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Norton Neuman - The Designer
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MORTON NEUMANN - THE DESIGNER

On Wednesday, April 1985 Morton Neumann’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune newspaper read, “City’s Patron of Art Dies”.  Only one line mentioned he was a ‘local cosmetics manufacturer’.

Neumann amassed one of the finest modern art collections in the world, and helped finance the expansion of Chicago’s Art Institute – all made possible because of the success of Valmor Products, its numerous subsidiaries – and the subconscious wishes of millions of African-Americans.

Before he started collecting Picassos and Giacomettis, Neumann tried his own hand at art.  According to the book Stronger than Dirt, Neumann designed all of the labels for his Sweet Georgia Brown, Madam Jones and Lucky Brown Cosmetics lines.  He used a process called Letterpressing – best described as a press made specifically for relief printing.  You can tell it’s a relief print because the thick lettering’s raised a fraction of an inch above the label.

There’s no written explanation why Neumann decided to do all the artwork for Valmor Products himself – probably because it was too expensive during the 1920’s and ‘30’s to contract another company or artist to do something he could do himself. 

It goes without saying Neumann’s designs have lived long after the demise of Valmor – and his own life.  But for many, the empire he created will continue to live on in numerous discussions about art, the psychological complexity of advertising, and how capitalism benefited from racism.

     
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