Ralph Beyer

Biography

Lettering, inscriptions. Born 6 April 1921 in Berlin; mother Jewish, father Oskar a critic, journalist and author. 1 December 1937: arrived in England where he worked as an apprentice to Eric Gill at Piggott’s for 7 months. Later studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, intending to be a sculptor. 26 June 1940: interned as an ‘enemy alien’; later spent months at the internment camp at Huyton, Liverpool., ‘awed at his youthful age to be surrounded by eminent scientists, doctors, historians. One of these latter was Nikolaus Pevsner…’ Beyer was due to be put aboard a ship for Canada, some of which were torpedoed with the loss of most of the alien passengers, but may have been saved from this fate by the dancer Kurt Jooss, a fellow internee. Soon Beyer was given the opportunity to join the British army, and spent most of this period in the Forestry Unit, which entailed felling trees and making sleepers for train tracks. He later went to Germany as an interpreter and translator for the army. He was eventually able to find his father and brother (both of whom had spent some time during the war in labour camps) in Berlin, but his mother had been sent to Auschwitz where she died from her deprivations shortly after the end of the war. The major commission which made his name came from the architect Basil Spence. Beyer was asked to design the inscriptions for Spence’s Coventry Cathedral (completed January-September 1961). Beyer later taught lettering at City & Guilds art school, Kennington. 1970-86: taught at Dept. of Typography, Reading University. He was a founding member of Letter Exchange. Died 13 February 2008.

Writings by

  • ‘Rudolf Koch’, London: The Scribe, Spring 1986
  • ‘The first forty years’, Dot the I (journal of Letter Exchange, London), Spring 1991, pp. 48-53
  • ‘Thoughts about carving in the work of Eric Gill and Henry Moore’, Letter Exchange Magazine no. 17, June 2007.

Writings about

  • Basil Spence and Henk Snoek, Out of the Ashes, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1963
  • Alan Bartram, Lettering in Architecture, London: Lund Humphries, 1975
  • Tanya Harrod, ‘Typography: the writing on the wall’, London: The Independent, 10 Oct. 1989
  • T. Harrod, ‘Sources of inspiration’, Crafts Magazine, Jan. 1990
  • T. Harrod, ‘Modernism’s heir’, London: The Spectator, 19 May 1990
  • Stan Knight, ‘Versals Redefined’, Letter Arts Review, vol. 12, no. 1, 1995, pp. 31-40
  • Louise Campbell, Coventry Cathedral, Oxford University Press, 1996
  • Mike Daines, ‘Ralph Beyer – the art of the true letterer’, Baseline 22, 1996, pp. 5-12
  • Margot Coatts, ‘Letter Exchange 10th anniversary exhibition’ (review), Crafts Magazine, Summer 1998
  • T. Harrod, The Crafts in Great Britain in the 20th Century, London: Yale University Press, 1999
  • correspondence and interview with RB, 2001
  • Jerry Cinamon, ‘When Ralph Beyer met Nikolaus Pevsner’, Forum (Letter Exchange newsletter, London), 4, June 2002, p. 5 Owen Williams, ‘Ralph Beyer: Irregularity Refined’, Letter Arts Review, v. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 44-51
  • John Neilson, ‘Ralph Beyer‘, obituary in The Guardian, 7 March 2008
  • Peter Foster and Charlotte Howarth, ‘Ralph Beyer‘ (an appreciation), Forum (Letter Exchange newsletter, London), 16, Sept. 2008 (pp. 24-5).

Exhibitions

  • Crafts Council, London, 1992
  • Morley Gallery, London, 1998
  • Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, 1999
  • London Institute, Nov. 1999-Jan. 2000.