Graphic Design: The Thinking Heart Project

I recently completed a graphic design and illustration project that is worth sharing. One of the interesting aspects of doing graphic design work is learning about the subject of one’s commissioned work. The Thinking Heart project is centered around the life and loves of Esther “Etty” Hillesum, a young Jewish Dutch woman (1914-43) who perished in the holocaust at Auschwitz. She left behind writings in the form of letters and a journal, which have been published in the book, Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life – The Diaries and Letters from Westerbork.

Martin Steingesser, Portland, Maine’s First Poet Laureate (2007-09,) has created what he calls “poetic variations of Etty’s words for performance by an ensemble of two performers and a cellist.” The ensemble has captured their spoken word performance on a disc. It was for the graphics of this CD project that I was commissioned. Steingesser’s ensemble has been invited to perform The Thinking Heart at the International Etty Hillesum Congress in Belgium in January of 2014, in celebration of Etty Hillesum’s 100th birthday.


Cover art: I couldn’t help but notice that Etty’s hairline suggested a heart shape. Normally I would automatically reject the heart motif as cutesy and overused, but given the title of the project, it seemed too fitting to ignore. Martin and I worked on keeping it subtle.

A Glimpse of Etty Hillesum

In the summer of 1939, near the village of Westerbork, war-neutral Dutch authorities opened a camp to receive Jewish refugees coming from Germany. The first refugees arrived on October 9th of that year. Tragically, when Nazi forces later invaded the Netherlands, they eventually took control of the camp, and turned Westerbork into an official “transit camp.” By the end of the war some 103,000 Jews were transferred from Westerbork to Auschwitz or Sobibor, in Poland.

During the unfolding of the war’s events, Etty refused to go into hiding, choosing instead to provide support for the people preparing themselves for transport. She wished to “share in her people’s fate.” Etty secured a position with the Westerbork section of the Jewish Council in July of 1942. A year later, when the special status of the Jewish Council was ended, half of the personnel became camp internees. When given the choice to return to Amsterdam, she chose to become a camp internee and remain with her father, mother, and brother, who were interned there. Etty and her family were put to death at Auschwitz within months of her decision.


Below is a detail of the inside art including Etty’s words…


“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.” – Etty Hillesum


You can learn more about Etty Hillesum at
There is also a Facebook page, Pilgrimage to the Heart


2 comments on “Graphic Design: The Thinking Heart Project

  1. Jan Avery says:


    I love your posts. Etty’s quotes are thought provoking– and sad. I cannot believe that people in this time (now) are denying this ever happened… It is (and was) atrocious to say the least.

    Hope you and Molly are doing well– I’m looking forward to your show in November.

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