Written by Rachel Whitlow A’94
Alfred Zalon was an award winning graphic designer, painter and print maker who graduated from the school of Art in 1948. Al entered The Cooper Union to study graphic design on the GI bill after a short stint training as a bombardier— ending up in Hawaii just as WW II ended. It was at The Cooper Union that Al met Mary Rankin A48 where they began a life-long love affair.
As Al’s classmate, the photographer Carl Fischer, wrote: “When I resumed studies at Cooper Union after the war, returning veterans were several years older than our women classmates and one thing led to another. The class of 1948 produced a profusion of weddings— Cooper Couples, we were called.”
The class of 1948 remained remarkably close throughout their lives. They gathered for reunions at Cooper Green Camp, with their children and grandchildren in the summers, and celebrated life’s passages together.
After graduating, Al and Mary moved to Laramie, Wyoming where Al earned master’s degrees in both Art History and Music History from the University of Wyoming.
In 1951 Al and Mary moved to Louisville KY, where Al taught Art at the University of Louisville and Mary sometimes worked as a fit and runway model. Both continued painting, and in 1952 two of Al’s works (Mary, Linocut and Bus Riders, Watercolor) were selected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1952 exhibition: American Watercolors, Drawings and Prints.
Many of the relationships Al formed at Cooper, both social and professional, were critical to Al’s later career. He worked with and knew Carl Fischer, Milton Glaser and Herb Lubalin, among many others. In 1954, with the encouragement of his Cooper friends, Al sought and found a job as a graphic designer in New York, and the family moved back East.
His first job was at Columbia records, where he designed the now iconic album cover for Glenn Gould’s first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations among many others.
He later worked as a freelance book designer, creating several book covers that are now coveted by collectors of 1950’s graphic design.
Ultimately Al moved to pharmaceutical advertising, becoming VP /Creative Director of the firm Kallir, Philips, Ross Inc. where he spent the last 20 years of his career. As Creative Director, designed for many clients including Ciba-Geigy, Ortho Pharmaceutical and UpJohn to name a few.
At KPR, Al also introduced his granddaughter, Rachel Whitlow to the field of graphic design. Whitlow went on to graduate from Cooper A94. Al started her off in the “paste up and mechanical department” on the Ciba-Geigy and Johnson & Johnson accounts. “It was the days before we did everything on computer, and I remember Al was a stickler for kerning—understanding the relationships between letters. I would spend hours moving letters with the x-acto knife to get the relationships just right.” remembers Whitlow. “This attention to detail was a valuable lesson that I still use today in my own design work.” During this time Al won several graphic design awards, including the prestigious ONE award granted by the Art Director Club of New York.
Al retired from KPR in 1990 after it was acquired by Omnicom. He then went on to manage an art gallery in SoHo, Lustrare, dedicated to illustration. Al remained involved with graphic design throughout his life, continuing to design book jackets and co-designing several logos with his granddaughter Rachel— one of them via video chat in late July of this year.
After moving to Kendel in Pennsylvania, Al began painting again after a hiatus of 55 years. Al shared his paintings with his wife Mary Rankin, a botanical illustrator and painter whose work is in collections in the Hunt Institute at Carnegie Mellon and published in two books: The Vegetable Gardner’s Journal (Stewart, Tibori and Chang) and Gardening with the New Small Plants by Oliver E Allen. Mary was an avid supporter of Al’s painting again. Together they would talk as they had at Cooper critiques, bringing the best out of each other’s work until Mary died on October 21st, 2014.
After Mary’s death, painting, his family and great friendships kept Al going. He produced prolifically, finishing a breakthrough painting two weeks before his death. As Al said shortly before his death “he had a good run.”
Al is survived by his daughter, Jo Meer, her husband David, and his granddaughter Rachel Whitlow, all of whom will hold him their hearts forever.
As a proud alumnus, it was Al Zalon’s wish that donations be made in his memory to The Cooper Union. Visit cooper.edu/give, call (212) 353-4164, or mail to: The Cooper Union, Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, P.O. Box 22422, New York, NY 100872422
Please be sure to indicate that the gift is to the School of Art Annual Fund in memory of Alfred Zalon School of Art 1948.