Lloyd Schermer, who started his journalism career at the Davenport Daily Times in Iowa and is now heading to The New York Times, is hardly the first newspaperman to go from the small city to the big time.But it's doubtful anyone has taken the route Schermer is traveling.Even though he retired from journalism more than a decade ago, Schermer is poised to take one of the most prominent positions at The New York Times. His work won't appear in the pages of the country's so-called newspaper of record, but in the lobby. The Times has commissioned Schermer to create a sculpture of the wood type that was once essential to the newspaper business. Though the plans are not final, it is expected that Schermer's artwork will be prominent in a high-traffic area - possibly the lobby - of the Times' new building, a 52-story glass tower under construction on Eighth Avenue, between 40th and 41st streets. The building, which will hold most of the paper's employees, is scheduled to open in the middle of the year.
Schermer, who lives most of the time in Aspen, is scheduled to have his fourth meeting with The New York Times next month to hash out the details of the commission.One of the main items that needs to be worked out is the size of the sculpture. When Schermer was first contacted, the Times provided him with drawings of the proposed lobby for the new building. Schermer thus mapped out a sculpture that would be 6 feet deep and 16 feet wide. But the scale of the drawings was wrong, and to maintain the relative size of the piece, Schermer would have had to expand the dimensions to 12 by 32 feet, a monster both sides agreed was too big."I told the guys at The New York Times, 'You've got to hurry up; you're dealing with two diminishing resources: wood type, and me,'" said Schermer, who turns 79 later this month.When Schermer started his career, wood type was a building block of print journalism. It was 1954 and Schermer, a native of St. Louis, got a job at the Davenport Daily News just as the newspaper was experiencing a strike. Schermer had to learn everything from typesetting to running the press to selling ads. He entered the ranks of management a few years later in Kewanee, Ill., and eventually became CEO of Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based corporation that owns more than 350 publications in 23 states. Schermer held the top position at Lee for 18 years, ending in 1991.Schermer stepped into his second career when, in 1993, with no previous arts training, he took a drawing course at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Schermer established himself with his monotypes, borrowing for his design the typography icons from his journalism years. He has shown his monotypes extensively in the valley, and in 2002, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., added three of his pieces to its collection.
Schermer branched out into sculpture in the late '90s when David McLaughlin, former president of the Aspen Institute, commissioned him to make a large aspen leaf out of wood type for the Institute's collection. Schermer made prints of the aspen leaves, but he got more requests to duplicate the sculpture.That's when Schermer began to encounter the law of supply regarding wood type."That's hard to come by," Schermer said from Tucson, Ariz., where he lives part time. "Most people just threw them in the dump when they switched over from type to offset. So I converted over to bronze."But as his reputation has grown, collections of wood type have been finding their way to Schermer. In a dusty, cobweb-ridden lighthouse building in Maine, he found a huge stash and turned his problem of a short supply into having to transport 11,000 pounds of type from Bar Harbor to Basalt, where he has his studio. Schermer also bought a load of type from the old Printers Row in downtown Chicago.
Schermer needs as much type as he can get his hands on. In his studio hang three wood type sculptures: One is for the University of Montana School of Journalism, another for the refurbished Smithsonian and the third for the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago. He is also set to begin work on a sculpture for the Donald F. Reynolds Foundation in Las Vegas. A piece of his hangs on the door of the CEO's office at the Washington Post.In Aspen, Schermer is represented by Magidson Fine Art, which has a series of his wood type sculptures on display.While Schermer has carved a novel niche for himself, he sees his art as a throwback. His sculptures, he says, celebrate a dying material."Type design and type making is a lost art," he said. "Through the years, though, beautiful stuff was made. A lot of it you've never seen because it was used so long ago. This is preserving an art form."Stewart Oksenhorn's e-mail address is email@example.com