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Project With Herman Miller Up for Award
February 22, 2006

Recently, a Calvin professor of art, several of his current and former students, and plant workers from Herman Miller Hickory in Spring Lake teamed up to created a permanent silk screen artwork for the entrance to the furniture plant’s employee café.

That artwork is part of a redesign of the café by local firm Integrated Architecture, a project that has been entered in the interior architecture category of the American Institute of Architects Grand Valley (AIAGV) Honor Awards.

“We have no idea if it’s going to win,” said Trish Spaulding, the director of public relations for Integrated Architecture, which submitted the award. “It’s just a cool project.”

The awards will be announced March 11, 2006.

The design for the artwork is composed of repeated photographic images representing the two office furniture lines produced at the plant: Resolve and Ethospace. The completed 8’ x 90’ silk screen extends like a banner over the café entrance facing the production floor of the plant.

Because of his printmaking expertise, Calvin art professor Adam Wolpa was drafted for the project by former student David Malda, a 2004 Calvin graduate and Integrated Architecture employee.

Wolpa proposed that Herman Miller buy printmaking equipment to enable him and his students to produce the 24 panels of the 8’ x 90’ screen print. The furniture manufacturer would keep the finished work, and Calvin would keep the equipment.

“They were getting a really good deal because if they were to hire an artist, it would cost at least three times as much for this artwork,” he said. “It was a good deal for us because we got all this equipment we didn’t have.”

Wolpa also came up with the production schedule that would allow the workers at Herman Miller Hickory to take part in making the silk screen panels.

The professor-student team produced the artwork on a very compressed schedule, beginning with Calvin’s Christmas break.

“As soon as classes were over, we had them drop off the panels,” Wolpa said. “We had a one-week window. And we spent the whole week in here, day and night. We kind of took turns bringing in food.”

The production of the print was complicated because some the students were learning the silk screen process as they went.

“Also, we were working with all this new equipment,” Wolpa said. “It was great, but it also involved a lot of troubleshooting.”

Professor and students produced 21 of the 24 panels (each composed of six separate screens) then moved the operation out to the Spring Lake plant, so that workers who would be viewing the artwork from the plant floor everyday could participate in its creation. A handful of Herman Miller plant workers showed on a Saturday to help produce the final three panels.

“By the last couple of hours, they got the hang of it,” Wolpa said. “They definitely learned something. And I could tell they were having fun with it.”

Spaulding, too, was enthusiastic about the Herman Miller workers’ involvement with the screen print project.

“When you see the opportunities in the community and bring them out, then you have a wonderful happening that brings out the best in everyone,” she said.

The printmaking project also provided Wolpa, who has earned both an MA and MFA in printmaking from the University of Iowa, with another artistic opportunity. He was asked to print a screen created by legendary graphic designer Alexander Girard, Herman Miller’s onetime fabric designer. (Among other things, Girard was responsible for the ’60s-era designs of fabrics and logo for Braniff Airlines.)

The image of a giant peach, printed by Wolpa, now hangs in the completed employee café at Herman Miller Hickory.

“I knew he was a special guy and that it was an honor to print his screen,” he said. “I got more excited about it after I saw his work and responded to it.”

He is also pleased with the entire outcome of the Herman Miller project, mainly because it reinforces the philosophy underlying his creative process.

“A lot of my own work is collaborative,” Wolpa said. “And this project really relates to the way I make art. I’m interested in the practice of it, the way it’s lived out. The artwork is not the images or prints up there. The artwork is the process. To me, the collaborative aspect, being involved with those people at the plant, that’s the most interesting part. That’s the real stuff. The pictures up there are just pictures.”

Wolpa, who plans to use the new equipment to teach a printmaking class during Calvin’s January Interim next year, relished the whole experience.

“We had to meet with the plant managers. We had to meet with the staff managers,” he said. “The first time when I went out there and put a little visitor sticker on, it was great."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson