The past month marked the passing of enthusiastic graphic designer, typographer, publisher and conversationalist Peter Klaus Dorn.
Born in Germany in 1932, Dorn came of age surrounded by “many atrocities”, his obituary short notes. He apprenticed as a composer and studied graphic design in evening classes, and in the aftermath of World War II he was able to immigrate to Canada in 1954 to pursue his career dreams in graphic design.
Many of the iconic visuals synonymous with Kingston institutions owe their existence to Dorn’s design skills, most notably from a flurry of professional success that Dorn achieved in the 1970s. The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada notes on their Dorn biography page that he received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1971 to continue his work as a designer, and the opportunities soon followed.
“He was recruited by Queen’s in 1971 to establish their graphic design unit,” said his youngest son Jeffrey Dorn, “and he was also hired by the university to rethink the company’s visual identity. What we call the “Q-Shield” was his design. It has been in use for a very long time and was also the basis of the current updated visual identity. He was very proud of Queen’s; he was a firm believer in Queen’s and was very proud that they used his designs.
Jeffrey Dorn also noted that his father was also involved in the creation of the logo for St. Lawrence College. “The two wavy lines they have now are an abbreviation of their logo. He was a teacher at St. Lawrence at the time (1979-1986) and he designed this corrugated block, but in its original design there was another corrugated block connected to it, making an “L” “For” Lawrence “. “
Even the Royal Military College benefited from Dorn’s design expertise. “He wrote all of the Royal Military College memorial books for them – I remember he did one for Princess Anne and one for Prince Philip – he met Prince Philip twice when he came. in Kingston, as the prince was a huge fan of graphic design. , remembers Jeffrey.
In addition to design, Dorn was a skilled typographer. He had started his own private printing press in 1963, which he called Heinrich Heine Press, after a German poet and humanist whom Dorn deeply admired. Dorn’s obituary notes that “[m]none of the works of the press has received national and international awards over the years.
Dorn oversaw all aspects of the printing business, Jeffrey recalls, and set high expectations for himself, his employees, and their business. “He knew his stuff,” Jeffrey said. “He knew what it took to take a book from conception to completion once it was written. He knew all the stages, all these parts. He had two huge printing presses. He donated them to Queen’s, and as far as I know they are still at the John Deutsch University Center.
A connection through the Olympics linked Dorn’s life and professional work in Canada with his German family history. Her father, Robert Dorn, who also had a career as a graphic designer, was an Olympian at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi-controlled Berlin, competing in track events. “We have his passport that was given to every athlete at these games, and it contains a medal,” Jeffrey said. “It’s not like a medal you would get for winning, it’s a commemorative medal that was forged by the Third Reich.”
Forty years later, when Kingston hosted the sailing events for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Peter Dorn was the designer responsible for the posters, programs and icons associated with the events.
However, Dorn was motivated by more than professional cheering, Jeffrey said. “Later in life, after he retired, probably five or six years ago, I said to him, ‘You must be proud, you did such great things! You have done well, you are well regarded, you are well known in Canada and abroad – you must be proud of yourself. And he just had a look in his eyes and said, “No, I haven’t done enough for mankind.” It was his response.
Dorn’s passion for social activism began in his early teens, in tumultuous WWII Germany, Jeffrey noted. “He was part of a group in the 1940s: all his friends he grew up with in Berlin during WWII had some sort of socialist gang, which I think was called ‘The Red Hand’ or something. thing like that. It’s amazing to think about it. There they were in the heart of fascist Germany, these kids, probably 13, 14, and they were trying to promote the idea of socialism – equal rights, just society and everything. And it became more than something he held onto as a kid; those socialist ideals became something that was always really at the heart of who he was. He believed that everyone deserved the best possible life.
Dorn was passionate about jazz, and at a music festival in the early 1950s, he met a girl named Charlotte Graffunder. “My mom didn’t really like jazz,” Jeffrey said with a laugh. “He was a classically trained person. She wanted to be an opera singer, but unfortunately during WWII it was practically impossible to train for it. But she was a master pianist and she played a lot. Despite their musical differences, the two fell in love and when Dorn immigrated to Canada in 1954, his beloved, Charlotte, followed soon after. They were married in Canada on Christmas Day that year.
Suitable for a household that would eventually own its own printing press, the couple shared a passion for books and literacy. Dorn and his wife collected rare volumes and translated German folklore, like Grimm’s original fairy tales, into English, and Charlotte ran a second-hand bookstore in Kingston called “Books and More Books.”
“My dad was a guy who was always lively and did everything with confidence. He was the heart of the party and was always engaged in the conversation, ”said Jeffrey. “He wanted to understand you, and he wanted to see how you thought. He may disagree with you, and he would tell you he disagree with you, but he always wanted to hear your point of view. My parents’ political circle was quite big and wide, and they were both endearing and extremely intelligent people who knew where they were coming from, but they were open to different political concepts and ideas.
Despite being outspoken in a political or ideological discussion, Dorn was the last to promote his own considerable achievements, Jeffrey said. “He was a humble man. He chatted with you all night about his opinions, but he never talked about his accomplishments. Not once. He never preached anything; it was always what he put into practice in his own life. But I feel like everything he did was guided by that quote he hung on his office wall.
Jeffrey reflected that as he wrote his father’s obituary, opening up with this quote was a natural fit, encapsulating the deepest values of a remarkable man and a life well lived.
“There is only one man in the world and his name is All Men. There is only one woman in the world and her name is All Women. There is only one child in the world and the child’s name is All Children. – Carl Sandburg
Rest in peace, Peter Klaus Dorn.