Stuart Ash, graphic designer (born 1942 in Hamilton, ON). Best known for his 1967 design of the Canadian Centennial symbol, Ash’s firm (Gottschalk+Ash) rivaled the world’s top design agencies in its heyday. Ash oversaw a fundamental shift in the public perception of the role of graphic designer, from mere assemblyman to integral player in the creative process.
Growing up in Hamilton, Ash loved to draw, and it was his interest in illustration that first attracted him to the Ontario College of Art and Design (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University). As his studies progressed, he became more and more captivated by the emerging field of design, and by graduation in 1963 it was his entire focus. In Montréal, Ash apprenticed under Anthony Mann at Cooper & Beatty Ltd., and it was under Mann’s tutelage that Ash would design his most enduring work.
The Centennial Symbol
Canada celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 1967, and to highlight the event, Cooper & Beatty Ltd. was commissioned to design a celebratory symbol. Ash was assigned to the task. His final design was a stylized multi-coloured maple leaf constructed from 11 equilateral triangles representing Canada’s 10 provinces and the North West Territories (Canada’s accepted geography at the time). The Centennial Symbol was ubiquitous that year and widely applauded, and in 1968 Ash was awarded the Canadian Centennial Medal for his role in designing the Centennial identity program.
It was while in Montréal that Ash first met Swiss designer Fritz Gottschalk, who was working for competing firm Paul Arthur and Associates. The two men recognized in one another a shared commitment to the International Style of design — a typographic style developed in Switzerland in the fifties that emphasized cleanliness and readability — and joined forces in 1966 to form Gottschalk+Ash International in Montréal. A year later the city played host to Expo ’67, an international event with the proclaimed theme, “Man and His World.” The fair would prove influential in the world of design, and Ash’s new firm was at the centre of the action, making connections with international publishers, architects and designers.
In the late 1960s, the International Style of design was only just emerging in North America, and Gottschalk+Ash were one of its main proponents. The firm worked regularly with designers of diverse backgrounds, bringing sometimes radically new ways of thinking into the firm’s design ethos. Their team quickly became internationally known, with projects rivaling top firms like Pentagram in London, Total Design in the Netherlands and Unimark in Chicago. With every new client, Gottschalk+Ash tried to build awareness of design principles and demonstrate how strategic based design added value. The two men were were very competitive, and a healthy rivalry became a fundamental part of their practice. Awareness of graphic design began to spread, and clients began to see the practice as a strategic business communication tool rather than just the creation and production of looks and images.
In 1972, the firm opened offices in Toronto and Ash made the city his new home. Offices in New York followed four years later, opened in collaboration with Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan of Carbone Smolan Agency. In 1978 Gottschalk established the firm’s Zurich offices and Ash took over the business responsibilities in Montréal, Toronto and New York. The late eighties saw Gottschalk+Ash Toronto take on a number of large projects, including the branding and environmental design of Toronto’s PATH Underground Walkway and Skydome (now called the Rogers Centre) in association with industrial design firm Keith Muller Ltd. The office would go on to create branding and environmental design programs for the American Airlines Arena in Miami and the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center and visual identities for Royal Bank, Shell Oil and The Four Seasons. Ash opened Gottschalk+Ash’s Calgary office in 1997, and it became responsible for developing the branding and environmental design for both the Calgary and Ottawa airports.
Ash was the head of the agency until his retirement in 2007, at which time he sold the Gottschalk+Ash Toronto and Calgary offices to DW+Partners, a subsidiary of Canadian media company St. Joseph’s Communications. In 2011, Gottschalk+Ash was acquired by international environmental graphic design firm Entro Communications.
Canadian Centennial Medal (1968)
Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Centennial Medallion (1998)
Society of Graphic Designers of Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2008)
Honoured by the Communications Design Association (2011)