Design Inspirations: Leroy Winbush

Leroy Winbush broke ground in the 1940s as “the award-winning black man” who designed the window displays at the ­American National Bank & Trust in Chicago. Prior to that, only two years out of high school, he joined Goldblatt’s Department Store as designer of displays and eventually became art director—the only black employee in the entire company. His contemporaries read like a who’s who in the creative world: Duke Ellington, Walt Disney and Frank Lloyd Wright. He talks of their collaborations as though they were barbershop chums. Winbush Design still maintains offices in downtown Chicago, complete with numerous awards and photographs highlighting his accomplishments. His recent projects include special graphics projects for NBC, holiday decorations for Chicago O’Hare International, Midway and Miegs airports, a modular traveling exhibit for the Bally Corp. and, of course, exhibits for the DuSable. He passed away in 2007.

In 2008, Leroy Winbush was awarded an AIGA Medal. The medal of AIGA—the most distinguished in the field—is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements, services or other contributions to the field of design and visual communication. The contribution may be in the practice of design, teaching, writing or leadership of the profession. The awards may honor designers posthumously. The first designer of color awarded an AIGA Medal was Georg Olden in 2007 thanks in part to the AIGA Diversity Task Force, which I was the first Chairperson in 2006.

— Complied from Victor Margolin presentation on “African-American Designers: The Chicago Experience Then and Now” at Looking Closer: AIGA Conference on History and Criticism February 2001; TheHistoryMakers.com

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