Archive for October, 2011

Slow Boat to China

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

A great episode of the Twilight Zone is Time Enough at Last with Burgess Meredith. Meredith plays a man who loves to read, but is annoyingly interrupted by those around him. He survives a nuclear war while reading in a bank vault, and then discovers a post-apocalyptic world with no people and all the time to read for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, he drops his glasses and is left with time and books, but cannot see them. I have a similar irony, albeit less dramatic.

I love dishes and drinking glasses. I have too many of these. But, I live in a region where earthquakes cause breakage. I’m also concerned that my guests will break a glass or dish. So I keep the collections in a cabinet, and use the Melmac plastic dinnerware. I typically say, “I know you won’t mind using plastic, but we’re all family and can be casual.” Of course I say this to everyone regardless of my relationship and carefully watch the dish cabinet. I realize this is selfish and stupid. Is my goal to maintain a complete set of Russell Wright Iroquois Casual dinnerware intact until I die?

One of my absolute favorite sets is Salem China Company’s Pat Prichard Nostalgic Old America from 1956. Viktor Schreckengost designed the forms, and Pat Prichard created the art. Old Gloucester is a fantastic collection of New England forms such as clipper ships, rooster weathervanes, baked beans, and a seaside village. I guess baked beans are big in New England. Old Comstock depicts a western scene with happy horses, old west saloons, and a stagecoach. Clearly, this is New England nostalgia from another time. Unlike the HBO mini-series John Adams (yes related), there is no depiction of surgery with no anesthesia. And on Old Comstock, unlike Deadwood, there is no whoring or liberal use of the “C” word (and I don’t mean China).

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Gloucester, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

Salem China Dinnerware, Old Comstock, Pat Prichard, 1956, detail

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Just Say No to Safe

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

 

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Once in awhile, we’re lucky to have a confluence of events that create an epiphany. These are mine: Marian Bantjes’ documentary by Lynda.com, a lecture at the AIGA Pivot Conference, a hellish week of one crisis after another, and the German newspaper Die Welt. Let me explain.

I’m sick to death of “safe.” Somewhere along the way, I forgot that my job is to create wonder, excitement, thought, and challenge the status quo. During the recession, I found myself acceding to committee decisions and research that led to benign and banal solutions. Marian always reminds me that I am able to make whatever I want. Our job as designers is to make extraordinary, not nice and forgetful. At the Pivot conference, there was a subtext that graphic design was no longer relevant, individual vision must be assimilated into collaboration, and artifacts were about “delight” with the same weight as a nice floral arrangement. One speaker relentlessly hammered the audience with factually flawed doom and gloom, suggesting that charts, submission of the individual, and meetings were the future of the profession. Let me off now if that is true.

On Friday, I reached a snapping point. Every job was a rush, every deadline critical. The designers in the office were panicked. So I stopped everything. We are designers, not a quick print shop. Stop, think, make something great. If it takes more than five minutes, good. Of course, everyone went right back to work, but with a sigh of relief. Sometimes it’s good to remember we are not performing neurosurgery and a patient is on the table with half a skull.

On Saturday, my oldest and best friend Erica Shapeero, who has the most fabulous life of anyone I know, returned from a trip to London and Munich with Die Welt. This issue was designed to honor an exhibition by Ellsworth Kelly. The culture editor, Cornelius Tittel, convinced the newspaper to run Kelly shapes in place of all photographs. It’s genius, brave, and uncompromising. How do you convince a newspaper to swap the soccer image with an Ellsworth shape? Unbelievable and wonderful. This reminded me that I started as a designer to make incredible things, challenge others, and myself, not to make nice, listen to banal strategy, and trade remarkable for benign. There is a reason this blog is named burning settlers cabin, not the quiet settlers cabin. Light the house on fire. Fuck safe.

Die Welt newspaper, sports section

Die Welt newspaper, detail

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper,Financial section

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

The Angry Dog and Soft Core Porn

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

It's 7:30am and my hair really does fall that way

Last week at the AIGA Pivot Conference, Command X was, as always, a huge success. The young professionals who are contestants are the bravest people on the planet. There is no way in hell I would get up in front of 1,500 designers and defend my choices. This year’s group, Spencer Charles, Wendy Hu, Matt Hunsberger, Susan Murphy, Mark Nizinski, Jesse Reed, and Sarah Sawtell are remarkable designers with nerves of steel. The judges, Ellen Lupton, DJ Stout, Michael Vanderbyl, and guest judges, Karl Heiselman, Chip Kidd, and Matt Munoz had the unenviable job of determining who moved on to the next challenge. Michael Bierut hosted the competition, and I mentored and filmed the behind the scenes updates.

Behind the scenes, drama ensued. Michael Vanderbyl was reprimanded by an attendee for suggesting the use of a shamrock on a piece. Supposedly this is deeply offensive to Irish people. I asked Command X contestant, Susan Murphy, who is an actual Irish person, if she was offended, and she was fine with it. In fact, she suggested many names and comments that could be quite offensive to the Irish.

And then another speaker attacked my great friend Bonnie Siegler for Command X. According to an onlooker at the party where the bloodthirsty attack occurred, Bonnie stood defenseless as this person became increasingly furious. As this onlooker said, “it was like a chained angry dog who was let off its leash. There was spitting, snarling, and lunging.” I didn’t realize that “fun” is clearly a filthy word we should never use. Design should be laborious and we should refrain from making artifacts. Charts and meetings are the future.

As usual, nothing shocking happened to me, except for the scandal in Marian Bantjes room. Marian needed to learn how to tie a tie. I can’t do it backwards, so I sat behind Marian to teach her. The result was a photograph that looks like a cover of Viva or Oui magazine, or a soft-core porn film. Thank God it was Marian and I wasn’t teaching one of the Command X contestants how to tie a tie.

Sean Adams, Sarah Sawtell, Mark Nizinski, Wendy Hu, Michael Vanderbyl, Susan Murphy, Matt Hunsberger, Spencer Charles

Our brave contestants and worthy judges

Ellen Lupton, D.J. Stout, Michael Vanderbyl, and Matthew Munoz

Sean Adams and Jesse Reed

Sarah Sawtell in a groovy motion shot

Me harassing Spencer with bad ideas

Susan was truly scared of me and my color suggestions

Wendy attacked by the camera crew

Susan Murphy (a real Irish person who likes shamrocks)

If you don't like someone standing over you, try a camera crew

Marian and I and the "ties and knots" episode

Numerology

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

I love numerals. I don’t know why, but I love the chance to use them. Maybe I like them because they are another language than letters that is pure and universal. Or, perhaps I just think anything looks better with a big numeral. This attraction leads me to photograph numbers around the world. As usual, while other people are photographing their families, I am taking photos of the gate numbers at the Honolulu Airport, or a street number in New Orleans Square. The title sequence for Lost in Space is a number lover’s heaven. Last week, I worked on a spread of only numbers for the Academy’s annual report. That was a good day.

The Danger of Beauty

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Niece Izabelle Adams

I’ve been working on a lecture for the AIGA Pivot Conference in Phoenix this week. I’m scheduled to talk about the history of AIGA, which is kind of like a lecture about the history of the United Auto Workers. So I’m working doubly hard to find great images. And now I have them. Charles Dana Gibson was one of the founders in 1914. Charles Dana Gibson is know for creating the “Gibson” girl. He based this illustration on my grandmother’s great-cousin Irene, who was his wife.

This led me to think about all the amazing stories I’ve heard about the women in my family. For instance, one of the earliest distant grandmothers to come to America was Cicely Reynolds, who arrived in 1610 abroad the Swan when she was 14. She was married five times and is credited as bringing “flirting” to the new world. There seems to be a very strong gene that runs along the maternal line. The women all look alike, going back generations. They all seem to be rather intelligent and witty, and dangerously beautiful. Since this is my blog, I can indulge myself and talk about this.

The latest addition is my niece Izabelle. She’s only thirteen, but 5’9” and beautiful. I’ve recommended that my brother and sister-in-law build a closet model on the closet in Carrie, but they are too nice. Like generations before, she will likely break many hearts.

My mother, Sylvia Adams Thomson

Grandma Janice Anne Booker Flint

Sister Heather Adams

Aunt Barbara De' Artez

My mother

Cousin Anne Moen Bullitt

CousinNancy Lancaster

Cousin Amelie Rives Chanler Troubestkoy

Cousin Sarah Landon Rives

Cousin Nancy Witcher Langhorne (Lady Astor)

Cousin Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur (Pres. Chester Arthur's wife)

Gibson Girl, Irene Langhorne Gibson

Great Aunt Sally Cary Fairfax (President Washington's great love)