In 1967 – 1968, a small group of immensely talented people in the San Francisco Bay Area came together to form a short-lived but highly inventive poster and notecard company, East Totem West. It’s founder, Joseph McHugh, took the poster — heretofore used primarily as a travel enticement or concert announcement to a new, revolutionary place: the poster as art. He began creating images — through the process of printing — that harkened to acid-trip visions and spiritual mandalas ... posters and notecards that sold by the thousands to the growing generation of hippies, freethinkers, bohemians, and individualists who were thriving in the San Francisco and had begun to find themselves all over America.
It was as much a function of the place and times as it was the combination of people that made East Totem West happen: the Bay Area was host to several underground newspapers (The Berkeley Barb, the Black Panther Party paper, the Oracle, among others), influential personalities, (Alan Watts, Bill Graham, Ken Kesey, to name just a few) a music revolution (including such icons as the Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin), and no fewer than five college campuses. Posters were the medium of choice, and poster stores enjoyed a heyday that has never been approximated. It was the perfect time for East Totem West to create, produce and distribute its vital artwork.
But as Alan Bisbort explains, “the story of East Totem West is not the story of the 1960s, or even that sliver of it fondly recalled as the summer of love. It is the story of one group of pilgrims who found themselves in one another’s ‘ hippie company’ for a brief burst of time in a very fertile place and then moved on, dispersed like spores from a magical pod, to other callings. The end products of their collaboration are what you hold in your hands.”