A Museum Moment on a Looper’s Lunch Hour – One

Feeling the daily grind in the Loop, looking for some inspiration, taking a long lunch? It’s time to visit Macy’s Walnut Room for the historical atmosphere, a perfect view of State Street and of course a IMG_0500business lunch. Before you leave, make sure to stop on Floor 6 and meander into the center of the floor. Look up!  The Tiffany stained glass dome above you was finished in 1907 and contains 1.6 million hand crafted pieces. Beautiful yes, crazy yes! Artistic pieces of the 20th century can be found in the most traveled areas, but rarely noticed.

After taking in lunch it may be time to find that spark. Cross State Street to visit the Chicago Design Museum. It began as a pop up museum in 2012 and now has a permanent home on the third floor of Block 37, a sleek, modern indoor downtown mall.

The Chicago Design Museum‘s newest exhibition is “The State of Detroit.” The Motor City is less city and more an abandoned graveyard of empty store fronts, apartment buildings, and foreclosed homes. Think a post apocalyptic world slowly being reclaimed by nature, but like any Hollywood Star, whose gone from A-List to D-List celebrity status knows there is always a come back. Detroit seems to be the come back kid of lost cities of the 21st century through its Urban Renewal programs.

Detroit once the Automobile and Motown capital of the world sits restless and unwilling to be forgotten. “In the State of Detroit,” current residents and natives alike have reimagined the city. 050One such resident is DETROITography’s co-founder Alex Hill. The organization provides maps on the status of many of city’s racial and size demographics, areas where food and nutrition are most needed, and most importantly the current issues facing the city.  The passion of the city’s residents illuminates the quantifying aspects of Detroit’s needs and future.

Detroit’s landscape is changing from its urban agriculture plans to the layout of the city itself. Bikes are quickly becoming the mode of transportation for many of the city’s residents. A Riverfront Path and Downtown Path have either been executed or planned. 053Entrepreneurs rejuvenate the 056business market everyday. Two such businesses are Back Alley Bikes a non-profit organization that builds refurbished bicycles from old bike parts for children in need and Veronika Scott’s design for EMPWR Coat’s made by homeless women of Detroit. Local businesses are once again thriving through group related efforts.  For example, a local barber and Waynesville University founded Social Grooming Company which brings panelists and stylists, who would like to own their own shops one day, together to discuss social, political, and civic matters once a month. The idea is to spark awareness for the city’s issues and define a possible solution through collaboration; this concept along with others are building a powerful catalyst in design and defining what is to come next for Detroit.

Detroit and her people reclaim their lives and city back a bit each day through their own designs of a new Detroit. As an architect, what would you do to rebuild a city once lost to nature and itself? You are personally asked this question and invited to participate as resident and civic leader in an informal activity. Present your thoughts about the agricultural landscape, social activities, and adaptive reuse for abandoned buildings and vacant structures.

Where will Detroit be in five years, an all Green City perhaps, the new tech capital of the Midwest? We will not know, but Detroit’s residents are on their way to something big! Design is not just an artist’s rendering on a billboard or a mid-century chair, is it a thought provoking interpretation of today, that delivers tomorrow’s creation. This is especially true for Detroit!

Exit Block 37 at either Washington or Randolph Street and head two blocks east towards the Chicago Cultural Center, which houses temporary art exhibits, Chicago’s Visitor Center, and hosts mid-day concerts as well as theater presentations.

Currently, on the fourth floor is the exhibit, “Love for Sale: The Graphic Art of Valmor Products.” The Valmor Product Company, open from 1920 to 1980 and based out of Bronzeville, sold mostly to minorities with products such as pomade, wigs,  perfume, and even incense. Owners, Morton and Rose Neumann’s marriage was the company’s muse. Therefore, couples and love were the central theme of many of the graphics over much of the company’s existence.

The men behind the company were: Morton, the chemist who created the cosmetics, the designer, Charles C. Dawson did much of the original graphics, and later the cartoonist, Jay Jackson transformed the company’s stylized pieces into stories for the public . Many of Jackson’s story lines included a man selling Valmor Products and making enough to build a future with his girlfriend and soon to be wife – the ever present lovers motif.

The company was also known for products centered around magic and mysticism, the reason – Morton being a firm believer in the craft. The products provided the lure of love. One particular product was aptly named “Lucky Mojo Perfume” based on its mystical powers for down-under pleasures!

During the mid-20th century, the company was forced out of the cosmetics due to better quality products on the market and a lack of belief in magic. The company changed tactics and focused solely on selling its famous pomade and wigs. Unfortunately, it closed in 1980, but its legacy remained.

Ted Frankel purchased the remaining products from the owners and open a store, Uncle Fun on Belmont Avenue, without his purchase the products and graphics would be gone today. The Valmor Product Company not only influenced Ted Frankel, but other artists such as, Roy Lichtenstein with its Black Cat advertisements, and furthermore a Rolling Stone’s vinyl record cover too. Many companies like the Valmor Product Company cease to exist today, but are remembered in so many other ways. This exhibit is one.



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