Book: Banners Without Words

Jill Knuth. San Jose, Calif.: Resource Publications, Inc., 1986, 198 pages, $9.95.

Banners Without Words will, I'm afraid, be used as a "swipe file." Because banners are difficult to design and construct, many people will be tempted to save time and energy by using one of Knuth's ready-made designs.

The author says she has made over a hundred banners. From her descriptions I imagine that many of them are quite beautiful. However, all I can do is imagine: the black and white line drawings in the text do not convince me. I wish the publisher had seen fit to reproduce at least some of Knuth's work.

In the preface Knuth tells us that this book is essentially a collection of columns that first appeared in Modern Liturgy over a period of three years. I suspect that was the better vehicle for presenting this material. A person reading Knuth's Easter column might be contemplating the design and fabrication of a Pentecost banner and profit from her enthusiasm and liturgical savvy without being tempted to copy her design.

I am impressed with the author's dedication to biblical and liturgical research. She apparently has a good sense of the cadences of the Christian year— and she has made over one hundred banners. Her experience enables her to pass on a lot of valuable practical and technical information.

We Christian artists spend a great deal of energy trying to justify our work to our brothers and sisters. This may partially explain why this author/artist has tipped so sharply in favor of content over form. I think her designs are needlessly complex and too literal. In the section Signs in the Sky she shows three very dramatic— simple, yet powerful—sky-filling configurations: a linear, abstract angel for Christmas; a dynamic star configuration for epiphany; and an immense linear configuration that suggests both the descending dove and the Father's thundering approval for the baptism of Jesus. That's visual fireworks in the best sense! Unfortunately all three of the above are marred by tiny little visual cliches across the bottom—additions, in my opinion, that ruined the designs.

If you buy this book, take your inspiration from the text, not from the pictures.

For visual stimulation see Laliberte and Mcllhany, Banners and Hangings, New York: Reinhold, 1966. For help in simplifying complex imagery, see Nigel Holmes, Designing Pictorial Symbols, New York: Watson Guptil Publications, 1985.

Ted Smith is professor of graphic design at the School of Fine Arts, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.


Reformed Worship 6 © December 1987, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.