It's been a long road. Themerica is back. I'm Dave Gottwald. After seven years working in exhibit design and graphic design at the Oakland Museum of California, I took a full-time professorship at the University of Idaho in 2016. And in July of 2017, I began the first of what will be many travels continuing my documentation and analysis of thematic design. Themerica began in 2007 as my MFA design thesis project. Over the course of a year and a half, I traveled to many places; all eleven (at the time) Disney Parks around the world, Las Vegas, Macau, Dubai...
All those original musings and photograph are archived here, part of a larger section on my primary website about the project. Going forward, this new blog is where I'll be musing on thematic design and what myself and colleague Greg Turner-Rahman are calling the "End of Architecture." But first, on to this past summer's travels.
It was simply by happenstance that myself and MFA candidate David Janssen, Jr. were both headed to the same place in July of 2017: Michigan. Rather than simply sharing the cost of gas and lodging, we thought this would be an awesome opportunity for collaboration between artist and designer, faculty and graduate student, mentor and protégé. David wanted to incorporate typography into his practice of painting and printmaking. Neither of us had any real experience setting type on press. The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin was on our route, so we enrolled in one of their all-day letterpress workshops.
During the drive eastward, we decided to document all the typography we saw through seven states, aiming our lenses at the letters that form the backbone of roadside America. Upon returning home, I designed a book of our photography, 88MPH, and David designed the cover. We then curated a selection of photos for inclusion in the 2017 University of Idaho Faculty Exhibition, which is on view at Moscow's Prichard Art Gallery through December 23.
88MPH is a reference to the magical speed one must attain in the fabled Delorean to travel through time in the Back to the Future films. And in a sense, surveying the letters of roadside America is indeed its own form of time travel. Here were sun-bleached characters on sides of buildings; stoic ghosts that keep watch over the empty Main Streets of towns across the Heartland. Here was scrawl in permanent marker, worn paint on wood, cracked vinyl on glass.
So that was part of the journey eastward this past summer. The first leg. After leaving Mr. Janssen in Saginaw, MI, I was looking forward to the second and third legs of my travels, which would bring me back home through the highways, byways, and backroads of Themerica.
In general, all the photography posted will be my own. Occasionally I might use a third party source for something I was unable to capture, and attribute it as such. But for the most part I'll stick with my rough and tumble, point-and-shoot snaps. I won't try to fancy up any of my posts with professional photography lifted from online. I'm not a photographer by any stretch, so think of these as amateur Kodachrome slides, projected in the living room to accompanying narration.
Between teaching and other university duties, I'm not sure how frequently I will be posting here, but I'm going to begin with a series which documents the entire five weeks during July and August 2017 I spent on the road studying thematic design. From Deadwood, South Dakota to Cedar Point, Ohio. From Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford, to Kansas City's Worlds of Fun. From Walt Disney's boyhood town (Marceline, Missouri) to Harper Goff's (Fort Collins, Colorado)—both of which inspired designs at Disneyland. From two presidential libraries, to local history museums.