Skip to main content

Don May papers

Identifier: Wing-Modern-MS-May

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, artwork, and other files of Chicago and California designer and artist Don May.

The bulk of the collection consists of printed pieces designed by May during his professional career (1930s-1980s). Some project files include their mechanical parts (color separations, press proofs of type and/or illustrations) and some contain roughs, thumbnail sketches, mock-ups or finished artwork. Files on the production of Conrad Hilton’s Inspirations of an Innkeeper also include correspondence between May and Hilton and invoices for the book’s production. There are extensive biographical materials including clippings of articles about May, personal items, typescripts and outlines of talks given before professional and other groups, teaching materials for classes, and published and unpublished articles. The collection also includes photos of May, his family, and some clients and professional associates; there are also copies of a fifty-year personal correspondence with Don’s brother, the noted psychologist Rollo May.


  • Creation: 1927-2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1935 - 1982



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Don May papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Don May papers are the property of the Newberry Library. Copyright to the original works of Don May is the property of the May Family Trust. Other copyrights may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from the collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Don May

Chicago and California graphic designer, illustrator, artist, author, and teacher.

Donald Richard May was born in Tecumseh, Michigan, on March 10, 1911. He attended Michigan State University (1932–1934) and the American Academy of Art in Chicago (1935–1937). In 1936 he worked in the catalogue design department of Sears Roebuck & Co. May was the promotion art director at the Chicago Daily News from1938 to 1941, during which time he published a guide to advertising graphic layouts, 101 Roughs (1939, reprinted 1942 and 1951). After a brief stint as a designer of public service messages at the Carson Pirie Scott department store (1941–1942), May became the layout director for Esquire magazine (1942–1944) and was also responsible for the design and typography for Esquire’s newspaper and trade publication series, “Heroic Episodes of World War II.” He formed his own business in Chicago, The Design Counsel, in 1944. In 1945 he moved to Philadelphia to become the first art director for the Curtis Publishing Company version of Holiday magazine. In 1947 he left Holiday and drove cross-country with his family to Anaheim, California, where he re-established The Design Counsel and spent the rest of his career as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. He also painted in watercolor and oils, taught painting, drawing, and design, and ran a summer art camp for children and adults. As a designer, May worked for a wide variety of clients but his single largest account was the Hilton Hotel Corporation. He was artist, designer, and frequently copywriter for the annual Hilton Hotels Christmas messages published in several national magazines from 1952 until 1983. He was responsible for all the graphics for the Beverly Hilton Hotel (opened in 1955). May also worked directly for Conrad N. Hilton, designing his personal Christmas cards, stationery, and Hilton’s book, Inspirations of an Innkeeper (1963), which May conceived and partially illustrated. Other major clients were Arden Farms, the California Bank, Grantham Industries, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, Mission Pak, Orthodontists’ Research & Mfg. Corp. (ORMCO), Security First National Bank of Los Angeles and Palm Springs, and Vitaminerals, Inc. May also did a variety of design work for Catholic institutions in southern California, including Loyola University (Los Angeles).


31 Linear Feet (34 boxes)


Commercial design work and professional papers of May, a designer and art director for several Chicago-based publications. May later moved his practice to California where he became a regional painter as well as a designer.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1929-1986
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Client files, 1937-1986
Boxes 2-14
Series 3: Other Works, 1939-1986
Boxes 14-16
Series 4: Biographical/Personal files, 1927-2009
Boxes 16-19
Series 5: Oversize Client files, 1941-1986
Boxes 20-30
Series 6: Oversize Client files, 1949-1984
Box 31
Series 7: Oversize Biographical files, 1939-1998
Box 32
Series 8: Appendix: Additional Client and Biographical files, 1929-2005
Box 33
Series 9: Magazines and Artifacts, 1941-1963
Box 34

Collection Stack Location

4a 29 3-4


Gift of the May Family Trust, July 28, 2005; additional gifts, 2009-2011.

Separated Materials

Books authored or designed by May and a few he owned have been removed to the cataloged Wing collection. These include multiple copies of Conrad Hilton’s Inspirations of an Innkeeper in varying formats.

Processed by

Robert Williams, 2005-2011.

Inventory of the Don May papers, 1927-2009, bulk 1935-1982
Robert Williams
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States