Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In Praise of Excellence

It’s that time of year--graduation season is in full swing and you can watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN. Here are some examples of award certificates before they were overrun by cartoon bees, smiling stars, and high-fiving books. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fishs Eddy Social Media Portraits

Reverse side: “Well why not?”

It had been ages since I’d visited Fishs Eddy. The tableware emporium on 19th St. in Manhattan, is as packed as ever with its mixture of vintage and vintage-inspired restaurant china, barware, linens, and serving accessories. And those vintage paintings.

Though the thrift shop portraits have always imparted a family-attic mustiness to the decor, they have traditionally not been for sale. Now, however, you can take some of these anonymous characters from the past home with you on a set of ten coasters or printed on a tote bag. And it turns out that online there is a selection of originals for purchase. A few have also been pressed into service as business cards (they would make great posters) encouraging customers to connect via social media.

I picked these cards up at the register …

Reverse side: “… or fans”

Reverse side: “… sweet.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Afterlife of a Magazine

Sean Miller's National Geographic bookshelf was a finalist in 
an inhabitat green design contest.

Congrats to all the National Magazine Award winners announced last week. Especially to Time which won magazine of the year. But let’s face it. No matter how many awards a magazine wins, there are really very few you actually (or even should) keep.

So what happens to magazines after they’ve been “consumed?” For the most part, used magazines are tossed, and though fully recyclable, 80% are thrown out as trash. Taken together, magazines and newspapers account for about one quarter of our landfills.

So while 20% of magazines are being recycled, there is a teensy tiny fraction of magazines that are actually being upcycled and repurposed, mostly by eco-friendly/unemployed crafters. It’s not at all unusual to find bowls, beads, bags, and notebooks all fashioned from discarded magazines using techniques ranging from bookbinding to Victorian bead-making. Though glossy fashion magazines, of course, are favored for all the colorful pictures and ads, when it comes to individual titles, there’s only one magazine that “owns the category,” as they say. There’s National Geographic and then there’s everyone else. Take a quick look on Etsy and you’ll find envelopes, stickers, notebooks, and yards of garlands, all repurposed from Nat Geos of both yesteryear and today.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is about the brand (I’m sure it’s been case studied) that always made National Geographic the magazine you never threw out. Perhaps it was color photography at a time when the world was black and white--or the incredible maps, or the yellow spines. Or even the authoritative title, which no focus group would ever rate as catchy or memorable. One physical quality that probably contributed to its staying power could be, literally, its physical staying power. Unlike many other early-mid 20th Century magazines that simply crumbled with age, National Geographic didn’t fall apart, or disintegrate in quite the same way. And in groups, the enduring tablet-like form factor has always lent itself to such satisfying stacks.

Over the years National Geographic has won a National Magazine Award in probably every award category for which it is eligible, including Magazine of the Year, which it won last year. So even though it has absolutely no need for nonawards of my own conjuring, it will always remain the top spot-holder of the non-category, “Most Repurposed.”

Map-covered school chair/desk

Hang tags

Woven coasters

Picture frame

Collaged handmade sketchbook

Pine cone ornament

Gift wrapping

The iconic yellow magazines as decor

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On the Case

These trompe l’oiel iPhone and iPad cases are by Zero Gravity and are on sale right now at Fab (as they most certainly are). The thing is, how would I ever find my phone if it looked like yet another open chocolate bar on the sofa?

Friday, May 4, 2012

D-Crit 2012, “Eventually Everything”

D-Crit, the graduate program in design criticism at School of Visual Arts, has just minted their third class of MFA students. “Eventually Everything,” a half-day conference featuring talks by the students and invited design professionals took place this past Wednesday. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend for work reasons. I was able to live-stream the last hour or so which was terrific, but not quite the same as being there in person.

In Tara Gupta’s critique of health club design she analysed the “you are being watched” décor of nonstop mirrors and glass as reminiscent of the philosophy behind the panopticon prison design. And that’s not the only thing prison-like about health clubs. Turns out the exercise machines have more to do with torture devices than mere looks. Treadmills were popular in early Victorian era British prisons. Inmates walked for hours as enforced labor to power mills, and the mind-numbing monotony was thought to be a most effective form of punishment.

I was astonished to learn in Barbara Eldredge’s “Missing the Modern Gun: Object Ethics in Collections of Design,” that while we have enough guns in this country to arm every man, woman, and child, NOT ONE single design museum in the U.S. has a modern gun in its collection. Talk about denial!!!

You can read summaries of the talks here, and the videos should be available for viewing sometime in the next two weeks. You can view video of the 2011 and 2010 conferences there as well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day, Moscow 1927

You still have about two more weeks to see the show, Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art (at MoMA) before it closes on May 14. The exhibit assembles material from the exhibit of Rivera murals some 80 years ago. In 1931, MoMA brought Rivera to New York, where he, with the help of two assistants, created the murals on site, at the museum, a mere six weeks before the exhibit opened. Five murals were ready for the opening and three more were created during the run of the show.

In addition to the mural panels, preparatory sketches and supporting archival material on view, there are 45 pages from a Rivera sketchbook. In 1927, The Soviet government invited the Mexican muralist for the May Day celebrations on the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The watercolor and crayon sketches document the crowds the pageantry, and an ordinary family preparing for the festivities of the day. The connection of the May Day sketches to the MoMA murals, however, was not aesthetic, but financial. It was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s purchase of the sketchbook that helped fund Rivera’s trip to New York for the 1931 show.

Kevin Kinsella of the blog New First Unexpected points out that the sketchbook had another mural connection, though not one related to MoMA. Apparently, Rivera was to create a mural in the reception room of the Red Army’s High Command. The May Day sketchbook, though impressive as visual reportage, was intended rather, as preparatory work for the commission. 

MoMA has all the sketchbook pages online.

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