It began with a simple question: What is the graphic culture of Toledo? The exploration of that topic by 13 BGSU graphic designers has led them down some unexpected avenues that may help the struggling city repair its self-image. The journey also resulted in a book of fresh and original visual takes on the town that Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and his delegation took with them on their trip to London recently for the most-livable city competition.
Amy Fidler and Jenn Stucker, School of Art, led a workshop last summer in which they began by asking the 11 participants to think about the images that come to mind when one visualizes cities like Los Angeles (bright colors, palm trees, eclectic buildings), Miami (pastels, Art Deco, swimsuits) or New York (dark spray paint, taxicabs, skyscrapers).
And Toledo? At first, a blank, then . . . gray, Lake Erie, and maybe Katie Holmes or Jamie Farr.
“That is not much of a visual palette for representing a city whose metro area includes over 600,000 people,” Fidler and Stucker wrote in the foreword to Toledo Remanufactured: Extracting a City’s Graphic Identity. “Visual expression lives everywhere else. Does it die in Toledo? We don’t think so.”
Meeting in the neutral territory of a barn at Fidler’s Monclova home, the artists, who ranged from a sophomore to two recent graduates, talked about their own conceptions of and assumptions about Toledo and then set out on a series of field trips, first in a group and then on their own. They “looked at the spaces in between” the more well-known sites of Toledo, Fidler said, and found an undiscovered world of revealing detail, shape and color.
The artists then each focused on an aspect of the city, from its multitude of churches to its downtown windows to its culture of special desserts, as Zack Seuberling saw it, and came up with striking visual images for chapters in the book. These include Fidler’s tongue-in-cheek proposition that the city’s many near-deserted shopping malls be reconceptualized as metroparks to a series of quirky images based on the shape of Lucas County.
The book has proved popular with local Toledoans and “expatriates” alike, she said. It has provoked two types of reactions: the “Yes!” of recognition and the surprise of getting a fresh look at something the viewer had not really seen before. Toledo Remanufactured can be purchased at www.toledoremanufactured.com. The mayor’s office bought 300 copies for distribution.
While the group did not find a common graphic culture, “There is beauty there,” Fidler said. “You just have to look at it in a positive way. It’s not glamorous, but it’s accessible.
“The book ends up being very positive,” she said, adding that she and Stucker did not intentionally attempt to influence the outcome.
"It is important to note that the students undertook this project without receiving college credit or monetary compensation,” Stucker said. “Their participation and dedication to this intensive four-week project was a wonderful example of their passionate interest in their field of study."
A different view
Seuberling, who with Garret Bodette traversed Route 2 from one end of Lucas County to the other, taking photos at every mile, said the class gave him not only a new method of working to add to his repertoire of skills, but a new way of seeing. “Things I wouldn’t have noticed before were now glaring at me,” he said. Being from Cincinnati, he added, he had not explored the city much until he took the workshop, but “the class changed my perspective a lot. Now I really like Toledo, especially the downtown. I found my viewpoint in it.”
Alyson Moutz used the geometric shapes she saw in the city to create new design. “I liked finding the small things that had their own significant beauty because most of these patterns and shapes people take for granted because they pass them every day, whether they're walking to school or the store or they drive by it on their way to church. They're the little things that make the city unique.”
As active members of the arts community, Stucker and Fidler are eager to help rehabilitate Toledoans’ negative self-image. They have participated in the Downtown Windows project, sponsored by the city and the Greater Toledo Arts Commission to create art for empty storefront windows (See www.designerid.com/portfolio.php?id=8312),as well as the annual Artomatic 419 Lite exhibit sponsored by the commission, where Toledo Remanufactured was displayed this year.
The two designers co-founded the local chapter of the American Institute for Graphic Arts, now known as the Professional Association for Design. The chapter already has 70 members, including representatives of the major design firms in the area, and has partnered with the city’s Live Work Create Toledo initiative to attract artists to the area.
Stucker and Fidler feel strongly that, with the disappearance of many of the city’s former top corporations, local design has been bypassed in favor of work from New York or Chicago. “We want to reintroduce local design talent to the area and pull business back in,” Fidler explained. “We hope to unite the design community and also elevate the quality of work.”
The two plan to hold a second workshop next summer and “would like to attract people from different disciplines and make it a collaborative project,” Fidler said. To learn more, visit www.sweatspace.com.
“We hope to get college-age people interested and invested in the city’s future, so they don’t see the need for flight. We hope we can inspire them to resist the peer pressure to leave,” she added.
In addition to making use of the book to promote the city, the mayor’s office honored Fidler, Stucker and their students at the Toledo Pride meeting in October.