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Samoan-born, the late New Zealander designed over 550 typefaces – more than any other person in the world. Millions of people have seen and used his fonts – including anyone who has ever had an eye test.
He founded New Zealand’s largest typesetting firm, from where his typefaces have today become known all over the world. All the while retaining his pride in his Pasifika roots.
Since he was a small child, Joseph Churchward recalled drawing letters in the sand.
Born in 1933, he is from the ‘aiga (family) Sā Anae and the villages of Faleasiu and Tufulele.
In 1946, when he was 13, he left Samoa to attend Miramar South School in Wellington. Two years later he gained an Art Distinction Award in Lettering from Wellington Technical College and, shortly after, began work as a commercial artist.
He entered the advertising industry in its heyday of the 1950s. He remained for many years the only Samoan/Pacific artist in a white middle-class industry.
Throughout his career he remained true to his heritage and constantly articulated his pride in his culture – which sometimes opened him up for criticism.
But early on, he figured out that with hard work and determination he could excel in any field, as long as he believed that he was as valid and as talented an artist as his Pakeha counterparts.
Hard work, passion and belief in his work and himself were the cornerstones of Joseph’s success. Joseph worked insanely long hours, and learnt as much as he could from his colleagues.
Like many Pacific migrants, Joseph was part of two worlds. His ability in adapting to both the traditional and Western way of life, and merging these two, became an important part of his success. He refused to give up his culture in order to fit into another. He credits his early upbringing in Samoa for many of his accomplishments; and drew heavily on the support of his wife and growing family to help him pursue his passion.
In 1969 he founded Churchward International Typefaces, which went on to become New Zealand’s largest typesetting firm. Striking a deal with the German firm Bertold Fototypes, an international typeface distributor, his typefaces became known around the world.
His hand lettering was used to help create the mastheads for The Evening Post and The Dominion newspapers, while Churchward 69 was used by Woolworths.
He won the Designers Institute of New Zealand John Britten Award in 2009 and was a recipient of a Queen’s Service Medal in 2010. He has also been inducted into the Massey University Hall of Fame.
The Klingspor Museum, a museum of typography and calligraphy, in Germany lists Joseph Churchward amongst its most eminent typographic artists.
Page authorised by Office of the Assistant Vice-Chancellor Māori and Pasifika
Last updated on Tuesday 16 August 2016