About Cooper Union

Peter Cooper founded the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art on his fundamental belief that an education should be accessible to those who qualify, independent of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status. Tuition-free, the school originally offered night classes in applied sciences and architectural drawing and day classes in what was called the Female School of Design. A four-year undergraduate program was established in 1902. Eventually Cooper Union evolved into three schools, of art, architecture and engineering.

In the fall of 1954, Ismar David started as an Instructor in the Art School teaching lettering for 6 hours a week in the evening session. George Salter had recommended him for the post. His other colleagues, at various times, included: Phil Grushkin, Larry Hoffman, George Kratina, Jim McCrea, Charles E. Skaggs and Paul Standard. From David’s perspective, Cooper Union operated as the kind of arts and crafts school he had attended in Berlin and Breslau: professionals taught their respective crafts, giving students the education and experience they would need to function successfully in their chosen fields.

David said that he was the only instructor, who, in his first year of teaching, threw a student out of class. He also recalled advocating unsuccessfully to retain a student who had made a 180 degree turn-around during the semester. He enjoyed the exchange with students and the opportunity to help them prepare for their professional lives. He formulated his thoughts about his calligraphy class in this way:

The teaching of lettering should, I believe, develop the feeling for proportion, design, rhythm and harmony. It should be a training for the eye to discover and distinguish the differences and fine nuances of graphic forms. With this, it should develop the manual discipline and skill required. The student should acquire the feeling of the link to the culture of the past and learn to integrate his own creative conception with tradition, which I believe is necessary for good contemporary design.” 1 Undated “Statement 1” Ismar David papers, box 8, folder 182, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

David said of the evening class in 1965, which included Anita Karl and Mary Ahern:

This year’s Tuesday class specifically has been for me a very rewarding experience. We had a remarkably high proportion of very interested students, very eager to learn who deserved our efforts to give them the opportunity to study. The samples of their work which I will submit at a later date for the annual exhibition will illustrate that vividly. 2 April 6, 1965 letter to Professor Wysocky, Ismar David papers, box 8, folder 182, Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT.

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