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Go Back Light, from the series Go Forward
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Lester Beall (1912–1969)
Light, from the series "Rural Electrification Administration," 1937
lithograph
101.6 x 76.2 cm (40 x 30 in.)
Lester Beall Collection, Wallace Library, Rochester Institute of Technology, Gift of Joanna Beall Westermann and Lester Beall Jr.

The Rural Electrification Administration, a division of the Department of Agriculture, was developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to improve the nationís rural areas as well as to revive the post-Depression economy by providing jobs. As one of the first graphic designers to work on this project, Lester Beall created a series of posters for the administration from 1937 to 1941. Because the audience for these posters had limited reading skills, these simple but visually dramatic posters express their messages in primarily graphic terms. The vivid design also reflects the influence of Russian Constructivists on Beallís style. The success of the poster series boosted Beallís career and became a benchmark in the history of graphic design.

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Biography of Lester Beall

During his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, Lester Beall's mother encouraged him to draw as a means of creative expression and as a diversion from their family's difficult financial situation. In 1917 Beall began attending Saturday art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, where his youthful efforts received high praise. Beall continued to draw during high school, his course work including four years of mechanical drawing classes. This early grounding in technical drawing became an important element of his developing graphic style.

Beall enrolled at the University of Chicago as a science major, but ultimately switched to the art history program. Because the school offered no studio courses at that time, Beall supplemented his art history classes with additional life drawing and painting classes at the Art Institute. Upon graduation from the university in 1926, Beall found work as a freelance illustrator in Chicago. During the difficult years of the Depression, Beall continued to take studio art classes at the Art Institute. In addition to the classes, he spent a great deal of time at the museum's library, where he reveled in the avant garde graphic design of French art magazines.

Exposure to these very modern representations of art, typography, and illustration dramatically changed Beall's artistic vision. He incorporated these influences into his own advertising designs to create the dynamic graphic style for which he is remembered today. The Museum of Modern Art recognized Beall's achievements in 1937 with a solo exhibition, the first time a graphic designer was so honored.

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