John Massey’s Chicago Has a Great Lake poster
JOHN MASSEY CREATED the Chicago Has a Great Lake poster in 1966 for the Container Corporation of America (CCA) as part of the Chicago Cultural Communication Project. The project’s aim was “to provide the city of Chicago with a consistent series of brilliant and unusual posters calling attention to the many cultural and recreational facilities available to its population.” In the mid-twentieth century, CCA, with Massey as head of its design department, played an influential role in disseminating modernist graphic design through advertising. This design celebrating Lake Michigan allows us to understand how corporate branding shaped the image of Chicago and also how the qualities of the city itself influenced marketing strategies. The poster is characteristic of Massey’s overall approach to design and his use of strong, visual language. Here, he represents the landscape of Lake Michigan with a few simple graphic forms that are distilled into a dynamic composition.
The poster was part of Massey’s project to enliven Chicago’s streets and encourage its citizens to value their city, which had suffered from the rise of suburbanization, by hiring professional designers to create designs promoting the city’s museums, architecture, neighborhoods, and lakefront. A series of the posters was given to the city by CCA and installed for a short while in civic spaces. They are among many posters created under Massey for the city. While head of design at CCA, Massey also continued to maintain an independent design office in Chicago called the Center for Advanced Research in Design, through which he was able to direct design programs for other organizations, including Atlantic Richfield Company, Inland Steel, and the United States Department of Labor. As demonstrated by this poster, much of Massey’s work uses graphic design to highlight and celebrate the urban environment.
John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design Art Institute of Chicago