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1934 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Gallery
GOWAN, Albert J. Designer, writer and Professor of graphic design, Albert J. Gowan passed away peacefully from complications of congestive heart failure on November 2, 2017 at 83. "Uncle Al" to generations of students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Gowan was an inspirational educator, trusted advisor and mentor, and a skilled strategist. Born in East St. Louis, Illinois, his talent for design emerged in high school. Summer jobs in the shipyards where his father, uncles, and cousins built barges stoked a desire for a different kind of life. The first in his family to attend college, he enrolled at Southern Illinois University (SIU) and later graduated from the University of Missouri, in design and creative writing. He worked in both disciplines for the rest of his life. His encounter with Harold Cohen and Buckminster Fuller at SIU forged Al's view of design as a force for change. He left advertising to pursue this mission in 1964, launching a teaching career at Indiana University. He moved to Purdue University in 1966 to build its design program with Victor Papanek, another profound influence. He also redesigned the university seal. The asymmetrical design was printed symmetrically on a pennant Neil Armstrong, a Purdue graduate, took on the Apollo 11 mission, which to Al's great relief, was not left behind for eternity. The end of his first marriage and a position at Boston University brought him to Boston in 1970. In 1974, as the first director of the Cambridge Arts Council, he proposed what became the Cambridge River Festival and ran a contest to design the logo still in use on city garbage trucks. With an MFA from Goddard College, Al returned to academia in 1977, teaching graphic design, design history, and letterpress printing at MassArt for 25 years. He also started and ran the evening certificate program, co-founded and taught in the graduate design program, and was chair of the Design Department twice. In retirement, Al was instrumental to the college's acquisition of the extensive collection of 19th century typefaces assembled by Boston printer T.J. Lyons. Al wrote regularly on design and design education. He published articles in Print, ID, and Icographic magazines and four books on design and design history—Nuts and Bolts: A Public Design Casebook; T.J. Lyons: A Biography and Critical Essay; Shared Vision: The Second American Bauhaus; and Victor Papanek: Path of a Design Prophet. An engaging storyteller and singer, Al collected stories and songs, many of which found their way to his fiction. He published stories in Yankee and Ploughshares, two novels (Zamora's Tattoo and Santiago Rag), and a collection of short stories, Fort Momma. He was an active member of the Society of Printers, the St. Botolph Club, and the bass section of the Revels singers. Al leaves his wife of 25 years, Susan Hunziker. He is also survived by his brother James Gowan of Hillsboro, Missouri; his daughters Karen Smith and Amy Schaller, and son Blake Gowan, of Lafayette, Indiana, and son Jeff Gowan of Pelham, New Hampshire; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The Al Gowan Fund to support the use of the T.J. Lyons Collection has been established. Contributions can be made to the MassArt Foundation. A celebration of life will be held at the college on Sunday, February 11 from 1 to 3 pm.

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Published in The Boston Globe on Jan. 21, 2018
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