you encouraged to do art and design? When I was a little boy in Samoa, the old Samoan ladies used to call me to come and have a look at them designing mats. I used to admire them. They did everything freehand. One day they were doing circles and later on, I got a shock. I checked the circles with my compass and they were absolutely perfect yet they never used a compass, they did it all freehand. Was that one of the moments, at a young age, you started to get interested in design…That was one of the things that started me, at a young age, to become interested in artwork, yes. Those old ladies, doing their designs on the Samoan mats, they were really, really good artists! Did you sit and stare at them for hours? (Laughs) Yeah…I was only a little boy…eight or nine…It is a long way from that to the digital technology of today. Why didn’t you go for that technology? Computers? Yes, computers. Well, art to me is hand-done. It is nothing to do with machines. Artists can use machines afterwards to ‘use’ them. Art for me is man-made. From the brain to the hand. From the hand to the paper. That’s what I believe art is. The computer is a machine but I suppose man too is a machine! Do you have any regrets about not being able to use a computer? No. No. I feel quite happy sitting down and spending hours, working by hand, on the shape of letters…How many typefaces did you say you were up to again? What’s the magic number? I’ve just completed six-hundred-and-sixty-six. So what are your favourite fonts? They are ALL my favourite fonts. There are so many I can’t remember them! It is really hard isn’t it? I have my favourites like Lorena and Tutua and Georgie 1.. And Maricia…(Laughs). And my one which I am very proud of Dad. We are also proud of your Q.S.M. Let’s talk about that and what it has meant for you. I feel honoured but I have been on the honours list for twenty-six years, perhaps I am still aiming for the “Sir.” Are you happy about the Q.S.M? Oh, yes. It is an honour. It’s an honour. 

Do you remember much about cousin Hori, the father of Rachael Churchward who publishes this magazine? Yes. I felt proud. I grew up with my Maori cousins, they were Maori but then we were all part Chinese as well. But then all Polynesians are part Chinese and part African. I have just discovered that. All Samoans came from Taiwan in three or four canoes and went into the South Pacific. The word “Samoa,” “Sa” means forbidden and “Moa” means centre of the Pacific. “Apia” is “Api,” “a.” It is two Chinese words. That’s Apia, capital of Samoa. I always remember that story about drawing the alphabet in the sand, back in Samoa, when you were a boy… There were three ‘house’ girls that used to look after me when I was a little boy. They took me to the beach and started scribbling ABC in the sand. They kept on telling me to copy them so I copied them and scribbled the letters into the sand and the waves came in and wiped the letters away. Today, when I am flat out rubbing pencil marks off my typefaces I always think of the waves coming in and wiping those letters off the sand. It would be a lot easier if I could do that with my drawings! (Laughs). Wipe the pencil marks off with waves! That was my first sight of the alphabet, when the house girls who used to look after me scribbled the ABCs on the sand for me. I was about 9 or 10. How old were you when you came to New Zealand? I was 14, that was 1946. Next year I turn 80! And you will be in Black Magazine! What are your thoughts about Black Magazine? Oh, it is wonderful! Very proud of it. Good on you Rachael and Grant! Wonderful…Rachael, our Chinese side is Ah Soo and your great grandmother was a Stowers, Lucy Stowers. She married Jim Ah Soo. His son came here from Samoa as a Churchward, as Jim Churchward. He then married Huia Te Kama, I think she was from Ratana. She was 15 and he was 20. And that’s where you got your Maori side from, from a pa near Wanganui. I’ve heard so many good things about Hori, I wish I had met him. Yes, he was a good fellow. His best friend was Jimmy McCaughtey. Scottish. We are also part Scottish, our great grandfather was a Coe. He was born in New York. Then he went to Samoa and he had seven wives and forty kids! He’s buried in Samoa and his eldest daughter became Queen Emma of the South Pacific. That’s our Scottish side. Let’s get back to more recent times and talk about David Benniwith. Oh yes, David Benniwith has done a lot for me. He is very, very proud of me. His mother told me that she was part-Chinese and part-Maori. So there you are. Our Polynesian side is joining together. I think he helped you to participate in the Typeshed 11 design symposium in Wellington a few years back. It was great going there, there was lots going on and they set up a corner for you at the symposium. How did you find that whole experience? Good. David published a book about me - and my work - and sold it worldwide and it’s all sold out now so I think he is doing another issue. That is why I was there. Is there anything else you would like to add Dad? No, no. Just that I am very proud, on my Polynesian side, my Chinese side, my English side…and…there is something that I am very proud of. My mother was seventeen when she had me. My father was twenty-four but they never got married so I was illegitimate. But now that I think about it, before they discovered marriage, everyone was illegitimate around the world so I am quite proud to be illegitimate. You didn’t actually know your mother though for most of your childhood… Yes, I only met my mother when I was seventeen and went back to Samoa. I actually met her earlier, before I first left Samoa, but I didn’t know it. I was at Laefefe school and she turned up to enrol her kids and I didn’t know it was my mother. She came by push bike and she came over and cuddled me and cried. I didn’t know it was my mother and then when I went back to class, all of the girls were laughing. They said, “What a beautiful girlfriend you’ve got, what’s her name?” I said, “I don’t know!” Later, I discovered it was my mother. Anything else? Yes…some artists, they talk a lot of rubbish and they consider that it’s art. I came back from Samoa and met a few artists and they talked just like Samoans, a lot of rubbish! So that’s why I became an artist. So you can get away with talking rubbish! I mean humour…humour is art, singing is art, acting is art as long as it is all done freely…