Vale Joseph Churchward (1932 — 2013)

Published:  April 29, 2013
Heath Killen
Vale Joseph Churchward (1932 — 2013)

“In terms of typeface design in New Zealand there is one man who stands head and shoulders above us all – Joe Churchward. His draftsmanship and sheer inventiveness resulted in some crazy forms and surprising typeface families. It’s a shame that a large swath of it remains as drawings and phototype negatives. Many designers would find interesting uses for them – if digitised well.”
— Kris Sowersby, Eye Magazine (2011)

We are sad to report the passing of distinguished New Zealand based designer Joseph Churchward, who died last Friday in Wellington.

Born in Samoa, Churchward arrived in New Zealand at age 13 and studied lettering at Wellington Technical College. He began his career in advertising during the 1960′s but soon left left to pursue freelance design full time, which eventually became almost exclusively focued on type design. He founded Church­ward Inter­na­tional Typefaces in 1969, and is said to have designed over 600 fonts – including Churchward 70, a Bauhaus-like geometric sans which is broadly recognisable for its use in the iconic Lonely Planet logo.

A passionate advocate of craftsmanship and hand-lettering (his unique alphabets taking between 150 – 300 hours to complete), Churchward shunned the advent of desktop publishing and computers in the ’80s, and purportedly the only piece of electrical equipment in his studio was a photocopier.

Churchward Heading Superbold

Churchward Maori

Churchward Maori

More recently, Churchward’s enormous body of work has been discovered by a new generation of graphic designers, fascinated by the energy and personality of his letterforms, their place in the regional design vernacular of New Zealand, and Churchward’s standing as a Pacific islands design role model.

In 2009, Churchward was recognised by the Design­ers Insti­tute of New Zea­l­and‘s (DINZ) with their highest possible honour The Brit­ten. This award was named after New Zea­l­and mech­an­ical engin­eer John Britten, designer of a world-record-setting motor­cycle, and is given to out­stand­ing indi­viduals for lead­er­ship, vis­ion and achievement.

“(Churchward’s) accom­plish­ments are not only sig­ni­fic­ant on a national scale, but place him highly on the global stage. He is a pion­eer and I admire his con­tin­ued ded­ic­a­tion to the craft of design. He is a true inspiration.” said one DINZ coun­cil mem­ber,

Churchward Design

Churchward Mariana Black

A publication was also released in 2009 by Colophon, which sought to celebrate Churchward’s prolific output. This release compiled archive material, correspondence, type designs, and essays on Churchward’s practice by writers and designers from around the world. It also showcased Churchward’s collection of ‘unsolicited’ works that he affectionately referred to as ‘suggestions’.

Listed by the Kling­spor Museum, a museum of typo­graphy and cal­li­graphy in Ger­many as one the world’s most emin­ent typo­graphic artists, Churchward’s international reptuation and importance will continue to grow.

Joseph Church­ward - Pho­to­graph by Amelia Handscomb.

A funeral service for Churchward will be held at St Mary’s of the Angels in Wellington, on Wednesday, May 1st, 10.30am.

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