Archive for 2013

The Man Behind the MasterCard Logo

My Papaw, born (Norman) Earl Picker, designed the original concept of the MasterCard logo for Jim Hoag in the late 1960′s: the concept, artistry, and typography of two intersecting circles, one red-orange and one ochre-colored, originally coined “Master Charge, The Interbank Card.” This was during the MAD MEN era. It was a time of countless stiff drinks, easy women and easier men, late nights entertaining while sealing deals with clients, and high-pressure deadlines, under-the-gun.  Only, Earl Picker wasn’t working on Madison Avenue.  He was a commercial artist working on a drafting table from his Lindell Blvd. art studio in Midtown St. Louis, Missouri.

Picker, or “Pic,” as he was known, started off designing light fixtures for Day-Brite Lighting. He then entered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was sent to clear way for the groundwork of the ALCAN Highway, connecting the Lower 48 to Alaska.  From there, he was sent to start combat training. He would finally arrive on Utah beachhead in Normandy, France in WWII.  In late 1944, he fought in the early part of The Battle of the Bulge.

It was his former boss from Day-Brite Lighting, Leo G. Stahlhut, who was approached while working at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles, France. He was asked to recommend an experienced cartographer to hand-draw war maps and he recommended Cpl. Earl Picker, Serial No. 37131253. He lied about him being a cartographer, but he must have known from experience that Pic was a talented artist who could handle the job. Pic told a story of receiving his transfer orders: Mid-transit, he peered out the window on the train to Versailles, only to see an awful-looking soldier. A worn, haggard man. Then he realized that the soldier he saw was his own reflection. He would go on to create maps for the war, as a cartographer, for General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who also called him “Pic.”


After the war, Pic returned to St. Louis and worked for Day-Brite Lighting once again before starting his own company, Earl Picker Art Studio. He would go on to not only design the original MasterCard logo, but also design the original Visa and Enterprise (street “e”) logos. He did work for FABICK CAT (Caterpillar Inc.), Cadbury, Hussmann, Anheuser Busch, Emerson Electric, and more. There were no big payouts for logo design, yet it was still a decent living.  The type of handwork artistry that could, for example, make a drawing of a red, perfectly looped bow, look just like a photograph.

Pic’s children remember him working constantly in his studio. It was a messy job to make commercial art at the time. With everything by hand, when multiple changes and corrections needed to be made, it was literally back to the drawing board. Vellum and trace paper, graphite and charcoal pencils, RICH ART Watercolors, French curves, green templates, paintbrushes, markers, and samples of every Pantone color filled his art studio. He would pull many all-nighters, working through to the following day on projects for clients. It was in his studio, while working on the MasterCard logo, that he told his kids, “When you go to the store, you’ll be able to use a plastic card with a code instead of money.” His daughters remember him showing them logo options and asking them, “What do you think? Which one do you like?”

Our family believes that Leo Stahlhut, with his twist of the truth, likely saved Pic’s life. That, in turn, allowed Picker to have seven children with his wife Bethel after the war and a strong, growing legacy.

Earl Picker died in 1982 at the age of 63. His portfolio is missing and remains a bit of a controversy, though many members of the family would love to see it. Our immediate family has only a few remaining pieces from his body of work, yet his children still have memories of seeing his projects. I’m lucky enough to display his original Master Charge, Interbank Card prototype on the wall of our W 68th St. apartment in New York.

Anytime I see a MasterCard logo, I’m reminded of him: how much working and living goes into simple design, creating symbols, and the power of how far it can sometimes travel.


Grue and Boats in Unknown Waters

I’ve had this little French armchair for quite a while before finding an Austrian toile with a watercolor scene: entwining cherry blossom trees meeting a bridge, a boat, and a pagoda set on a rolling coastline. The name of the toile is Aomori and in Japanese and Ainu languages it literally means “blue forest,” however it could possibly be translated also as “green forest.” Aomori refers to a small forest on a hill that fishermen used as a landmark near the town, which is a mountainous area on the coast in the northern Tohoku region of Japan.

I’m fascinated by this idea of a forest that could be considered both blue and green. Come to find out, in many languages there aren’t separate terms for certain colors on the visible spectrum, such as blue and green. Grue, although may not be an actual English word for color, has been used to describe the paradox to translate certain languages usage of words that can mean both green and blue. If you think about water that can appear blue and green or blue-green.

I rarely shop for myself and if I do it’s usually by accident, while looking for something else for a client. This painting is a find from one of my favorite antique shops by an artist marked “Nettle,” whom I  haven’t been able to find any information on. Considering the thatched roof in the background, it could be a setting located somewhere in Scandinavia.

What drew me into the work were these two main sailboats: one blue and one green. One boat is docked, while the other boat appears to be either also docked, headed back in, or headed out. Only Nettle knows. However, I do enjoy attempting interpretation, imagining these blue and green sailboats traveling off, into unknown waters, to find ancient islands with grue forests.

Art Direction for ABC Makeover


Last night, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition aired on ABC, the episode I art directed for the makeover for Chantell’s apartment in Elgin, IL.

It brought back memories of working last year, driving back and forth from Chicago in stop-and-go traffic, in an un-airconditioned black car, during one of the hottest damn summers on record.

Little did we know when we started the makeover that her building would soon be condemned.

In the meantime, though, there was a lot of good news: I was working on transforming a home for someone who would lose nearly half her body weight over the course of a year, and she would work to finish her degree. That environment had to be motivating.

After hearing more about Chantell from the producers, I knew that I wanted to create something lively and colorful to accentuate the original fireplace detail—as well as her warm personality. This room had to be more than just a bed; it had to also be a gym, a functioning kitchen and a place for Chantell to kick off her shoes and sit down after a long day’s workout.

I wanted to do a collection of dreamcatchers over her bed, so I had them custom made by Sara from Seven Wishes Dream Catchers. Dreamcatchers were originally an Ojibwe concept. Nightmares begone. Manifest dreams.

The colors added in the room made a huge difference. Paint for the space was by Devine Color, which is a refreshing paint to work with since it’s a rather creamy consistency that covers well. There are so many fun palates to choose from. We got serious with the color and used the pale yellow “Devine Butter” on the ceiling, “Devine Poppy” in the kitchen and “Devine Mo’ Pink” in the bedroom/gym/living room. The thick crown moldings, baseboards and architectural trim were painted in “Devine Rino,” a dark, brownish black.

Thankfully, many businesses in the Chicago area contributed to the studio apartment as well. Antique chairs, gold French mirror, floor lamp and lingerie chest were found at The Find, where Julie, the owner, is an absolute delight. I love so many things that she gathers and assembles in her stores.

The metal café chairs and ironwork piece, which I added as a diamond cap or crown to the graffiti graphic was sourced at Architectural Artifacts, where I also found four antique tile pieces that made two pink bows. I had the bows framed as an art piece and hung them over the lingerie chest, where the mason jars of marbles represented lbs lost.

Fabric for upholstering the chairs was sourced from Architex International, as were the yellow sheers and stipe draperies that I sewed up for the windows. The plush hemp and silk rug is from Organic Looms, which sources incredible custom rugs from Nepal and India. You must feel these rugs under your feet and explore the possibilities for your own space.

Kristie Kahns created the gorgeous photograph of a flamenco dancer, an action shot, capturing an animated shawl mid-twirl. The energy of this shot adds to the motivation of the space and acts as a reminder to dance and keep on moving. The goldish-silver frame for the print was done by Frames Graphics Studio—this place does a super job and is very affordable.

Many people helped make this little studio makeover possible, including two remarkable neighbors living below and hands from the rockstar field producers who brought me on.

I’m glad that Chantell did the work to create her self-transformation. As we all are hopefully opening up, reflecting, learning, risking and moving toward something, the known and unknown. So when the building is being condemned, you keep on keeping on.

For me, reality is still more interesting than Reality TV. If only you could capture THAT. Better said, I’ll continue to live it.

For those who missed the episode, check it out.

Summer Margaritas and Guacamoles


This balmy summer weather is here to stay for a while and many are seeking refreshing drink and snack ideas for their July 4th celebrations. Luckily I have the perfect go-to book for entertaining options.

This past year I had the opportunity to work with renowned Chef Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless, prop-styling, plating and showcasing recipes and unique cocktails for their book release, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks by Rick Bayless. Not only did they entrust me in their home to edit through their impressive tabletop collection of earthenware, Frankoma Pottery and the like, I got to see their outdoor garden and kitchen, including soapstone countertops, where they shoot Mexico-One Plate at a Time.

I appreciate Rick and Deann’s humble nature and their sincere love for the food, culture, and people of Mexico. I can also appreciate the many twists on making Margaritas interesting for every season.

Paging through the book to come up with ideas, the alluring photography of the finished concoctions, shot by Paul Elledge, reminds me of all the tasty sips and yummy bites that I had during our photo shoot.

It’s about time that I try some of these recipes out for myself, for my Central Park picnic with Frisbee and friends. I invite you to check out the recipes in his book, which can help add a kick to your day off.

A few of my favorites: Pitcher recipe for a Peach (or Mango)-Basil Margarita, Black Currant-Rhubarb Margarita and Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole with Crunchy Chicharrón. And don’t miss the Citrusy Jicama and Watermelon with Toasted Sesame recipe.