February 24, 2010

Legacy Exhibit

I had the pleasure of designing the exhibit Creating a Legacy: The Women of Grand Rapids in December and January. As is too often the case,  it was a rush to the finish line! Fortunately, my efforts will be enjoyed for a full 8 months before we'll be switching it out. So you've got through the end of August to come visit it on Level 4 of the Main Library.

The exhibit highlights women in Grand Rapids' history, both far past and more recent, and the impact that they have had on the city. When the idea was originally presented by the local history department, there was going to be a portrait and a description for each women. I was concerned that was going to leave a lot of empty space on the board and was thinking about what else I could do with the design.

The original thought was to put the women in chronological order. The department then changed their mind and decided on alphabetical order so that the color and black and white images would be mixed up. When they decided on that, my mind thought about how to highlight their names or initials as a piece of art to accompany each woman. There are over 20 women in the exhibit and I wanted to have some variety beyond flat color. Then I got the idea to frame their initials in a texture. The easiest and quickest texture I could come up with was taking photographs of the different fabrics the Library is decorated in. We've got some rooms with fabric wall coverings and some reupholstered furniture.

Here's a sample of the result:

Since the initials had a nice border, I also put a solid border around the portraits. This helped to highlight the image, and give it more visual weight:

Lastly, the women in the department went above and beyond by gathering up additional images from the archives to help tell the story of these women.

Putting up the exhibit:

If you're curious about the mother and daughter pictured above, I've copied and pasted their information for you to read:

Nora Carr (1845 – 1915)
Nora Husted (1871 – 1935)

Nora Carr and Nora Husted were a mother and daughter team that founded and operated a Grand Rapids cosmetics business for over 50 years. Shortly after she and her first husband divorced in 1885, the elder Nora moved to Grand Rapids from Lowell, Michigan and opened a boarding house to earn money to care for her five children. To bring in more income, she began to make soap and perfume in the family kitchen and, with the help of her children, sold her products door to door. Later, after marrying James C. Carr, she sold the boarding house, but kept her toiletries business.

In 1895, Nora Carr founded the Marietta-Stanley Company to manufacture and sell her cosmetics. Adopting the product name “Sempre Giovine” (Italian for forever young), she built a manufacturing plant on Grand Rapids’ West Side that employed 70 workers at its peak. When Mrs. Carr died in 1915, her daughterand namesake, Nora, assumed management of the company. In addition torunning the business, Husted was active in many local organizations, including the Zonta Club, Women’s City Club, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Following Nora’s death in 1935, a second sister, Elizabeth, took over the firm, eventually selling it to a Chicago company, which kept the plant going until 1951, more than a half-century after its founding.

At a time when women were discouraged from working outside the home, Nora Carr and Nora Husted and their long-running enterprise showed the way for future women entrepreneurs.


  1. i must find some time to check this out! :)

  2. You will be pleased to see all the sassy women rocking our city. One woman especially reminded me of you. She was a teacher and a principal but cared enough about her students that there are patents in her name for desk designs. Very committed to her work.

  3. WOW how cool that you both are wearing pink while hanging up pink stuff. did you plan it?

  4. Um, no. Did you see the other person in the photo is also wearing pink? We all had a good laugh about it.