Stories from the citizen's band :
Histories of Newark / 1758 - 2008
The standout visual element in Histories of Newark : 1758 - 2008 is the citizen band which runs through almost every page of the book—surely more than 270 of its 288 pages.
We love to talk about the timeline that helps you work your way up to a piece you really believe is deserving. When you see something that seems truly unique, it is easy to believe you could have never done that work.
The problem may just be that you didn't have the experience that creative person had previous to the work and then the experience previous to that.
Surely the vast majority of exceptional work, if you could see the 5 projects before that, could lead most of us to have a similiar ability to produce an outstanding project.
I like to think of it as stepping stones to try to get across a river. You try a couple to hit a spot you can't jump, so you back track and try another. Eventually you find a path, while not obvious to start, will get you there. Also the more you jump onto the stepping stones the more brave you become and jumping wider and wider gaps.
And so it is for the citizen band.
As with almost all of our projects we were looking for ways to make the book more present day and that is hard when everything in the book is about the past. We wanted something to interfere and set up to include the photos of families, pets, groups, and objects from "townies." A family would climb onto the seamless background and tell the kids to stand still. We would say to the kids, "How fast can you run around your parents?" If they had a skateboard we wanted to see a trick. We liked doing it our way better.
Almost everyone asked, "What do you want us to do?"
We almost always replied, "Can you turn a cartwheel?"
This wonderful part of Histories of Newark, was part of a design idea, some fairly original, some fairly stolen. Here are the three major steps based on creative work.
A really breakout piece of design work for us. The program was starting to explode with lots of students wanting in and us only wanting a few going out the other end. The program got tougher and unforgiving of excuses. The copy was especially poignant. Next to the sophomores in the program (top group) the text listed the reasons why people wanted to be in the program.
Explain juniors and seniors (need to read the actual copy first.
We had brought Stephen Frykholm to speak to our program in 1983. In 1985 he did a wonderful annual report for the office furniture company, Herman Miller, in which he showed all 900 people who worked for the company. We loved the sense of family that Herman Miller was showing.
We did the annual report for Hagley Museum & Library for 10 years during our time Ray & Jill were running Cypher + Nichols + Design. This was one of the most fun projects we did. The person who oversaw it didn't think people read annual reports so he was pretty open to most anything we came up with. As with Herman Miller and Stephen Frykhom who never seemed to walk down the same path with their annual reports we didn't with Hagley either.
We were handed a stack of photos the museum photographer had shot with the only direction we received. "Make us look accessible."
Honestly, the process of thinking out the annual report took less than 10 minutes. The photos were awful for looking accessible as you can see in the large photo above—a period photo of a dining table from one of the room displays. Of course there were no people. 80% of the photos were devoid of people.
We took the photos and made them large. Isolated the outside 1/4" of each and turned it into the negative of the image, creating a picture frame.
We set up a photo studio at Hagley and photographed various visitors over one of the open days. These people gave the impression of an exhibition which is always accessible, creating one of our favorite projects done through Cypher + Nichols + Design and a piece that won a number of design awards including a "Best of Show" at a design competition related to museums.
This is a description relating to the opening image of the carousel at the top and the first citizen image in the book.
19711. That is Newark, Delaware's zip code. We loved the idea enough to put them first.
There is another great story for this spread that is in that photo to the far right. It was 4 waitresses from the "Post House," a rather strange diner in town that only served breakfast and lunch on a street that had about the most expensive rent in Delaware. Here is the last paragraph on page 11.
"One special story is worth noting. Jane (above and far right with three colleagues from the Post House on Main Street) received an anonymous letter in the mail with a newspaper clipping about our citizen photographs effort. If anyone ever wonders what small town America is about, it is in that letter. It is in Newark."
The letter reads,
"To the Dedicated Female Cook with the Attractive Gray Hair and Smiling Face a the Post-House in Newark.
I saw the attached article in today's News Journal and immediately though of you (apologies...I've been dining at the Post-House fr many years but don't know you name).
Your many years of loyal service and excellent cooking surely merit a photograph in this anniversary book.
When I purchase this book, I hope to see you in it!
From a well-satisfied, well-fed Post-House customer!"
It was indeed in the book. The Post-House also made Ray's favorite Creamed Chip Beef with Gravy. Sadly, as some things always change, the Post-House is no longer there.
Spread #2 : A guy dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia, a street musician, and a guy with a really big dog.
Spread #3 : The left image was a former custodian in the building I used to teach in a few decades earlier. They had a quilt made in 1851 by her great-great-grandmother. She had written her name and date in ink on the back of the quilt. It looked like it had been written yesterday. I wish a couple hundred of other people had brought things from their family history. And if they were connected to Newark, all the better.
Spread #4 : We mentioned above that would often ask if people wanted to know what to do, "Can you do a cartwheel?"
Spread #5: Some groups came in and just gave out good vibes that made you want to do something special with them. The 4 to the left were talking about hanging their lady friend using her pigtails. Couldn't really do it, but with a bit of Photoshop effort you could surely make it look that way.
Took a couple of photos to get good images of the "hairpullers."
Then someone had to hold her up so we could get her feet hanging free. Pure digital fun.
Spread #6 : The large group on the right was from the Elk's Lodge and everyone came dressed-to-the-nines. The Elk's lodge was torn down in 2017 to make room for some more student apartments. The present seems often to be in bulldozer made against the past.
Spread #7 : For a moment there was a showstopper as 20 military guys, mostly armed came in.
They were Delaware's Color Guard who are seen at military funerals and parades involving military. They were great to talk to.
Spread #8 : A square dance group came in and turned the place into a party.
Spread #9 : In the middle of Newark for probably a year a group met at the corner of South College and Main Street to protest President Bush's push toward war. We walked down and asked them to come down and bring their signs so we could record this as part of Newark's historic record.
Spread #10 : Lots of people love to get their photos taken while having friends sit on their shoulders.
Spread #11 : A group of motorcycle guys were sitting at Klondike Kate's drinking beers. We talked them into coming down and bringing their cycles. They actually drove them in through the doors while they were running. Thunder road.
Spread #12 : Another protest group was against the amount of fossil fuel society was using. They would gather in a mass and ride the loop through Newark while essentially blocking traffic. We walked out into the middle of the street and told them if they would come in and be photographed we would make them famous. We got them onto the front page of the Wilmington News Journal.
Spread #13 : A Newark high school class wanted to jump. So be it.
Spread #14 : The Society for Creative Anachronism is an international living history group with the aim of studying and recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century. They came also.
Spread #15 : A high school student who wanted to be an actress came by herself. We asked, "What is your favorite role to play?" She acted it out for us and it was great fun watching her.
Spread #16 : A group stopped by after attending a swing dance session. They were hot. We could have watched for hours.
Spread #17 : Newark High School's audio / visual with a camera and a short cord. We did some creative Photoshopping to lengthen that cord.
Spread #18 : A fully-dressed firefighter came in. One of the kids standing in line was clearly mesmorized. We asked the firefighter if the kid could try his gear on. I promise that kid is never going to forget it. He might be a firefighter today.
Spread #19 : This was the last citizen photo we took for the book. She was an ice skater who had come to Newark to take a shot at the Olympics. Here is the text to accompany her photograph.
We were nearly finished with the book and we took one last citizen photo of a young lady who lives across the street who wants to be a skater. That same day we lunched with two friends, Jesse Rossa and Mark Samuels Lasner.
We told them Rebecca Johnson Melvin had suggested that the last few open pages could be used for readers to add their own histories to this book.
And we told them that we had taken one last citizen photo of our neighbor (shown below). Jesse and Mark could hardly contain themselves, saying we should start these last pages with her photo.
She is an ice skater who has come from Idaho to Delaware to hone her skating skills. Our skater neighbor chose Newark because it is a marvelous place to make her dreams come alive. We will watch to see how her story turns out.
We wish her the best. And to all who read this book, save and record your own history.
You can see her page as the last of the carousel images of spreads at the top of this page.