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Gowan, Al | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Gowan, Al

Historical Note:

Albert J. Gowan grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, the son of a steel-worker family.  He studied at Southern Illinois University, 1953-1955, where he first gained an appreciation for the impact designers can have in contributing to the socio-economic change in people’s lives.

He went on to an advertising agency job in St. Louis for two years, then for two more years was an artist-designer with a church publishing house in Nashville, Tennessee, and in 1959 he returned to Southern Illinois University to study with R. Buckminster Fuller.  An opportunity became available for a job in Columbia, Missouri with a publishing firm, so he left Southern Illinois University and enrolled in the University of Missouri.  While working full-time jobs, he earned a B.A. degree in 1964.

Gowan began teaching at Indiana University in 1964 and for two years he practiced and preached the role of the visual designer as a social force.  He came to Purdue as an assistant professor in 1966 when the Department of Creative Arts expanded its design program to include the responsibility of designers in society, under the direction of Professor Victor Papanek.

Soon he was chairman of the visual design section, involved in teaching what is generally labeled commercial art in many schools to about 60 undergraduates and a dozen or so graduate students annually.

From 1957 to 1985, he won more than thirty medals and awards for posters, packaging, catalog design, logo design, and filmmaking in art director’s competitions in Nashville, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri, Indianapolis, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and Boston, Massachusetts.

He takes special pride in accomplishments of students, some of which have won distinction while still students.  One such student, Dan Estes, designed the official Purdue University centennial logo, several have won professional awards in competition with professionals, and some have stepped into directorships upon graduation.

Gowan has stated that designing the Purdue seal became just another way to demonstrate the validity of his ideas.  But he is quick to point out that it was a team effort – the same process needed to solve society’s problems.  It is this kind of cooperation he promotes among students, “I just try to help them find a sense of personal satisfaction in solving some pressing problems through their specialty.”  “We’ve all got to be concerned about the environment which can kill.  We’re never idle, “Something is always working – even if it’s only our stomachs growling.” 

Gowan left Purdue in 1970.  He is now Professor Emeritus of Design, Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Sources: Purdue People, Number 24, April 1969 and Curriculum Vitae
Note Author: Mary A. Sego

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