For many years when it came to popular music, seeing was believing. Album covers supplied images to accompany every note and beat of a performer’s latest work. The art that dressed up the cardboard sleeves protecting vinyl records didn’t simply hype sales — it served up a visual rush mixed with musical showmanship that made an indelible impression. As album graphics are now mostly reduced to small thumbnails accompanying downloads (a miniaturization process that is one of the many byproducts of the streaming takeover) it’s easy to forget that commercial art, in the era of the long-played vinyl record, rose to a new level of achievement. A current exhibition at Montreat College provides a punchy, colorful reminder.
“Into the Groove: A Celebration of the Art of Vinyl LP Cover Design” pays homage to the creative triumphs of more than five decades of music package artists. The show features album cover art from the collection of Prof. Joseph Martin, Ph.D., who teaches journalism and graphic design in Montreat College’s Department of English, Communication, and Language. “I grew up with the twin waves of pop music and commercial art both crashing down all around me,” says Martin. “Even now I can remember Peter Maxx lunchboxes and eight-track tapes. LP covers became part of my visual vocabulary early on and remained so until cardboard longboxes for CDs became a thing. When you were young album covers just carried this whopping impact that’s difficult to capture in words. They were magic. Revisiting the square canvases now, I am struck again by their power and surprising visual sophistication, whether on a set by X, a Partridge Family album, or an Alex Steinweiss jacket.”
Today, Alex Steinweiss is hailed as the father of the modern album cover. He produced the first commercial music packaging for a 33” vinyl disc in 1938. Three of his designs are hung immediately in the library’s upstairs foyer as part of the exhibit. Other covers on display include titles from Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, Sam Cooke, Kim Carnes, Tonio K., and Black Mountain native, Roberta Flack. The designs on display also include material from the archives of noted art directors Chris Whorf, Kosh, and Beverly Weinstein.
The exhibition will run from February 1 to May 8 in the Edith Gilchrist Hamilton Gallery at the L. Nelson Bell Library on Montreat’s campus, at 310 Gaither Circle, Montreat, NC 28757, USA. The gallery is open, free to the public, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.