Phil Wilson (1942–2007)
Born in Ohio, Phil came to Ithaca to study painting at Cornell. In the 1970s he helped beta test PageMaker 1 and select fonts for Macintosh computers. In the 1980s he led Cornell into the modern design era, introducing Apple computers to paste-up pros who lived for wax and registration marks. Phil studied and produced art intensely, not to criticize but to see. He read widely, reflected deeply, and always had something fresh going on. One colleague said he had “not just the courage, but an actual desire to face the bull that is white paper.”
He spent many years creating ingeniously designed print material, the most cherished of which were his books. Aside from spending time on his own professional work, he gave unfathomable hours to designing work written by his teachers, Anthony Damiani and Paul Brunton. His extraordinary gift for design was shown best through these projects of the heart. The layout of Astronoesis, for example, is absolutely vital to its content and comprehension; Phil organized Anthony’s original material, the commentary on that material, and the plethora of diagrams into a visually cohesive whole that invites the reader to plunge into this formidable text.
One of his last projects was the illustration and layout for the latest special illustrated edition of A Search in Secret Egypt. Phil spent countless hours and expended his intense, creative energy to bring the book to a stunning and gorgeous new life. His work has and will always be deeply appreciated.
The other thing I remember best about Phil is his humor, which, when blended with his ability as a cartoonist, was devastatingly funny. If one ever received correspondence from him, the letter began on the envelope itself, with wry misspellings of the return address, tiny instructions to the postmaster, and the like. This combination of wry wit and inventive, spontaneous humor would have pleased PB, who had a similar streak within himself.
As a designer Phil was a meticulous perfectionist. When he first showed us the choices for typefaces for Egypt, he had printed out ten different options—many of which were changes in type size by tenths of a point! In another person that might have seemed neurotic, but for Phil it was an expression of a commitment to precision. While the average reader may never notice it, A Search in Secret Egypt has the same proportions as the Great Pyramid, and the placement of photographs on each page follows the spiral generated by the Fibonacci series (originally an Egyptian ratio). These were the typical of the subtle design elements that Phil put into every book on which he worked, but especially into this work, for he had a lifelong love and dedication to PB and was glad of this opportunity to honor him.
- Timothy Smith, co-editor A Search in Secret Egypt