Imaginative, authentic, original Ad Club honors Frykholm

February 25, 2009
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Steve Frykholm didn’t even know there was a Silver Medal Award from the Ad Club of West Michigan.

Now he’s getting one.

Frykholm, vice president and creative director at Herman Miller in Zeeland, will be honored during the Ad Club’s annual Addy’s reception on Thursday.

“I didn’t even know they gave out this award, so it’s pretty cool,” said Frykholm.

Logging nearly 40 years at the office furniture maker, Frykholm is known for posters he designed for the company’s summer employee picnic and for his striking annual reports. His posters are in the collections of several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. He designed a Christmas ornament for the White House’s Blue Room tree last year, at the request of Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, formerly an executive with Herman Miller.

A native of Kansas, Frykholm earned a bachelor’s in advertising art from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., taught at a girls’ school in Nigeria in the Peace Corps, then received an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit in 1969.

Impressed with the design of the Eames and Nelson furniture pieces his classmates snagged at Herman Miller surplus sales, Frykholm sent the company one of the same résumés he had sprinkled along the East and West coasts. He became Herman Miller’s first graphic designer.

“I thought I’d stay for a couple of years and move on,” he recalled.

Some four decades later, Frykholm is still making sure that Herman Miller’s corporate image is as design-forward as its furniture products.

One of his first projects turned out to be perhaps his most iconic: the 1970 picnic poster of ruby red lips and a set of white teeth biting into an ear of yellow sweet corn. With their saturated colors and close-up points-of-view, Frykholm’s posters echoed the pop art of the 1960s and quickly became a hit. Part of several museum collections, the posters have been displayed around the world.

“That was one of my first assignments, to do a poster for the picnic in the 1970s,” Frykholm said. “I did the first 20 of them. I guess they’ve been pretty popular. They look like they’re from the vantage point of the Lilliputians in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ — really bigger than life.”

While never sold to the public, the posters are available today on the Internet. Not that Frykholm might have known, since he is a relative newcomer to computers.

“I’ve always had other people who would help me and were more nimble than I was with the technology,” he said. “A few years ago, I decided, ‘You need to learn this stuff.’ I’ve been taking classes and learning from my colleagues. I’m still not nimble, but I can at least rough something out.”

Frykholm’s Ad Club Silver Medal will join a slew of other awards. He shares a Belmont home with his wife, Nancy Phillips, a retired interior architect and designer, and is an early morning gym rat.

Through dozens of projects for Herman Miller, Frykholm’s approach hasn’t wavered.

“I always try to be as inventive and imaginative as I can in solving those problems, and try to be authentic and original,” he said.

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