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Graphic design in cowboy country

Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on October 27, 2016 8:45PM

Staff photo by E.J. Harris 
Richard Stapleman talks about his business with a group of Portland design students on Wednesday at his shop, Stapleman’s Custom Boot Shop, in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Richard Stapleman talks about his business with a group of Portland design students on Wednesday at his shop, Stapleman’s Custom Boot Shop, in Pendleton.

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Staff photo by E.J. Harris Pat Beard leads a tour group of design students from Portland down Main Street on Wednesday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Pat Beard leads a tour group of design students from Portland down Main Street on Wednesday in Pendleton.

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Pat Beard could have been a tour guide from anywhere – except for his boots, cowboy hat and unrestrained western flair.

The tall, burly cowboy led a group of six students from Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art down Main Street on Wednesday afternoon like a mama duck with her chicks. Beard, of Travel Pendleton, let the commentary rip, describing the Pendleton Round-Up as “Mardi Gras meets John Wayne” and pointing out local watering holes, architecture and bronze statues.

This wasn’t your typical tour group, though. As they walked, the graphic design and illustration students strained to catch their first glimpses of two businesses – Stapleman’s Custom Boot Shop and Zimmerman & Co. hardware store.

As the finale for a senior-level class called “Center for Design,” students redesign storefronts and signage for existing businesses, normally in the Portland area. This time around, the student design teams went further afield. Roberta Lavadour, executive director of the Pendleton Center for the Arts, had inquired whether the program would consider working in Pendleton and was told yes.

“The idea grew out of some casual conversations,” Lavadour said. “I knew that the school was really highly regarded. We thought, ‘It’d be cool if…’”

The college agreed to work with a couple of Pendleton businesses, so Lavadour and company brainstormed about which ones.

“We asked ourselves, “what are two iconic Pendleton businesses that could become focal points?’” Lavadour said.

She ultimately emailed photos of Zimmerman’s and Stapleman’s storefronts to Professor Bijan Berahimi. Teams of artists (combinations of graphic design and illustration students) got to work generating ideas. The road trip promised to supply additional information about each establishment not available from a two-dimensional photo. The big design reveal will come in a couple of weeks.

“This class serves as an alternative to an internship,” Berahimi said. “They work with real clients on real designs. It gives students a taste of working in the real world.”

During the Wednesday tour, Beard led the group around the corner onto Court Street. They caught sight of Stapleman’s and stopped to take it in before entering. The rich aroma of leather wafted out as they wandered into the boot shop and ogled the workshop where bootmaker Richard Stapleman spends his days measuring, cutting, gluing and stitching. The boot maker, sporting a felt cowboy hat, Wranglers, silver buckle and, of course, boots made by his own hands, took some time out to explain his personal style and business acumen. He waved his hand at his work area and a huge assemblage of sewing machines, leather, splitters, rivet machines, punches, bobbins and other tools of his trade.

“When people come in here, I want them to feel like they’re in the heart of the workshop,” Stapleman said. “I don’t want them to come into a showroom and think it all happens behind a curtain.”

The students asked questions. How long to make a pair of boots? How expensive? They learned he works on three pairs at once, finishes about one-and-a-half pairs a week and has a several month backlog. Base price for a pair of boots is $800.

Marinating in the store’s ambiance and spending time with the owner was essential, said the students.

“It was getting a feel for the culture and seeing all of the tools and actual materials that go into boot making,” said Samantha Fowler, an illustration student from Portland. “It helps with the creative process.”

Graphic design student Danny Verde said he had never before seen the inner workings of a leather shop.

“The smell was amazing,” he said.

The group walked next to Zimmerman’s where they talked to owner Jim Naughton about the business. They learned about the business’ history, met the store cat and ogled the extensive collection of merchandise.

“You can be looking for an obscure item – a left-hand-threaded copper widget – and they’ll have it,” Beard said.

“It’s the store where you can find everything,” said Kaitlyn Nelson, who is helping design a mural to adorn Zimmerman’s storefront.

“It was overwhelming,” said Ori Sofer, an Israeli graphic design student.

Sofer said he knows a similar hardware store in his native Jerusalem.

“I know it’s all about people,” he said. “It’s a gathering place. Everyone goes there.”

The students also wandered through the Hamley Steakhouse, visited the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, Crow’s Shadow and Pendleton Woolen Mills, had appetizers at Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s, ate dinner at the Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Co. and breakfasted at the Rainbow Café.

The artists reflected on their experience in the glow of the Rainbow’s neon signs at breakfast. Kami Karras, of Seattle, said the project plunges them into the profession.

“We’re learning to actually do professional practice, work with a client and see what it’s like in the real world while still having the guidance of a teacher,” Karras said. “On the other end, we’re learning about these clients, seeing what they value and helping represent that value so other people see it too.”

Two two-person teams will finish design proposals in the next couple of weeks and present three ideas each to Stapleman. Four other students will unveil three mural proposals apiece to Naughton.

Berahimi said the young artists hope to leave a bit of themselves in Pendleton.

“If their designs are picked, they’ll always have a connection with this city,” he said. “That’s kind of exciting.”

Lavadour said community artists and others will likely bring the designs to fruition.

“There’s an enormous amount of enthusiasm for this project,” she said. “It wouldn’t be hard to round up the skilled labor to make it happen.”


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.


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