Yesterday I listened to an Adventures in Design podcast which featured and interview with graphic designer Charles Spencer Anderson. It inspired me to sift through my CSA and French Paper Company design samples, and sent me tumbling down memory lane.
In 1991, while traveling from Chicago to northern Michigan, my wife Candace and my daughter Sophia (8 months old at the time) accompanied me on a field trip to the French Paper Company in Niles, Michigan. We had come to Michigan from our home in Oakland, California to visit family in Chicago and then for more family vacation activities in Wolverine, Michigan.
The French Paper Company had skyrocketed to mythic proportions in the cloistered world of graphic designers. Their collaboration with Charles Spencer Anderson ( at first through the Duffy Design Group in Minneapolis and eventually with his own design firm ) had made French paper the go-to stock for elevating design projects from good to much better. Because of the high quality graphic design that Anderson applied to the French Paper Company swatch books and promotional materials, neophyte designers such as myself felt that FPC paper would make anything cool.
Of course, that may have been the case by degree, however the incredibly adept CSA designs would have been eye-poppingly gorgeous and enviable if they'd been printed on crap papers. It's important to note that French paper brings a visual and tactile element to any project, but the level of design that CSA applies is, well, unusually nuanced and better than most.
Regardless, we stopped in Niles on our way north from Chicago. It was during the noon hour, and as Candace and Sophia parked themselves on a blanket on the lawn of the FPC headquarters, I made my way inside. There was no one in the reception area to greet me, but at some point an amiable guy emerged from a back office. He was eating a sandwich. I told him I had come to see the promised land with my own eyes and he humbly introduced himself as Jerry French. Yes, the paper magnate was a regular guy, eating a brown bag lunch, and greeting a visitor because the receptionist was taking her lunch break.
Over the next half an hour or so, Mr. French took me into the sample room and loaded me up with the latest swatch books and promotional materials. I vaguely remember that he also told me a little bit about the history of the company, and let me wander around the grounds to take some photos.
My loyalty to French papers, and my fascination with their promotional materials was cemented. For the last twenty-five years or so I have been squirreling away swatch books, posters, business cards, and any other promotional materials that I've managed to get my hands on, mostly through materials sent or dropped off at my places of employment or from FPC's Eric Henckel. Over the next few days/weeks I'll post photos of my ever-expanding collection.