UIC School of Architecture
Exploring the connections between art and architecture, Ania Jaworska’s work takes on bold simple forms, humor and commentary, as well as conceptual, historical and cultural references. Jaworska’s series of furniture purposefully exists on the blurred line between the conceptual and the functional. As the architect and educator—she is a clinical assistant professor at the UIC School of Architecture—says, “I like to think that my work is simultaneously simple and complex, familiar and unfamiliar, funny and serious.”
When you think of transit-themed original artwork and all sorts of merch—t-shirts, mugs, pins and magnets, home goods, even pet apparel—Transit Tees comes to mind. But this year, the boutique and design studio with stores in Wicker Park and Andersonville, went a step further: they created an El-inspired board game and Tom LaPlante, senior art director and lead designer, led the team behind it. “For a game like this, the natural starting place is the transit map. When we began play-testing, we would play using an actual map of the system as the board,” he says, explaining the designs and redesigns that go into the board game-making process. “Public transportation is a great asset to any city,” he says. “It allows anyone to connect to communities that they might not otherwise have access to, or never even thought of visiting before. We want to show everyone that riding the train is lots of fun, even if it takes you somewhere you didn’t expect it to.”
Cities in Dust
Meghan Lorenz has a specific design style—it’s precise, it’s minimal, one could even say it has a touch of a different era. The designer calls it “the moment when the 1990s imitated the 1960s.” Cities in Dust jewelry—rings, necklaces, bracelets, cufflinks and earrings—all feel so unique that once you familiarize yourself with the work you’ll start noticing it everywhere in the city: from other people’s fingers and hands, to Lorenz’s pop-up shop at Chicago’s Renegade Craft Fair, to the MCA Store, to their latest hangout spot: the back room of Humboldt House, where Cities in Dust presents a collection of jewelry, accessories, objects and art books curated by Lorenz that makes it hard to walk out empty-handed.
Cheryl Towler Weese
“We are grateful to have the opportunity to work primarily with cultural and educational institutions and other organizations that serve the public—this work can include books, exhibition graphics, identities, interactive design, printed communications and environmental graphic design,” says Cheryl Towler Weese, Studio Blue founder and associate professor and director of graduate studies in graphic design at UIC. “I’m inspired by the fierce love for making and experimentation and the deep intelligence of the students I teach and by my colleagues in the studio and at school,” she says. Her positive energy is contagious—so is her sense of Chicago pride. “I’m a committed citizen and am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the city’s cultural landscape. While Chicagoans are loath to swagger or exude a sense of superiority, I see our city as a design center that is less interested in following trends, and more interested in a sense of authenticity and depth, than those on the coasts.”
Paola Aguirre Serrano
Under the leadership of Paola Aguirre Serrano, Borderless, an urban design and research practice is all about the power of community. Putting design and community organization at the forefront, her work involves creating interdisciplinary collaborative projects, addressing issues of social equity, shared resources and neighborhood development. But true to the Borderless brand’s name, it extends well beyond that. Her latest achievement took place during the Chicago Architecture Biennial as she was called to reimagine the future of closed schools in the Bronzeville community. The outcome? Borderless worked with architects, teachers and local volunteers alike and managed to transform the grounds of Anthony Overton Elementary School, which closed in 2013, into a space for artistic expression.
Jamie Hayes is working on a collaboration of hand-painted silk pieces by artist Leslie Baum, inspired by her plein air paintings, which launches in spring, finishing a collection of wools made from naturally dyed yarn sourced from the Bii Dauu cooperative in Oaxaca and has just begun showing in New York. But Hayes’ goal is twofold: to build the ecosystem of designers and artists here in Chicago, but also to disseminate the work beyond our city. “More and more, fashion designers in Chicago are realizing that despite the challenges of being far from world fashion capitals, the environment here is in many ways more welcoming, and the DIY nature forces us to be more creative with our business models,” she says. “Many of us have our own studios and production facilities, something that’s usually cost-prohibitive for independent designers on the coasts. When working small, there’s more of an incentive for us to band together, and to value everyone working throughout our supply chain. Most of us do not offshore our work, so we depend on the cutters and stitchers in this city to help make our work, and we truly value their labor because we work alongside one another and oftentimes cut and sew our own work, too,” Hayes says. “In addition to the long history of labor movements in Chicago, this interdependence is part of why Chicago has been a leader in the world of slow and ethical fashion. I believe we’ll continue to lead this movement in 2020 and we will benefit from the attention being paid to ethical and independent fashion in general.”
“This is an exciting year for design in Chicago,” says Dee Clements. She’s referring to the new independent design show Central Standard, taking place in June at Morgan Manufacturing in the West Loop. “It’s an excellent opportunity for Chicago designers to showcase their work here at home, rather than having to travel to New York, Milan or France for the big design shows,” she says. “An event of this nature is really needed in the Midwest to showcase designers from our region. We have such an incredible array of emerging and established talent—from designers really focused on the quotidian, to designers making collectible pieces or speculative work.” As for upcoming plans, the founder of Studio Herron, a textile and furniture design studio at the intersection of art, design and craft, says: “My studio is working on a collection of new vessels and sculptural objets d’art that we are really excited about. It’s a new direction that will fold into the studio, while a bit of a departure from our usual ethos of functional design pieces for the home, this new work focuses on nuance in craft and ornament.”
The Weaving Mill
“I see more meaningful collaborations in 2020,” says Emily Winter, who’s noticed a trend among her peers of working artist/designers toward working together in more expansive ways. “The world of an independent designer can be at times solitary, and the challenges of being self-directed and self-motivated can be daunting. Working together provides a really exciting external stimuli and inspiration, and an accountability to the working process,” she says. “I don’t feel that the conversation is about competition. There’s an understanding that the path of making things in this economy and culture is a challenge, and that everybody’s individual successes move the proverbial revolution forward.” Winter is working on developing a more expansive line of TWM home textiles, as well as fabric by the yard. She also strives to strengthen the textiles education programming that TWM does with Envision Unlimited, bringing more design workshops and ideas into the classes they run for adults with developmental disabilities. “Everybody has the capacity of having instincts and thoughts about color theory, graphic layouts, proportion, material choices,” she says. “Our classes are designed to help people take ownership of those decisions.”
Jennifer Mahanay finds thrills in design, from fostering the biggest ideas down to the tiniest details. “Making beautiful things is a passion—collaborating with other creatives is a privilege,” says the art director of Wright, the preeminent auction house for modern art and design in Chicago and New York. “At Wright, we’ve merged with another auction house on the East Coast. Right now we are scaling our processes—this is the art direction of photography, branding systems, digital storytelling. It’s exciting and satisfying to see how we can stretch our bespoke creative solutions into another environment, another brand, and a growing audience.” What’s coming up? “Being an election year, we’ll see a lot of designers responding to the political and social issues that are on all our minds,” she says. “We’re fired up!”
The woman behind branding design studio and product line Vichcraft wears many hats. As a designer, letterer, calligrapher and educator, Jenna Blazevich applies her multidisciplinary skills to helping big-name corporate brands and independent small businesses create a unique visual identity. But above it all, she’s first and foremost an unapologetic feminist artist. A great example? Her “Girls to the Front” slogan—of Riot Grrrl fame—can be hand-embroidered onto the back of denim jackets, prints, patches, skateboards—you name it.
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