Now that Dave has traveled from coast to coast, he's headed back East, with several stops in the top half of the country. Portland was a blast, but now it's Mountain Time: the first stops on the way back are Denver and Boise. Keep up-to-date with all of the adventures on Route 77 by following @DaveSeliger on Twitter!
After surviving the craziest thunderstorm I have ever driven through, I finally arrived in Denver, CO to visit Maura Gramzinski and Mark Veljkovich at Red Camper, a hand-made bag company with an interesting twist. "I was the child of two major hippies who traveled a lot when I was a kid in a red camper," said Gramzinski. When Gramzinski's grandparents passed away some time ago, the one-time photographer inherited her grandparents' 35mm slide collection from their numerous journeys around the world. A creative impulse led to a handbag made from the slides Gramzinski and her family had deemed not worth keeping. This handbag, with a little prodding from an industrial designer boyfriend, led to conversations with a waterbed company that resulted in a proprietary process for sealing slides inside plastic sheets that could be sewn together into a bag.
Red Camper's Maura Gramzinski and Mark Veljkovich
The prototype bag
Gramzinski finds slides at auctions and estate sales or even bought by the pound on eBay. And, no, Gramzinski is no longer using her grandparents' slides, as she is quick to point out. However, since her slide handbag project has gained fame on the Internet, Gramzinski receives packages of slides in the mail, with some requests for the slides to be included in the bags. "I want the collection of slides to tell a story," said Gramzinski, whether a fictional one or one actually from someone's past. In a strange way, this makes me think of Instagram, if not the physical versions of memories that Instagram is helping to replace.
Beyond the inclusion of slides, the most idiosyncratic part of Red Camper's product lines are the naked ladies. "My grandfather was a jokester," said Gramzinski, "and in every slideshow there would be at least five naked ladies sporadically placed throughout to make sure we were paying attention." Gramzinski had duplicates made of eight of her grandfather's naked lady slide collection in order to include one in each of her handbags. "It's about having a sense of humor and curiosity," said Gramzinski. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find film developers to make the duplicated slides since many consider it pornography.
Although handbags made from slides was certainly the idea that prompted the creation of Red Camper, it is only the beginning of the studio's product offerings. Laptop bags, made out of vintage car upholstery, came next, continuing the thread of road trip nostalgia and story, while greeting cards highlighting "awesome slides that might be overlooked" serve as a gateway product for Red Camper. Yet there is a worry that Gramzinski and Veljkovich will be "pegged as the slide people."
Red Camper has a larger mission beyond simply making products, though. "The idea of going somewhere and bringing home a souvenir has turned into buying something cheap and Chinese," said Gramzinski. She has a point. Why go visit a state on the other side of America just to buy a bunch of trinkets that were not even made in this country? I have made it a point to not buy many souvenirs on this road trip, because souvenirs take up precious space in my car (although I am very thankful for all the swag from the firms I've visited.) Of the few things I have bought so far, one of my favorites is a vintage tie with a felt monster sewn onto it by a local artist in Tucson, AZ. So, in Gramzinski's version of my souvenir experience, "Why not a hand-tooled belt from Tennessee and then you would be able to tell the story of that creator and have it mean something?"
Gramzinski described the future of Red Camper as a series of partnerships with local artisans and craftspeople to create products that are "representative of a certain region" within the US in order to "connect something you bought with where you bought it" and to tell that story. "I want it to head to the point where Red Camper covers the segment of American travel and souvenirs," said Gramzinski, "but nothing cheesy." The idea is certainly one I welcome.
My first interaction with Rick Griffith was Griffith screeching to a halt in his beat-up white pickup truck in front of MATTER, his graphic design studio, laying on the horn and yelling, "Get in!" He punched the gas before I even had a chance to buckle up, as Griffith was in the middle of DJing brunch at a local restaurant. Although his graphic design work has made Griffith a well-known figure in the Denver area, if not nationally, it was music that first introduced Griffith to design. "I've been DJing longer than I've been designing," said Griffith. The typography on the cover of Sound - On - Sound by Bill Nelson's Red Noise was the initial spark that encouraged Griffith to explore this other facet of creativity. "I don't know what they call the guys who make album covers, but I want to be one," said Griffith of his thought process many decades ago.
Griffith began researching design and getting his hands on any books on typography he could find. One journal in particular, Herbert Spencer's Typographica, was extremely influential. "It opened up amazing spaces for me," said Griffith. When he was 21, Griffith moved to New York City to be in the center of design, working at a copy shop around the corner from Milton Glaser's studio. "I would give the interns at Milton Glaser books I'd collected to get autographed," said Griffith. Although the two stay in touch, to this day Giffith and Glaser have never crossed paths, except on Facebook.
New York City provided a self-made education for Griffith, with art history, architecture, and graphic design on every street corner. "I always decided that design for me would be capital D design, not just graphic design," said Griffith. The interest in music came full circle when three of Griffith's first clients were record labels, while the other two were theaters. After a stint as a production artist in the largest advertising agency in the world, Griffith founded his eponymous studio near Pentagram before eventually starting MATTER.
What makes MATTER's work stand out is that it is an amalgamation of retro and modern design in what Griffith terms nostalgia. "I don't think it's very difficult for a designer who studied a specific period of time to be nostalgic," said Griffith, "and what I'm nostalgic for is the turn of century." By "turn of the century," Griffith means the years preceding and following both 1900 and 2000, as these years were "highly experimental periods" drawn from an "attitude" about the possibilities of the very near future. Unfortunately, many of the extraordinary ideas to come out of these time periods went unrealized (personally, I'm still waiting for my jetpack). "I've enjoyed the idea that I can fully realize these ideas from one hundred years ago in my own design journey," said Griffith. "The sacrifice is being consistent when people didn't understand what it was I did."
By his own account, MATTER's work is "incidental," yet the "big and weird" studio itself is perhaps the end not the means. Although the studio produces work for companies and events big and small, it is the "bizarre experimental component" that is the centerpiece, which includes the ten printing presses Griffith has assembled. "I never got told what the wrong or right studio would be," said Griffith. "I've made the thing that made sense to me and built for my enjoyment for all of my years."
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Ryan Lascano and Jodie Thiel
While I was in Boise, I sat down with Ryan Lascano and Jodie Thiel (who worked on the Waterworld show at Universal Studios!!) from the local AIGA chapter to discuss the Boise design scene. A large influx of recent graduates in the past few years has helped to supplant the "old white conservative male" vibe that once dominated Boise. The AIGA has sought to help "ease the transition" from college to the working world to support this shift in talent, providing business and on-the-job skills that most students do not get in school.
However, a lack of clients in the area diminishes the ability of small studios to prosper, so larger design studios are the status quo despite "younger designers all wanting to start their own agencies or to go freelance." Add in the fact that "Boise hasn't quite caught up with the rest of the country in terms of the value of designers" and the job market is not as promising as other design havens in the country. Yet designers from outside of Boise attracted to the vibrant city are helping to promote the value of design to the larger corporations in town.
Route77: Dave Seliger Embarks on the Great American Roadtrip