Shamefully, I have been way too negligent on posting on this site. Poor excuses are better than none, but I have been working on marketing my new novel, ‘The Awakening of Russell Henderson’. I hate doing this marketing thing although, it is so important to try to get folks to buy it, read it, and hopefully give me a rating or, better yet, a review. I shall try to do better to post some interesting blather here in the future. Please follw me, and better yet, buy my new book. It has gotten some good reviews already.
Pancho Villa raided my dreams as
I feigned sleep that night naked
in the dry Sonoran Desert south
of the sacred Sedona vortex.
How many days I wandered lost
forgetting the rotting wooden ship from
that distant dead star we
sailed from a light year ago.
Now I spend blue sky days gone
from writing songs of youth when
time stood still & quiet for
a life not yet ended or begun.
Do not wait to write your music or
write your poetry or sing your songs or
run your races or to love deeply for
immortality is a seductive mistress.
After the four weeks of being in Europe at the design workshop and in Basel, I was energized to get back to teaching. I had three studios: beginning sophomore level and junior level symbology, possibly sophomore typography . . . it’s hard to remember. At that time we had three or four sections of required studio offerings each semester. All studio classes were in sequence so if a student missed one, he or she would have to wait a year to take it. It wasn’t a perfect system but it was the best we could do with so many sections and limited faculty.
That fall, the person I was filling in for resigned and the position was needed to be filled permanently. I was urged to apply for it and I did as well as other positions at other schools. I was invited to interview at two other schools as well as Iowa State. I had an offer from Texas Christian and was offered the position at ISU. I elected for Iowa State and was hired as a tenure track Assistant Professor. Somehow, that validated some of what I had given up when I started this adventure three years ago.
Those first years, I had some very good students and some that were not so good. Being so new to teaching, I found it difficult to grade the projects. I tried giving detailed analyses for the grade I arrived at but that wasn’t good enough. It all seemed sort of ambiguous. I constantly had to defend my decisions and received many less that stellar teacher reviews.
There were no guidebooks or any textbooks on graphic design at that time so I found that I had to make it up as we went along. I worked at creating a syllabus for each studio to give more detail on what was expected and how each project would be graded, designing a matrix that should be self explanatory. And it worked to the degree that the students seemed to be more accepting of the poor grades that some received, plus it helped considerably that I didn’t have to write out such detailed reports. My student reviews improved.
I also found that so many of the students struggled with what I experienced in suffering from a lack of creativity. I was asked time and time again, “What did I want?” for a given project. My answer was, “Good design.” One thing occurred to me was that the K through twelve years of education did nothing to enhance if not just squelch any creative juices these kids might have once had. I had no idea how to enhance that lost creativity.
The way I learned design was with projects that were simply projects without any major focus other than that they were projects to be completed. I began to research the elements and principles of design more in depth and started creating projects that would focus on maybe one or two aspects of these elements and principles. The students seemed to understand more clearly what was expected and what they were actually learning. My reviews improved.
During the summers, I continued attending design workshops offered through Kent State at their campus in Kent, Ohio. These workshops were three weeks long and were taught by well known professionals from both the United States and Europe. The workshops were accredited and I was woking towards earning a Master of Fine Arts which was the terminal degree for the studio arts which I would most likely need to continue teaching at a college or university.
I gained a great deal from these workshops, but the one that really blew me away was the last one I went to in 1987 with Bruno Monguzzi, a designer and teacher in Lugano, Switzerland, the Italian speaking region. He talked about the psychology of visual perception, something that opened an entirely new dimension to my understanding of design. I hung on everything he said or the work he showed. Somehow, everything I had worked on and learned these last years jelled together and I was finally beginning to understand design: proportion, contrast, information hierarchy, tension, to name a few.
Monguzzi was educated as a designer in the Swiss tradition as I was. One thing I learned as gospel was to only ever use one typeface in a design, preferably a san-serif face such as Helvetica. Moguzzi had no problem mixing serif and san-serif faces and his work he shared with us opened another new world of possibilities for me.
I thought Monguzzi was brilliant. Then it occurred to me that he was a teacher. While all the others designer who taught at the workshop were outstanding designers, they weren’t teachers. I saw there was a definite difference. I even went so far as to ask him if I could come to Lugano for a semester to work with him. He was flattered, but said that he taught in the Italian language and did I understand or know Italian? I admitted I didn’t and the learning curve for Italian was more that I wanted right then. So I settled for what I gleaned from him in the three weeks.
As the final project for this session, after I returned home, I designed and printed a poster for this workshop. It received several awards. It is still one of my best works.
All this transpired over several years as I grew as a teacher. In the meantime, I had remarried and had settled into my life. But my three years as associate professor were coming to an end and I was due to go up for tenure.
I received some print copies of my new book, The Awakening of Russell Henderson. It’s exciting to hold your creation in your hands for the first time.
Basel is a historical industrial town that spanned both sides of the Rhine River on the northwest corner of the country with Germany to the northeast and France to the east.
My friend met me at the train and we took a street trolley back to her place. I marveled at the city, similar to but different from the small town of Rapperswil and the frantic banking, fashion conscious Zurich. The city carried the wonderful old European architectural styles, but its industrial roots were obvious as it appeared, as a whole, more down to earth.
She lived in small apartment in an older working neighborhood. I found out the next day that hardly anyone one there spoke english after she went to her classes and I was in my own and went into a small shop to get some meat and cheese for lunch.
“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I asked and received a shake of the head from the young woman behind the counter, who held up a finger and left for a moment returning with what was likely her mother and a younger brother.
“American?” the older woman asked with a big eyed smile. I nodded and smiled back. Apparently Americans did not frequent this part of Basel. With everyone watching and using advanced charades, I made my order and paid not having a clue if I got the right change back. I smiled and said “Danke Shoen, backed towards the door with an “Auf Wiedersehen.” and left.
My friend, being occupied in studio all day, I roamed the streets of old Basel, had coffee on a patio watching people passing by, ending up at an art museum whose collection spanned medieval art up to cubism and modern art. I spent most of the afternoon there looking at and being impressed by all the art. Outside the museum was a dynamic sculpture garden with whimsical little devices that whirled and twirled and shot water into the air and at each other. Later, I met my friend for dinner and called it a day.
The next day I got tour of the Basel Kunstgewerbeschule, a stark concrete edifice lacking very much warmth, but was vibrant with the student work I saw. She showed me of some of the projects she was working on, one of which was to create one hundred different images or symbols of a singular object. When she showed me her sketchbook, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought about giving that project to a group of sophomores at ISU and figured I’d be laughed at for being so audacious. But they did it here.
That night we were invited to dinner at Wolfgang Weingart’s apartment. It was like I was going to meet the most amazing impressive designer of the time. He was innovative and was pushing the limits of Swiss graphic design. He was both emulated and criticized in the many articles written about him and his work. But, non the less, I was getting to meet a legend.
His small apartment was nondescript unlike the several designer houses I had been in when in Rapperswil. He was gracious and low key, happy to meet a design professor from America. His girl friend was American, also studying design at the school. We shared wine and food and some talk of design. He shared his philosophy of design and his appreciation of the historic Swiss Style, but thought it needed to be challenged and given a newer more modern approach. His education was in the traditional Swiss Style that dominated the present universal standards of visual communication, but he felt that it was time to push those strict parameters and he was doing that through his personal design and in his teaching.
The evening was over early, we thanked them for their graciousness, bid our good-byes and left. I felt like I had met a rock star.
The next day I left for Luxembourg for a night and left the following day for home. I had a lot to think about.
two lane blacktop
somewhere in Nevada
eyes gritty tired
an all night run
dark Great Basin
lit only by starlight
a silver sliver moon
lights a road of silver
all night radio DJ
clear channel AM
Del Rio Texas
steel guitar and fiddle
whiskey drinking songs
like it was in 1959
no smokes left
nothing in front
nothing left behind
sadness long ago
sadness still to come
somewhere to nowhere
nowhere to somewhere
running from god
running from life
all I loved left behind
never arriving anywhere
she cried when I lied
sisyphus without a rock
no mountain to climb
only unending roads
both hands on the wheel
into desert darkness
onto never forever