Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California

September 20, 2014–April 12, 2015


FERTILE GROUND was a 7,200-square-foot exhibit that illuminated local histories and social forces that changed the face of art in the Golden State by weaving together art and ephemera from the collections of the Oakland Museum of California and SFMOMA. Focusing equally on the artworks and the contexts that fostered their creation, FERTILE GROUND presented an intimate and textured history of personal relationships, artistic breakthroughs, and transformative social change.

My contributions to this exhibit included in-gallery typography and a series of three digitally printed, hardcover scrapbooks which added a rich context of photographs, correspondence, and other assorted ephemera to the art on view. Identity and campaign work were ably handled by Amanda Boesen.  

Graphic Design  |  Editorial Design + Layout



Gallery presentation was minimal, with striking wall colors to accent the works.

Greys and whites dominate, accompanied by a cranberry and an evergreen hue.

Typography was internally consistent throughout, with again an emphasis on minimalism.

Digitally recreating the original art deco-styled f/64 logo mark from vintage materials was a pleasure. While based on existing typefaces, the final lettering is custom.



Each of the four main sections in FERTILE GROUND has a lounge area with seating and relevant books to browse through. The curatorial mandate for the scrapbooks was to augment the visitor experience in-gallery with an additional historical narrative for each of the first three, covering the decades from the 1930s to the 1970s. The final section, the MISSION SCENE, is more contemporary in presentation, so a scrapbook was not deemed necessary.

Much like scrapbooks I've designed for other exhibitions and gallery displays, These three volumes provide relevant backstories and historical and personal contexts to the artwork on display through the compelling use of vintage photographs, letter, notes, and other ephemera.

The covers are monochromatic at the request of the curators, so as to not compete with the gallery walls and artworks.

All of the paper foxing and other marks of age were hand-rendered onto actual samples and scanned in. No two spreads are alike.

Of particular interest was personal correspondence between the artists and their patrons, and teachers with their students. Even doodles and daydreams scrawled on faculty meeting minutes provided insights.

Each of the three volumes is assembled on paper that reflects the time period, so the scrapbooks have their own unique color casts. The first volume exhibits the most foxing and paper oxidation. The third book was "bound" closer to the present, so it has been aged the least.

The subtleties of this craft are often overlooked, but they provide an immersive experience for the visitor. As thematic elements in a gallery space contribute to placemaking, this style of design contributes to 'era-making.' It's a form of presenting historical material that can almost be smelled.

We had access to a tremendous amount of unique source material, such as contact sheets and negatives.

All were scanned by archivists in our digital studio, preserving any original flaws such as rips, stains, or other imperfections. 

A few of these photographs had never been widely published before, but the majority of the correspondence and notes had never been seen by the public in any form.

Each scrapbook also features typeface styles that are accurate to the period; the Great Depression era, post-World War II, and the 1970s. The final books were printed using blurb.