|Harvey J. Hacker in his San Francisco architectural office with a T-shirt of today, designed for the National Women's Hall of Fame. The block letters of "Women's" are composed of faces of famous women. DAVID WAKELY|
Meet Harvey Hacker. He's the guy who designed the fist.
Hacker is a member of the Harvard College class of 1963 and is thus in his thirty-fifth reunion year. He took a master's degree from the School of Design in 1969. In a moment of general tumult in the spring of his final year, he designed an image that became emblematic of the times and the emotion, and not just at Harvard--a red, clenched fist (see this issue's Centennial timeline and Radcliffe Quandary). Today, he is sometimes introduced by one alumnus to another as the guy who designed the fist.
That form of introduction gives him pause. Hacker does not wish to be known only for his fist. And it was by no means created in isolation.
"I was a student at the GSD when protesters occupied University Hall," he says. "There were various degrees of interest and sympathy at the GSD, ranging from hostility to actual participation in the sit-in. This mixed response changed to more nearly universal support for the strikers following the dawn police bust.
"A number of us were appalled at how the University was handling its response to student demonstrations, and we expected that a lot of other people were, too," says Hacker. "But there didn't seem to be any good public expressions of that feeling. There was a graphic gap. We decided to do something about that.
|Hacker during the 1969 Harvard strike.|
"Although we were well known to the owner of the art-supply shop in Putnam Circle, just outside Harvard Square, we were not prepared for his response to our request for discounted silkscreen materials," Hacker recalls. "Apparently, the situation awakened memories of his own European student political activity, and he said 'Take what you want.' So off we went to set up shop in Robinson Hall and teach ourselves silkscreening.
"The red fist was one of a dozen or more designs produced that first night by a dozen or so students," says Hacker. "It was developed by the collaborative process that is so typical among architects and other designers. Doug Engel [M.Arch. '69] sketched a clenched fist that was geometrically abstracted in the manner of international symbols for public facilities in airports. I thought that it was the right symbol, but that it lacked the emotional intensity called for by the occasion, so I made a silhouette drawing of my own, non-abstract, clenched fist. It's a right fist because I draw with my left hand.
"The next morning," Hacker reports, "posters were up on trees around the Yard, and before long many of the designs were silkscreened onto T-shirts or other articles of clothing and, in one case, onto some lunatic's bare chest. For the duration of the strike, the GSD students, joined by a number of non-Harvard activists, ran a silkscreen production shop in Robinson Hall, requesting donations for supplies from people who brought in articles to be imprinted, archly refusing to impress images onto canvas for collectors, or--God forbid--to sign anything as an individual author."
Hacker is today an architect with his own five-person firm in San Francisco. He is married, for the second time, and does about half the cooking and dishwashing. He has been rereading Joyce lately, and Dante and Homer; "among the living and recently alive authors, African-American writers are disproportionately represented," he notes. He maintains ties to the College as a local interviewer for the admissions office. By way of political activism, he votes, writes checks for candidates, and does pro bono architectural work for community organizations. His firm customarily tackles everything from lofts for living and working in, to community centers, to drug-treatment clinics. "When I'm struggling with a design," Hacker testifies, "it takes over all of my attention, sometimes even my dreams. Nothing gives me as much pleasure."
The guy who designed the fist acknowledges that it "wasn't an accident. My participation in the strike was not an isolated, long-forgotten event, but rather is embedded in a stream of my work that continues to be important to me." When Harvard Magazine telephoned Hacker in May to speak to him about the fist, he had, just that morning, designed a T-shirt for the National Women's Hall of Fame.
The shirt will be sold in mid July at a conference in Seneca Falls, New York, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the beginnings of the women's movement. "Designing that shirt was very much like drawing the red fist," Hacker says. "In both cases the goals were condensation, clarity, and the evocation of feeling. In both cases the time expended was about 10 minutes. But I suspect that no one will be asking me about the Seneca Falls shirt 30 years from now."