In the mid-1970s, Glenn Goluska was usually one step ahead of the scrap dealers.
The typographer and his buddies would be on the prowl in Toronto for cast-aside printing equipment. Specifically, they were picking up letterpress, its type made from carved wood or cast metal that left unique marks when smashed on to paper. The technique had stopped being economical for large printing outfits and had been on a 20-year decline, replaced by offset printing, which used a photographic process. This left all kinds of wood and metal cuts, linotype and letterpress machines available for a song.
For Goluska and his friends, here were historic pieces of art-making tools and all they needed to do was gather a few guys and find a truck with reliable suspension. Like those today who long for the warm hiss of vinyl in their music, they knew then that the era of two-dimensional offset printing was throwing away an important dimension: no more print jobs where you can see the human hand – a nick in the wood or an un-inked dot on the paper.
But Goluska’s love for old type went beyond the need to revive a bygone look. As a typographer and designer, he brought traditional typefaces and techniques to trade publications, designing books for Coach House Press and fulfilling freelance commissions from literary authors Jack Hodgins, Robert Kroetsch and Margaret Atwood, for her books Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written (1981) and Unearthing Suite (1983).
Goluska died of lung cancer on Aug. 13 in Montreal at the age of 64.
Throughout his 35 years as a typographer, he earned numerous awards for his work, with many of the early prized books born from heated molten lines of type created on Coach House’s 1906 linotype machine. Ironically, some of what came from the oldest equipment offered up some of the most innovative work in typography.
“There are very few people as good as Glenn at book design,” said Robert Bringhurst, a B.C. poet and typographer who wrote The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada, which features some of Goluska’s work.
Goluska had weak eyes for most of his life, but a great eye for design. He made his mark at Toronto’s Coach House during a golden age of typography when a small subculture was taking hulking machines, repairing them and adapting them for modern printing.
At the same time, he did not shy away from new technology.
“He had his feet in both worlds,” said Andrew Steeves, a typographer and co-founder of Gaspereau Press, calling Goluska an astonishing typographic designer. “He brought a mischievous playfulness to typography, but balanced that out with a keen sense of tradition.”
In the 1990s, Goluska designed books and posters for Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), and spent his life’s final decade and a bit with McGill-Queen’s University Press, where he worked on book jackets and some book interiors.
He had a lifelong love of type and it showed, as he collected early samples of type, read up on its history and was able to look at most typefaces and immediately know their era.
Authors appreciated his understanding of their work, though his brilliance for finding the perfect typeface or the subtle balance on a page was often invisible to the average person picking up a book.
Glenn Goluska was born on June 26, 1947, in Chicago, the oldest of three boys of Walter and Mary (née Jagor) Goluska. His father, a first-generation Polish-American, had served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, trained as a civil engineer and spent much of his life running the mechanical engineering department of the J.P. Seeburg Co., which made jukeboxes, as well as cigarette and candy machines.
His mother, a second-generation German-American, saw herself as being a cut above her husband’s family. “I’m not a Goluska,” she would say, referring to the gregarious, card-playing, smoking, blue-collar clan. She told the boys to never be ordinary and introduced them to good restaurants and French filmmakers like François Truffaut and Jacques Tati – even though an adult scene might have seen them shuffled out prematurely.
Glenn, who became a lifelong collector of bicycles, furniture, clothing, toys and musical instruments, had his mother to thank for his eventual discerning tastes, as she taught her sons how to shop. “She said to never buy the first thing you saw,” said his brother Greg.
He had his father to thank for exposing him to mechanical design. The boys spent a lot of time around the inner workings of vending machines. And his early exposure to city life, living above a tavern in the ethnically mixed Logan Square neighbourhood and his eventual longing for it upon the family’s move to the suburbs, gave him a lifelong appreciation for working-class areas. It also reflected later in his work, which Bringhurst describes as having “an industrial edge.”
In high school, Goluska excelled in languages and graduated second in his class. He heard about St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto from his church organist and moved to Canada to pursue a degree in modern languages.
He spent summers back in Chicago and worked at his father’s factory, at first printing off blueprints on giant machines that gave off the smell of ammonia and then moving to the design department, which printed labels for the jukeboxes.
While he loved Toronto, after graduation he was obliged to return to Chicago. One of his jobs had him working at Northwestern University’s library, where he began to discover the new design mavericks like Coach House Press.
On a vacation to Toronto with his new wife, high-school sweetheart Anne Bratton, Goluska decided to stop in at Coach House and, according to Steeves, jokingly said to Anne, “I’m going to get a job.”
He and Coach House head Stan Bevington hit it off. “They would have recognized each other as brothers,” Bringhurst said.
While Anne was waited in the car, the two men talked about typography and by the end of the conversation, Goluska did have a job.
A successful freelance career followed his work at Coach House, including being part of an inaugural 10 years of the CCA, where, with his marriage having ended, he moved to Montreal and eventually bought a home in the working-class district of St. Henri.
It was fitting that the perennial seeker of thrift-shop gems would meet his second wife, Bernadette Lefebvre, at a Salvation Army store two and a half years ago. She was taken by his gentleness and how much courage it took him to ask her out for a date – as well as the picture of his aging one-eyed cat, Pica, that he sent her.
A long-time casual smoker, Goluska was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall and went through an operation in December. Despite treatment, the cancer did not abate and by the late summer he was living in palliative care at Montreal General Hospital. He and Bernadette decided to get married there, with the ceremony held in the unit’s solarium, the couple surrounded by friends and family.
Four days later, on a quiet night, with pictures of his favourite Montreal haunts lined up on the wall the way he requested, Bernadette kissed him on the cheek. He took one swallow and then passed away.
Glenn Goluska leaves Bernadette, her daughter Pélagie Lefebvre, and his brothers Greg and Kim.
A commemoration will take place on Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. at Caffè Mariani in Montreal. A final farewell will take place on the Lachine Canal at sunrise (6:30 a.m.) on Sunday, Oct. 2 in front of the Saint-Armand Paper Mill, 3700 Saint-Patrick St.
Special to The Globe and Mail