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The posters designed for Herman Miller’s annual employee picnic are some of the best-known examples of American graphic design from the latter half of the 20th century. Much has been written about how the 1970 poster was Steve Frykholm’s first assignment as Herman Miller’s first internal graphic designer—as well as how his series of posters gained fans almost immediately. Museums took notice and collected these posters, even while the series was still ongoing—including The Henry Ford. However, Frykholm did not design all of Herman Miller’s picnic posters, but the first 20 of them, from 1970–1989. Kathy Stanton, a graphic designer on Frykholm’s team, recalled telling Frykholm, “if you ever decide to give this [the picnic posters] up, I’ll be interested.” In 1989, after designing 20 posters, Steve Frykholm decided it was time to pass the reins, and took Kathy Stanton up on her offer.

Poster showing blue, white, black, red, and yellow tropical fish and a fishhook against a background of blue water
Herman Miller Picnic Poster, "Fish," 1992 / THF626917

Kathy Stanton began taking art classes in high school at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the University of Cincinnati, in her hometown. She went on to attend the University of Cincinnati and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Design. In 1979, shortly after graduation (and in a tough job market), she was hired by Herman Miller to work in their internal graphic design department. Stanton worked on many projects in her time at Herman Miller, but she was particularly interested in designing for difficult technical and informational projects, like sales manuals and price books. She explained, “if you said it was impossible to digest, I was all on it.” The picnic posters, then, were a bit more free-form than the work that she had gravitated towards in her first decade at Herman Miller.

Poster illustrating aerial view of large and small mallard ducks swimming by a lilypad
Herman Miller Picnic Poster, "Duck Pond," 1998 / THF189134

Frykholm’s picnic posters famously focused on the food that might be found at the company’s annual employee summer picnic. Stanton decided to take another approach. Each of the 11 posters Stanton designed, one each year from 1990–2000, showcases an activity or feature of the summer picnic—from the clown that entertained children and adults alike, to the mallard ducks floating in a pond, or a game of croquet or ring toss in action. The earliest of these posters—"Ring Toss,” 1990; “Carousel,” 1991; and “Fish,” 1992—coincide with the growing availability (and capability) of computer programs to aid in design. “Ring Toss” is the only poster of her series that did not utilize a computer; “Carousel” was a hybrid design; and “Fish” was designed using a computer program but drawn freehand. She recalled, “I can tell where I grew and how the programs improved as I designed the posters.” Each of Stanton’s posters also include a small “Easter egg,” or additional element to delight the viewer. The first poster, “Ring Toss,” features a small ladybug resting in the grass in the lower right quadrant. Can you find the surprise element in each of the other posters?

Poster with stylized ring toss game illustration and detail showing ladybug among stylized grass
“Ring Toss, 1990” by Kathy Stanton, with detail of ladybug / THF626913

Stanton would hand off the picnic poster project to designer Brian Edlefson for the 2001 poster. He designed the series through 2005, when Andrew Dull took over and designed the final two posters in 2006 and 2007. Kathy Stanton would remain at Herman Miller until 2008, after 29 years at the company. Today, she is a freelance designer and artist working primarily in photography, painting, and jewelry-making. As she’s expanded her work, she still relies on balance, color, line, and composition—design concepts she learned in design school and honed at Herman Miller.

Poster illustrated with stylized view of croquet pitch with mallet, balls, hoops, and the player's shoes against a background of grass and clover
Herman Miller Picnic Poster, "Croquet," 1999 / THF626929


Katherine White is Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.

art, summer, design, by Katherine White, Herman Miller, posters, women's history

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Family Picnic, ca. 1935 THF101122
July. Mid-summer. Fresh mornings, hazy afternoons, balmy evenings.  It’s a chance to get outdoors and appreciate all that summer has to offer. At a time like this, it’s easy for our thoughts to turn to picnics. In fact, July is National Picnic Month!

As you can see from the selections included here, picnics have long been packed for family reunions, for camping trips, for road trips. Despite the potential for invading ants, the need for some planning beforehand, and a bit of inconvenience at the picnic spot, the rewards are well worth the effort. Because picnics promise good company, a chance to escape from daily cares, and is it me or does food just taste better outdoors?

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Trade card, ca. 1880; THF215172
This circa 1880 trade card, advertising Crown sewing machines and Florence oil stoves, suggests that a good time could be had by all if the picnic included food cooked on a Florence oil stove.

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Photo, ca. 1900; THF284849
The people seated at the picnic table in this circa 1900 photograph are enjoying a clam steam, a particular favorite in New England.  The meal often also included other shellfish and sweet corn.

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Collapsible cup, ca. 1920; THF104640
These circa 1920 collapsible paper cups, distributed at Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) service stations, made it easy for travelers to drink a cold beverage they might pack for their picnics.

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Photo, Vagabonds, July 24, 1921; THF34544
Even the rich and famous could enjoy an outdoor picnic, especially if served at a large Lazy-Susan table under a shady canvas cover. This 1921 photograph, taken during a “Vagabonds” camping trip in Hagerstown, Maryland, includes: Henry Ford and his wife Clara, son Edsel, and Edsel’s wife Eleanor; Thomas Edison and his wife Mina; Harvey Firestone and his wife Elizabeth Parke; President Warren G. Harding; and several others.

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Wash-up kit, ca. 1925; THF150975

Decades before pre-packaged moist towelettes came on the market, this circa 1925 Wash-Up Kit allowed picnickers to wash and dry their hands before eating—with a paper sheet that magically turned into soap when moistened and a set of paper towels.

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Photo, ca. 1930; THF120736

The family in this circa 1930 photograph was undeterred by the lack of restaurants along the highway. Like other motorists, they stopped along the side of the road and ate a meal they had packed themselves.

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Box of FMC Charcoal Briquets, 1935-7; THF6000
Ford Motor Company’s charcoal briquettes, produced in the 1930s from the wood wastes of its lumber operations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, claimed to be safe, smokeless, and convenient—ideal for picnickers wanting to grill outdoors.

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Photo, 1955; THF113925

The picnickers in this 1955 publicity photograph are enjoying campstove-cooked hot dogs in the remote Colorado Rockies.

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Fisher-Price Picnic Basket, 1975; THF155302
Kids could enjoy their own “Teddy Bear picnic” with this 1975 Fisher-Price playset—complete with a plastic hinged-lid picnic basket, dishes, and a tablecloth.

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Herman Miller Poster, 1985; THF154517
This striking 1985 poster is one of a series of 20 that graphic designer Stephen Frykholm created for the annual company picnics of Herman Miller, Inc.—a company renowned for its “modern” furniture.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, has fond memories of picnics growing up and continues to be a picnic aficionado.

by Donna R. Braden, food, summer

P.188.5395

Over about a decade in the early part of the 20th century, a quartet including Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs took a series of summer camping trips, sometimes inviting others along for part or all of the journey.  The group, calling themselves the Vagabonds, took trips that might not exactly qualify as “roughing it”—they travelled with a caravan of vehicles, a full contingent of service staff, and many comforts of home including furniture and china tableware. We’ve just digitized dozens of photos of the Vagabonds in action, including this photo of the group having breakfast at a large lazy susan–equipped wooden table. View more than 100 photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds by visiting The Henry Ford’s digital collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

summer, photographs, Henry Ford, Firestone family, John Burroughs, Vagabonds, by Ellice Engdahl, digital collections

Photo courtesy of Greenberg Artists.

This year during Salute to America, guest conductor Bob Bernhardt will join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra during The Henry Ford’s Fourth of July celebration in Greenfield Village. I had a chance to ask Bob, the principal pops conductor with the Louisville Orchestra, a few questions about what he’s most looking forward to next week on Walnut Grove. Continue Reading

Michigan, Detroit, summer, holidays, by Sarah R. Kornacki, events, music, Salute to America, Greenfield Village

ford-detail

Memorial Day, June 1, school letting out. It seems there are plenty of different dates that mark the beginning of summer for some people; the summer solstice on June 21 being far too late.

For me, summer has always begun with the flash of sunshine on chrome-heavy bumpers, the throaty roar of a high-performance engine, and the smell of barbecue tinged with a bit of exhaust – for me, summer begins on June 14 this year, and every year around this time, with our Motor Muster car show in Greenfield Village.

This event is the essence of summertime fun – distilled delight for all the senses. Just as novelist Ray Bradbury in his 1957 classic, Dandelion Wine, described the nostalgic summer wine made by the main character’s grandfather, Motor Muster is “...summer on the tongue...(it’s) summer caught and stoppered.” Continue Reading

Ford Motor Company, Mustangs, summer, events, Greenfield Village, by Greg Harris, car shows, cars, Motor Muster

What began as an experimental partnership has turned into a much anticipated local tradition. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and The Henry Ford are teaming up once again in honor of our country’s birthday with its 21st annual Salute to America celebration, July 3-6 from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each night. The pageantry of the evening will be a sheer delight marked by rich Americana music, a spectacular display of fireworks, and the thunderous sounds of cannon fire at the conclusion.

The decision to embark on a partnership for The Henry Ford and the DSO in 1992 was greeted with great enthusiasm, and marked the first time Greenfield Village presented an event of this scale.

“For the first decade of this program, the stage was set in front of Town Hall and seating was on and around the Village Green. It was a great venue but was limited in space,” explained Jim Johnson, Senior Manager of Creative Programs at The Henry Ford.

In 2003 Greenfield Village underwent major restoration including the reconfiguration of buildings around the Village Green. The event planners realized a change in location was needed to accommodate the growing attendance and popularity of the event. In 2004 the program was moved to the Walnut Grove historic district in Greenfield Village where it continues to be hosted to this day, accommodating up to 8,500 attendees and offering ample room to spread out and hillside seating perfect for outdoor concert viewers.

“A great deal of planning goes into the execution of an event this large, but The Henry Ford and the DSO work well together,” explained Johnson. “We meet after each event, talk about any ideas for the next year’s program, then we meet again in mid-winter and begin to put together the upcoming program for July. Once set-up begins in the days before the event each team on both sides steps in and takes care of what is needed.”

The First Michigan Colonial Drum and Fife Corps will once again set the tone for the affair greeting guests with their melodic 18th century music reminiscent of early America while marching through Greenfield Village. The Corps has a long history with The Henry Ford with their debut performance at Greenfield Village in 1975. In addition, 19th and early 20th century games and activities will be offered for children of all ages through Greenfield Village’s Games on the Green program including a visit from members of Greenfield Village’s historic base ball team. Attendees are invited to pack a picnic or they may want to leave their baskets at home and indulge in a selection of the finest foods offered by The Henry Ford’s award-winning chefs, which will be available for purchase. Just before the DSO joins the stage, a prelude concert will be performed by the River Raisin Ragtime Revue.

The DSO begins its performance at 8:30 p.m. each night, and internationally renowned conductor, and DSO Music Director, Leonard Slatkin will lead the symphony this year in all four concerts. This is Slatkin’s fifth season with the DSO and the second time he has performed at Greenfield Village.

“I have conducted many patriotic programs and not only in the United States. Greenfield Village lays claim to an authentic representation of early life and these concerts reflect the heritage of our country,” Slatkin said of the event. In regard to the selection of arrangements for the full length concert, the Maestro said,” …the thrust of the music is American, and although some of the pieces are not exactly patriotic in nature they reflect the diversity of our culture.”

This year the DSO will be saluting John Williams -- one of the most recognized American composers of the modern age, best known for his film scores. “His contribution to America’s cultural life is priceless, and quite new for all of us are the extracts from his score ‘Lincoln’,” said Slatkin.

The concert will include about a dozen different selections with an intermission, and will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a fireworks display. When asked how this overture written to commemorate Russia’s feat over Napoleon’s army became adopted as an American patriotic score, Slatkin said, “This tradition began with the Boston Pops in the 1950’s. Of course it has nothing to do with America but the cannons and fireworks made it seem celebratory. I wish someone would write, perhaps, the ‘1776’ Overture.”

Perhaps this year’s event will be an inspiration to the Maestro himself to compose such an overture.

Amy Alandt is a guest writer to The Henry Ford.

by Amy Alandt, Detroit, events, Greenfield Village, music, holidays, summer, Salute to America

Now that school's out and summer is here, many of us turn our thoughts to vacation and travel. Camping has long been a way for Americans to spend time relaxing with their families and friends and experiencing the beauties and wonders of nature — and sometimes just being a kid again.

 

Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves "the Four Vagabonds," embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents. (Photo found here.)

Henry Ford, President Harding, Harvey Firestone, Jr., and family dining on a camping trip to Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1921.

Over the years, the group crisscrossed the mountains, valleys and scenic countryside of Upstate New York, the New England states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia,Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

 

The group traveled in style and their adventures were well-documented and publicized. Equipment used by the party included a folding circular camp table with lazy Susan seating twenty (pictured above), a twenty-square-foot dining tent, sleeping tents with mosquito netting, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated Lincoln camping truck.  A professional chef prepared the group's meals and film crews and numerous outside journalists followed in their wake. Ford complained of the attention and its hampering effects on their trips, but there are strong indications that he nevertheless relished the publicity. (Photos found here and here.)

The Vagabonds service crew fixing a campfire meal, 1921.

Henry Ford and Clara Bryant Ford on vacation at the Grand Canyon, 1906.

Yet Henry Ford's interest in nature was not new or merely a public relations gambit. Here he is with Clara at the Grand Canyon in 1906.  They were avid birders and had over 500 birdhouses installed amid the naturalistic landscaping (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) of their Fair Lane Estate. John Burroughs helped them rehabilitate the adjoining land and reintroduce wildlife to the area.

 

In addition to the collections images online, we've also digitized films of the Vagabonds. Here, John Burroughs plants a tree; the group walks, dines and relaxes at the campsite; and Henry Ford climbs a tree.

 

This short film is part of the Ford Historic Film Collection.  It and others like it, including another featuring the Vagabonds, are viewable on the Benson Ford Research Center's online catalog and on our YouTube channel.)  Books in our research library about the Vagabonds include Norman Brauer's chronicle of their trips, There to Breathe the Beauty.

 

Even more still images from our photographic collections featuring the Vagabonds are available on our Flickr page. Here's Henry clowning around in a cowboy getup. (Below photo found here.)

"Cowboy" Henry Ford outside a tent, 1923.

Though executed on a grander scale than most camping trips, the Vagabonds' journeys spoke to a desire, shared by millions of Americans, to get back to the beauties of nature and, as Burroughs wrote, to "be not a spectator of, but a participator in, it all!"*

 

*(Burroughs, John.  Our Vacation Days of 1918.  Privately printed by Harvey Firestone, ca. 1918-1920s.)

Rebecca Bizonet is former archivist at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford.  When she's not helping preserve and provide access to her institution's vast and rich archival holdings, she enjoys exploring Michigan's scenic highways (and finds the many opportunities for great whitefish and pasties, not to mention the scenic historic and natural wonders, more than make up for not having a personal chef in tow!). 

summer, John Burroughs, Firestone family, Henry Ford, by Rebecca Bizonet, Vagabonds, camping