Scott Klinker is a designer who I’ve known and admired for quite a long time. An unassuming and generous person at heart, Scott has the pedigree to have an enormous ego as a super designer. Somehow, perhaps due to his Midwestern locale, he stays completely grounded.
Currently the head of 3-D design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Klinker has been a noted designer for over a decade. His Spaceframe builder’s kit for Offi was listed as one of the Top 25 products of the year by Fortune Magazine, and he was lauded by Newsweek as one of the top designers to watch. Worldwide. Still, education seems to be his calling, and with the recent introduction of a number of Cranbrook-designed products by Alessi, one can see why.
The influence of Cranbrook on art and design cannot be understated. Luminaries such as Maja Grotell, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Marshall Fredericks, Richard DeVore, Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames and even Keith Haring went through those halls disseminating their knowledge and creative drive on generations of students. The school is considered one of the top graduate schools in Fine Arts in the nation. Incidentally Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, attended the Boys Prep School.
The collaboration between Cranbrook and Alessi began whenAlberto Alessi lectured at Cranbrook during a speaking tour of the country in 2008. About a dozen recent graduates were hand picked to work on the project. Communication was done directly with Italy. An interesting blog covering the exchange of ideas (as well as cool prototypes) is available at www.cranbrookalessi.wordpress.com.
I had a chance to speak briefly with Mr. Klinker, the director of the workshop. Here’s a transcript:
How did you choose who would work on the project?
Mostly recent alumni were approached, especially people who had proven skills with metal.
That was one of the things that appealed to Alberto. The hands on process in the studio and the history of craft – especially Cranbrook’s history within American Craft. He was used to working with mostly architects and some product designers and almost never with crafts people. Expectations were very hands on and not on computer form. About the manipulation of form. In the end the concepts are pretty simple but together they communicate that simple manipulation of material.
Were there any stipulations on what needed to be produced?
Alberto asked one question as a brief; he was specifically interested in American typologies. Part of that came from his visit- we went to dinner hosted by one of the patrons of the school and we were in their kitchen and he saw a banana hanger. He had never seen one before. That also got him thinking about what other kinds of object types that were specifically American that he wouldn’t get from his European designers.
What was the actual process of submission?
We sent out invitations to the designers and metalsmiths. They all came to the Cranbrook Campus in August, 2009 for a week in the studio. That was about experimenting with techniques- not thinking about products. What were the interesting things we can do with metal that alessi might be able to exploit? We wanted to create an alphabet of techniques. Then we went to our separate studios in the world and had two months to work up product proposals.
Is there a fundamental American typology?
I don’t know if they (American vs European typologies) are all that different. I think we are focused on food culture but I don’t think that it is all that different from European. I think there was a chance to look satirically at fast food, although that wasn’t something that all of us wanted specifically to support. Another idea was “food on the go”- bento box kind of things. I made a bento box concept that would fit into a computer bag. A low profile lunchbox.
What was the idea for your Trellis Fruit Tray?
It really came out of looking at digital craft. We focused on physical manipulation of the material but I was interested in pattern. Laser cut patterns. I connected with a Detroit-based metal stamping factory called Quality Metalcraft- they let me experiment in their factory by laser-cutting flat sheets and throwing them into molds. They do a lot of automotive parts and there was this old hubcap mold that they were going to throw away. I wanted to see what might happen to these patterns when they got stretched into 3-D. I was interested in the single plane being distorted into 3-D. I put square blanks into a round hubcap mold and by mistake it came out with feet. It kind of happened by accident. I love when that happens. It only happens by using your hands- not by using your head. A sense of discovery that happens in the handmaking process that allows you to make creative mistakes. That’s the difference between a craftsperson and a designer or architect- you are discovering things with your hands. I think that was the benefit of the project. I think that is why the prototypes registered with him (Alberto). I don’t think this would have come about on a computer.
For me it’s been a dream. It’s been hard work- 3 years in the making. I’ve always wanted to do something with Alessi. The project was really nice for me. To see something of mine selected and to go through the process. Plus I really like the design. I’m proud of it.
About the designers:
Adam Shirley: A graduate of the Cranbrook metals program, Mr. Shirley is a jeweler and metalsmith currently working in the Detroit, Michigan area.
John Truex: A graduate of Cranbook’s 3-D program, Mr. Truex was initially involved in furniture design. According to Mr. Klinker, “John is just an all-around creative guy. He can jump categories pretty easily. ” Mr. Truex is in New York now. I believe he is working on making beautiful American-made sandcast iron pans- and, judging from the variety of his submissions for this project, a multitude of other things. He contacted Unicahome a while ago. I’m impatiently waiting to see additional product. You can check out their production at Boroughfurnace.com.
The Collection can be purchased at UNICAHOME.COM
Unicahome.com was founded in 1998 by Hugh and Bonnie Fogel. Featuring over 65,000 products, Unicahome.com is a complete lifestyle store for home, office and contract use featuring Bridal Registry, Furniture, Lighting, Accessories, Barware, Food and Great Gifts from noted designers and top brands sourced worldwide. Our 18,000 square foot store is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, just minutes away from the world famous Las Vegas Strip. We hope you enjoyed your visit to Unicaworld!