Jane Davis Doggett ’56 MFA
Jane Davis Doggett ’56 MFA

Jane Davis Doggett ’56 MFA is an innovator in her field, a renowned graphic artist credited with pioneering the wayfinding and graphics systems for airports – more than 40 in all, including Tampa International, Baltimore-Washington International, George Bush International in Houston, Miami International, and Newark International. Moreover, she has completed graphics and design projects for the Whitney Museum of American Art and Madison Square Garden, among many others, and her art work has also been exhibited across the country, including at  the Yale University Art Gallery. She also wrote a book, “Talking Graphics,” is currently working on her memoir, and recently was the featured subject in a documentary aired on PBS, “Jane Davis Doggett: Wayfinder in the Jet Age.”

Doggett, 91, recently sat down with us to talk about the remarkable people she met and studied with at Yale, her admiration for George H.W. Bush, what courses she would take again, and what, in her view, Yale is all about.

What is the most enduring memory of your time at Yale?

My most recent moment at Yale was the acquisition of my sculpture, The 23rd Psalm, by Yale for its permanent art collection, which was installed in the St. Thomas More Center in 2012. [Beyond that] I have quite a few Yale moments that stand out – two moments in particular, especially one at the beginning of the graduate term in 1954 and the other at the end of the graduate term in 1956. I have them engraved in my memory.

The earliest moment was my initial interview with Alvin Eisenman, chairman of graphics in September 1954, upon entering his Graphics Design MFA program. I had been accepted by formal letter several weeks prior. This was sort of a “welcoming” one-on-one by Eisenman, in which I detected a slightly cool undertone. His message to me verged on being admonishing and went something like this: “Well, Miss Doggett, you have high qualifications. We’ve let you in, but there are swinging doors! They swing both ways.” I sensed that underneath was the factor that if I had applied for Graphics Design at Yale Graduate School of Art and Architecture with any aspect of Yale other than that in mind, I should reconsider entering! He made reference to Yale’s support of women graduate students and encouraging talented, qualifying women to apply. But – the inevitable “but” – there was a suggestion of women coming to a “male school” for interests other than academic. (Play it Again, Sam!). His message left a vivid impression that is with me to this day. And it still fires me up, as it did some 65 years ago. From that starting gate, I never got off the track.

The other lasting memory was of the final review of my work just before graduation in 1956 by my instructors: Alvin Eisenman (chair), Herbert Matter (photography), Norman Ives (typography), Gabor Peterdi (printmaking), and Paul Rand (corporate identity design). The gist of the review as summarized by Eisenman was that I had scored the highest in the class in four categories factored as a whole: conceptual graphics design and layout, typography, print-making, and photography.

The 23rd Psalm - Jane Davis Doggett
The 23rd Psalm

What was your most memorable experience or interaction?

With the execution of the Arts at Yale International Traveling Exhibition, of which I had a leadership role, came a memorable experience: frequent exchanges with Louis Kahn, dean of architecture, who was the lead critic of the exhibition design. Kahn was intensely interested in every aspect of the exhibition, starting with the way that Yale’s creativity schools – art, architecture, drama – were being conveyed to the world, particularly to potential graduate school attendees from foreign countries. He was intrigued with the free-standing, stainless-steel, tubular suspension system of support of exhibition panels. I had made the suggestion that it be structured in a “Y” plan, which allowed for three bays of display of the three Yale creativity schools. It could be set up and then taken down and returned to its packing case, to be shipped on to the next exhibition. The system, which Kahn seemed to have greatly admired, was pure sculpture – elegant high tech. It was the design of Bob Engman, Yale 1955, sculptor and sculpture instructor on the Yale staff.

Kahn studied the exhibition contents closely, commenting if he thought a document was not “explained” coherently. He read each line of text which had been edited by Norman Ives, who guided us in the typography design for the exhibition. Kahn, in his characteristic, whimsically curious twinkle in the eye, seemed to be “discovering” the Yale Drama School for the first time. He was struck by the technical systems that were offered such as theatre lighting synthesizing by remote electronic console control with which the Yale Drama School was experimenting at the time through the genius of inventor/instructor George Izenour.

Heralded as “the father of modern theatre consulting and design,” Izenour was credited with design consulting for more than 100 theatres across the country. George Izenour was known for his invention of the multi-use theatre; “technology was used to vary acoustics, move architecture, changing the physicality of the space itself” [from Yale School of Drama Alumni Magazine, 2010-11].

This is what Yale is all about: connections. Linking Yale people from diverse fields on Yale common ground. I was struck with this thought many times at Yale, and it continues with me as an alumna to this day.

If you could relive your time at Yale, what would you do differently?

If I could relive my time at Yale, I would remain there for a longer time to avail myself of courses that I would take – mostly more courses in art and architectural history through many periods, and repeating Vincent Scully’s lectures.

I wish I could bring back the times with Herbert Matter. Yale Photography was especially inspiring for me under the sensitive critiques of the noted fashion and advertising photographer. He certainly brought his gifted camera eye to the students’ photo images. If he liked a photograph, he would typically say in a soft, low, accented voice – slightly gravelly – “That’s nice.” Sometimes he would ask a question of the student about what the student saw in his picture. I wasn’t into fashion or advertising photography. I was steeped in capturing “the precise moment” in photo – shooting real-life environments, the Cartier Bresson approach on the back streets of Paris. We moved like hungry hunters through the streets of New Haven with our 35 mm Leica’s, seeing “St. Germain real life scenes” around every corner.

I would also like to bring back the courses in the Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, the brilliant artist and color theorist from the Bauhaus, who was tapped by Dean Sawyer in 1950 to lead Yale Art and Architecture into Modernism. Albers literally taught us how to see – a vision that has stayed with me. I feel that I am still taking the Albers’ Color Course to this day, when I explore color interactions, aware that a color definition depends on the color or colors next to it. Also, Albers’ design studies with geometric shapes and symbols left strong influence.

Wayfinding: Tampa International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental-Houston Airport, BWI, and the Philadelphia Mass Transit System

Here I must make a salient point: Looking back, I have realized that not one course, studio or academic, in the Yale Art and Architecture school, and not even one design problem assignment had any direct connection with the concept of “Wayfinding” design of which I was to become a leading forerunner and inventor. There were no project assignments relating to communication of information and direction by signage or graphics in architectural or environmental space. It was as if, off the printed page, it didn’t exist. In point of fact, Wayfinding had not been identified at that time, and Architectural Graphics was but a floating idea in search of a landing when I entered Yale.

But in my Yale studio courses and assigned projects, there were certainly lines of influence and there were rumblings in Yale Architecture of the need, conceptually, for Wayfinding Design as a means of communication, in the evolving modern world of increasing mass public movement in voluminous spaces. I was thinking of the millions of individual destination-seekers moving through global architectural space! They each had a destination, but no clear routing or direction of how to get there – wanderers in concrete mazes on asphalt planes.

I would like to see at Yale a graduate degree program designated “Environmental Wayfinding Design.” The future is looking for it.

Now, if you could relive your time at Yale, what would you do exactly the same?

To me, the course I took at Yale that had the most profound influence was Christopher Tunnard’s course in city planning. It was enough just to see his copious, incomparable collection of slides of the great urban centers of the world from antiquity to modern times. Equally incomparable was Tunnard’s insightful commentary as the carousel clicked out his slides. I learned a lot about cities from this man’s amazing vision – why cities’ sites were selected and their orientation that gave them vantage points of safety and security and often favored points for attacking their enemy on land or water. Tunnard’s course could have extended for several years and it would have been fine with me. And I am sure that he would have had enough slides to fill vast spans of lecture time!

I graduated from Yale Art and Architecture in 1956, armed with a good basic knowledge of typography and fonts, particularly formations that governed their suitability to a wide range of uses, and an awareness of how alphabet legibility may be affected by design. I had proven my mettle in “logo branding” by effectively promoting a product in graphics media in the assignments by Paul Rand and other noted visiting instructors. I carried with me Albers’ vision in an ongoing way of using color and geometric form in my designs. Also, Yale had greatly spiked my aptitude for photographing subjects, from impoverished street scenes to the grand buildings of world-famous architectural titans.

But the best Yale graduation gift of all was the inspiring urge to go forward as a designer and be a part of creating the new environment. Yale had given me a compelling idea: the power of visual concepts to effect the persuasive movement of people through the new environment, which would be at a quickened pace through more complicated space. I recognized a challenge in offering people individual choices in their passageways and destinations. I didn’t envision my role as herding people; rather, I saw it as communicating to people the choices offered for their individual selections with clearly defined routings of how to get there. This concept is well defined as Wayfinding Design. It incorporates communication by design, working with a full range of parts – identifying and delineating engineered roadways and other vehicular and pedestrian environmental passageways, architectural spaces, and utilizing communication media and means. This includes physical signage, electronic systems, and computer programs such as area mapping, GPS, and other computer directional systems that are under study at this time.

“This is what Yale is all about: connections. Linking Yale people from diverse fields on Yale common ground. I was struck with this thought many times at Yale, and it continues with me as an alumna to this day.” -Jane Davis Doggett

What is your favorite spot on campus, past or present?

My favorite spot-on-campus was a Lou Kahn architectural element: a sub-ground-level concrete well, a large, rectangular, open-walled court. With only upward views of sky and under a few tree branches, the well adjoined what was our graphics design student work area. It is now part of the Yale Art Gallery in its functional changeover. The open well I remember gave continual daylight to the graphics drafting area, a spacious area which never felt cramped. I never felt crowded by fellow students’ desks with their personal clutter. (Some were tidy domains; others were pig sties.).

I loved the well, with its always cool basement “feel.” I would on occasion set up a chair and portable African-safari camp, fold-up table out there and spend an hour or so sketching or moving type around, when the sun briefly angled in the well. And there were times, very memorable, when I could practice tennis – a perfect space with the concrete wall surface that would return the ball quite firmly. I was occasionally joined by fellow graphics students, Steve King and Sam Antupit, and pals from Architecture, Ron Beckman and Ed Close. We stuck a drafting tape line at the regulation height of the net. I remember that we devised a makeshift competitive game that worked up our aggressive juices. I am sure that this sport was good for over-brain-worked designers, who may have had too many beers at George and Harry’s the night before.

Favorite spot in New Haven, past or present?

I suppose my favorite spot in New Haven in my graduate student days was George and Harry’s Bar and Restaurant, which was right across the street from the Kahn building – as we referred to the Art School. My classmates in graphics and architecture and my new friends from the Drama School (mad, wonderfully zany individuals) with whom I spent a lot of time “unwinding,” I guess you would say. We really didn’t drink a lot – no hard whiskey, just a few (or several) beers – and the management allowed us to take our time in conversation for long periods in a booth with extra chairs occasionally pulled up. We were an expandable group – one of us would always know someone who would join us, and the chatter would rise. I have no recall at all of what we talked about except for the griping and complaining about the workload our instructors burdened us with.

New Haven pizza preference?

I remember that a group of us liked a pizzeria called “The Spot.” My godson Basie Gitlin, Yale 2010, has confirmed that The Spot is indeed still going in its original location on Wooster Street. It is now an annex to Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria. Basie says, “The pizza is wonderful!” (Pretty good for 65 years plus.)

President H.W. Bush
President George H.W. Bush '48 and his mother, Dottie, in a signed photograph to Jane

What Yale alum most inspires you? And why?

Good heavens, what a question! There is a veritable army of inspiring Yale alumni!

But narrowing down the field, I can name President George Bush (41), Yale 1948, a war hero, a star athlete, an admired and adored husband and father, a statesman, and, above all, a gentleman with a quality so very rare in America’s typical politicians. I believe that he brought dignity, courage, and conviction to the office of President. I came to know George Bush, in revealing, casual situations on Jupiter Island, Florida, where I resided for more than 40 years. He would drop down in the Presidential helicopter landing near the golf course on visits to be with his mother, Dottie, a lovely, dignified, gracious woman whom I was fortunate to know in the Garden Club. I knew George Bush on the tennis courts when he would hang out after matches with us and sit around in easy conversation at our traditional afternoon tea. I recall the President’s wonderful, droll sense of humor. I enjoyed getting to see this side of George Bush that I don’t think that the TV public ever got to see. And he was a very able tennis player. An added treat was his wife, the very spunky Barbara, who often joined him on his Jupiter Island visits and sometimes attended our Garden Club meetings. Also, I have very much enjoyed knowing two brothers now deceased, “Bucky,” Yale 1960, and Jonathan, Yale 1953, who with their delightful wives were neighbors and friends on Jupiter Island. What a clan, these Bushes! And with such passed-down family talents in musical theatre and performance.

Then there’s Robert L. McNeil Jr., Yale 1936, who became a special friend and good neighbor on Jupiter Island. At Yale, his major was physiological chemistry. He rose to prominence in the pharmaceutical financial world as CEO of McNeil Laboratories, and he was best known for his pursuit in the development of Tylenol. His name is on the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Lecture Hall installed in the Yale Art Gallery, serving the Art and Architecture Schools, which was built with his donation to Yale.

Sam Pryor was another alumnus, Yale 1950, who will always stand out in my memory. I was fortunate to have known him on Jupiter Island. Sam was a delightful man, and a gifted raconteur on a variety of subjects with a leather-easy-chair manner. He had a good measure of wit with his wisdom. He was a prominent figure as a lawyer, a partner in the prestigious New York firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell, and a lifelong conservationist serving on the boards of numerous land preservation and restoration trusts and foundations. Sam also was distinguished on Jupiter Island as the nephew of Permelia Reed, wife of Joseph Vernor Reed, Yale 1926, and the dynamic, founding matriarch of Jupiter Island. Sam’s father, also Sam Pryor, Yale 1921, was Permelia’s brother, and a noted pioneer in the aviation industry, lifelong friend, and financial sponsor of Charles Lindbergh and a major player at Pan American World Airways, serving with his Yale classmate, Juan Trippe, Yale 1921, Pan Am’s Founder.

Jim Kerr, another lawyer and Yale alum, 1964, is also on my admiration list. Jim retired in 2020, as a partner in the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell where he had been mentored by Sam Pryor 40 years before, when first hired by the firm. Jim has a relaxed charm, wit, and a snappy manner in imparting his knowledge from ships at sea to Yale activities. And Jim has the special good sense of being married to my good friend, the enchanting, invigorating Helen Miller.

“The best Yale graduation gift of all was the inspiring urge to go forward as a designer and be a part of creating the new environment.” -Jane Davis Doggett

I know you said this was a difficult question. What other alums were influential in your life and career?

I want to recognize certain Yale graduates who were boosters and believers in my endeavors, and in several cases with whom I interacted in the design process – those just ahead of me, contemporary, or that followed after I was at Yale, who extended a hand to help me in my pursuits. In looking back to turning points in my career, I was struck by the Yale networking that occurred. I do believe that Yale is exceptional in its collegiate connections that Yale alumni forge. Here are some of the significant results of Yale that networking brought to me.

Ed Wilson, Yale 1955, a friend from my hometown Nashville, was in the Yale Drama Graduate School, majoring in the history of drama while I was at Art and Architecture. Ed made the connection for me to Robert Penn Warren, who was visiting lecturer at Yale Drama at the time, thus giving me the opportunity to illustrate and print the book of a Warren epic poem. From Yale, Ed Wilson established himself in New York where he moved in Broadway theatre circles as the Drama Critic for the Wall Street Journal. I especially enjoyed joining Ed in his free passes to the openings of Broadway shows, including “My Fair Lady,” the hot musical at the time, with the original cast and stars Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.

Ron Beckman, Yale Architecture 1955, who was employed in the design office of George Nelson, Yale 1928, knew of my goal in Architectural Graphics Design, and recommended me to Nelson, who gave me my first job and first architectural graphics assignment: design of directional signage for the Williamsburg Preservation tourist routing

Another opportunity boost came from my Graphics classmate Mildred Schmertz, Yale MFA 1956, who had joined the editorial staff of the Architectural Record. She recommended me for major architectural photography assignments for publication in the Record. First was the reportage of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City, under construction. It was thrilling to explore through my camera’s lens Wright’s architectural forms and support elements that were being cast in place. The high point of the experience was a chance walk-through the Guggenheim under construction with the creator, Frank Lloyd Wright, himself. The Architectural Record scored a scoop in publication of my photographs – an “inside look” into the Guggenheim Museum, which was front page mainstream news of the time. It gained me other assignments, sending me off, in 1958, to Europe to interview and photograph the works of world-famous designers, such as Engineer Pier Luigi Nervi in Rome and Architect Alvar Aalto in Helsinki. Also, I represented the Architectural Record at the Convention of the International Union of Architects in Moscow, an amazing adventure in a critical period of political and cultural interaction between Russia and the U.S.A.

Another classmate and a graduate my year was Sheila Hicks, Yale 1956, who provided me with a very meaningful opportunity. She asked me to team with her in a tour of duty in Mexico to photograph the spectacular concrete creations by engineer Felix Candela, whom she had gotten to know. Sheila Hicks is well-known for her art in weaving with her works collected at MOMA, the Whitney Museum, and other top museums. At Yale, where we were good friends, I knew that she was working under the tutelage of Anni Albers, Josef Albers’ wife and renowned artist in Bauhaus weaving. While weaving her art works in Mexico, Sheila had made an acquaintance with Candela, who burst on the Mexico creative scene with his winged hyperbolic paraboloid structures poured in incredibly thin concrete – as little as 5/8 of an inch. She had known of my recent publishing success in architectural photography, and she formed our “triangle.” My photographs appeared in leading U.S. and international architectural and engineering publications, and landed a big feature in Life Magazine, June 1960. This was followed by a traveling exhibition I designed, produced, and circulated, sharing credit with Sheila. The exhibition was shown at Yale and other Ivy League Schools and at a number of colleges, universities and museums throughout the U.S. and internationally. We rocketed Candela, the Rock Star of the Concrete Shell, well into global orbit.

I was asked by architect Roy Harrover, Yale 1954, two years ahead of me at Yale and also a high school friend from our hometown, Nashville, to join with him in the design of the new Memphis Airport for which his firm was negotiating a contract. I was 28 years old. Roy particularly wanted graphic design to be important. He knew of my commitment, and I sensed that this would be an incredible opportunity. And it was! It proved to be the real launching of my career in Architectural Graphics Design, which led to Wayfinding design innovations for airports and other people places on a global scale. The Memphis Airport and my firm Architectural Graphics were featured in a major article in the Architectural Record, April 1960, and earned the 1961 American Institute of Architects Award of Merit, the first recognition by the AIA of the field of Architectural Graphics Design.

It was through another Yale classmate connection, Charlie Brickbauer, that I was offered a major design role in the Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) renovation/expansion, completed in 1979. The architects, who had been selected for the renovation/expansion were partners, Peterson & Brickbauer, a Baltimore firm – Warren Peterson, Yale 1952, and Charles Brickbauer, Yale 1954. Charlie was a contemporary and good friend of mine at Yale A&A, and we had stayed in touch after Yale. He was impressed with my graphics design, built-in to the Memphis Airport, and he saw the merit of graphics design integrated with his architecture. In my experience in design interaction with Brickbauer on several different projects, I can attest to his brilliance in approaching each design project for its unique and essential nature. It was always tremendously inspiring to bat design ideas back and forth with him. In the 1981 National Awards sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Endowment for the Arts, our firms received Commendations for Design Achievement for BWI.

Another Yale A&A graduate contemporary with whom I remained in contact after graduation was James Polshek, Yale 1956, who became dean of the School of Architecture at Columbia. When the school set up a workshop and panel led by women distinguished nationally in architecture and design, Jim Polshek suggested inviting me to participate. It was most inspiring to engage an alert and eager audience of young women who were mostly students and career beginners in architecture and design. We dealt with the subject of office conduct – of “attitudes” of male colleagues in the workplace, the “superior macho” problem, and the female role relegated to being expected to be the one to get up from a meeting to make coffee for the group! We also spoke of wage discrimination. I recall emphasizing the point that “tokenism,” or hiring a female just to fill a quota, is monstrously degrading.

I want to pay tribute to a Yale professor, Jay Gitlin, who has been a prodding presence in getting me to write about my adventures of a lifetime devoted to creative endeavors. Jay Gitlin has earned four degrees from Yale. He has been teaching courses in American and Canadian history at Yale for more than 30 years and has had a prolific publishing career. He is an engaging “personality” professor with his courses typically filled to the brim, with waitlists. Jay has the good fortune to be married to my cousin, whom I adore, Ginny Bales. Jay and Ginny are established as a Yale “fixture” with their very lively, diverse Bales-Gitlin Band, notable for playing at many Yale traditional events and activities.

Ginny and Jay gave me the best gift possible, their son and my godson, Basie Bales Gitlin, Yale 2010. “Cousin” Basie is the youngest on my list of Yale grads who have been fervent supporters of my pursuits as recounted in my memoir. His lifetime interest in rare and collectable books has ideally suited him to his position as director of development for the Yale libraries.

Jane Davis Doggett, Alvin Eisenman, and Herbert Matter
Jane Davis Doggett, Alvin Eisenman, and Herbert Matter

What do you miss most about Yale?

What I miss most about Yale is the age I was with a curiosity and zest for creativity, when I was there in the phenomenal 1950s. In writing my memoir, reflecting back to that time, I am in awe of the amazing, brilliant achievements of the 50s era. Wow! What a time to be a graduate student at Yale Art and Architecture! Yale in my time was a pacesetter in the heyday of Modern Art inspired by Bauhaus Design and Architecture through the teachings of Josef Albers, Louis Kahn, Alvin Eisenman, Herbert Matter, Paul Rand, and other notable visiting lecturers and instructors.

What advice would you give to current students?

My advice to current students in Yale Art and Architecture is: “Shut up and draw!” That admonition was aimed at our young design team (all in our early 30s) working on the Tampa International Airport, by George Bean, director of the Aviation Authority. He had grown impatient with our designated group spokesman, who was garrulous and wordy in presenting our team effort in a particular design plan, that I recall was made perfectly clear in the drawings and scale study models we presented and had not needed more wind in the sail.


All images courtesy Jane Davis Doggett

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