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George McCalman is taking over the cultural artifact industry and infusing it with Black traditions. In particular, McCalman focuses on the book design sector, where he got his start as an artist.

McCalman says he no longer creates book-related art, but instead refers to his designs as cultural artifacts. He uses that language in an effort to separate his work from that of White publishing artists.

Whiteness dominates both the book publishing world, and book design art. Despite his status as an artist, George McCalman actually took a hiatus due to the racism he saw and felt as a creator.

In an interview with Fast Company, McCalman said, “I had stopped designing books for years because I was tired of the lack of cultural awareness. And it was just an internal frustration, that [white] book design, especially literary culture, is really tone-deaf about cultural nuances.”

Redefining cultural artifacts

Meanwhile, McCalman is back at it, creating designs for James Beard-award winning chef Bryant Terry’s cookbook, “Black Food.” He also wrote and designed the book “Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen.”

Regarding “Black Food,” George McCalman found himself frustrated with the process. The book contains art, stories, and recipes, all with a focus on Black culture.

According to McCalman, “I was continually reminding the publisher, along with Bryant [Terry], that the lens of this book had to be Black, the whole thing had to be Black, and so even the process of making the book was going to be different.” Finally McCalman and his team worked separately to create the unique cultural artifact. 

Creating content for Black History was another important journey for McCalman. He considered it a spiritual quest to learn the stories of many Black historical figures who were unknown or forgotten. 

George McCalman sees the need to recognize Black history as an important part of “American” culture. “Black Americans have contributed a disproportionate amount of what defines American culture. And so I wanted to show my awareness of that.”  

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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