2007 In-HOWse Design Award Winners: Best of Show

Material World

By Bryn Mooth

Let’s get this on the table first: Most in-house creatives would kill to design with the raw materials that their peers who work in museums get to play with.

But they’d be hard-pressed to create a piece with all the richness, complexity, depth and craftsmanship of this exhibition catalog—even if they started with a bunch of beautiful artwork. And those qualities merited “Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets its Maker” Best of Show honors in HOW’s inaugural competition for in-house design.

Dan Saal, director of design and publications, notes that the catalog was a bit unusual in his work for the Milwaukee Art Museum­—because the artist is living. “It’s one thing to design a catalog about an artist who’s deceased or with whom you have no interaction,” Saal says. This project, however, allowed him to collaborate with Peteran, a furniture artist of uncommon vision. Saal says, “When you have close interaction with the artist, as I did with Gord, it changes everything.”

Peteran’s work and philosophy were hugely influential on Saal’s design approach. “Gord’s work has many contradictions to it,” Saal says. “It can be fragmentary and unified at the same time. It has many complexities and layers in material and concept. It was important for me to reflect all of that in the catalog and, most definitely, in the materials.”

Saal mixed heavy chipboard, a textured vellum-like stock and a slick white paper in the same way that Peteran mixes wood and found objects. He used gatefold pages to instill a sense of discovery and surprise.For the artist, sketching is as important as making furniture, so Saal interspersed flysheets with Peteran’s pencil drawings. Building a book with so many elements and materials required Saal to create dozens of storyboards showing how it would all come together, and he cites Mike Fox of West Allis, WI-based printer Fox Co. as a real asset to the job.

Still, it was the collaboration between designer and artist that elevated the project. “There’s a fine line to walk when you’re working on an artist’s catalog,” Saal says. “It can be tricky when you try to create what they would create. In this case, designing the catalog like Gord might design a piece of furniture allowed the reader to experience Gord’s creative process and get a more involved glimpse into his personality and conceptual artistic approach.”

“Once you open it, you can’t stop wanting to look at it more,” says judge Jeff Norgord. But the judges weren’t the only ones impressed by the project. “At a lecture at Cranbrook,” Saal says, “Gord referred to the catalog as not just a book about his works of art, but a book like one of his works of art. I took that as the highest compliment I could have received.”

Title Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets Its Maker |
Company/Organization Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; www.mam.org
Creative team Glenn Adamson, Gord Peteran, Dan Saal, Elaine Brodie, Gary Michael Dault, David Dorenbaum
Printer Fox Co.