Thomas Maitland Cleland was among the first practitioners of the new profession of art directing. A complete art director, he was a well-developed artist, typographer, editor and printer who designed whole pages and whole booklets. His advertisements and marketing booklets for Locomobile and Cadillac automobiles are typical of his elegant and enduring work.
While those less specialized times required great versatility of every art director, Cleland was unusual among them. His personal papers are replete with correspondence and articles that picture him as a painstaking designer, artist and craftsman, whose knowledge of his several disciplines was encyclopedic.
Born in Brooklyn in 1880, Thomas Cleland set his career course at the age of fifteen when he enrolled in a course in applied ornament at The Artist-Artisan Institute of New York. While still a young man, he “owned and operated three different picayune printing plants, all of them notable as exceptionally unprofitable enterprises.” However, he credited these experiences with teaching him his expert knowledge of the printing trades.
One of Cleland’s talents was type designing. He created Della Robbia, still in common use, in 1903. He designed ATF Garamond with M.F. Benton in 1917. A superb illustrator as well, Cleland expended extraordinary effort in pursuit of perfection, once spending six years to design and illustrate one book.
In 1907-08, as the art director of McClure’s Magazine, Cleland completely redesigned the periodical. Later, he was retained byFortune Magazine to design the magazine and to act as its art director. The cover of Fortune’s first issue, February 1930, is still cited as a masterpiece of classical design. In 1937, Cleland planned a new typographic style for Newsweek and later designed the newspaper PM, probably the first time a complete newspaper was ever truly designed.
Cleland was not easy to work with. His knowledge of the printing and typography trades enabled him to give detailed instruction to printers on how to do their jobs, and his insistence on perfection made meeting deadlines an uncertain task. Publisher George Macy wrote to Cleland in 1942, “The history books will, of course, refer to you as a sensitive and conscientious artist, and those adjectives will look wonderful after you and I have departed this earth. But just think how much simpler your life would be, not only your life in the past, but your life in the future, if you were a trifle less sensitive and a trifle less conscientious.”
From the beginning, Cleland’s work was recognized for its excellence and precision, and he received many honors both formal and informal. The American Institute of Graphic Arts, The Art Directors Club and the Harvard Business School, among others, recognized his work, and his design of PM earned him the Ayer Award.
And he was a writer of no mean talent. His critical comments about trends, which he saw as diminishing his craft, were made less biting by his wit and self-deprecating good humor.
Cleland’s attitude toward art and technology might make him an expensive anomaly in today’s world of business art, but his contributions to the art direction of his time were unsurpassed and will remain as a tribute to a consummate and complete art director.