MVDS: In the written narrative I've focused on the social contexts that allowed for the Dixie Cup to be a successful designed object: specifically looking at issues of microbiology, sanitation, social health reform, invention and patent applications, advertising and consumer/commodity culture, and mechanical technology. I love the idea of using a very specific object as an entry point for looking at history. Looking closely at things that are often overlooked, or taken for granted, is actually a foray into a means to understand a specific socio-economic and cultural moment. Ultimately, I find context to be critical. Contextualizing mundane objects within a historical narrative is an exercise in critical thinking; something we should all be doing more of and that others are inciting us to: from Mark Kurlansky and his historical surveys of salt and cod and Henry Petroski's books exploring the interrelationship between success and failure in design to Susan Strasser's work on the social history of trash.
WHERE DID THE RESEARCH FOR THIS PROJECT BEGIN? HOW DID IT DEVELOP? MVDS: Carl had done some preliminary research on the Dixie Cup Company and the company’s co-founder, Hugh Moore. He passed along some Internet sources and I delved in from there. Researching the paper cup was honestly one of my favorite parts of this project: There are so many places to find information and so many different ways to approach a subject like this. I looked at variety of secondary sources, directly related to the paper cup and more generally to the socio-economic and cultural atmosphere at the turn of the 20th century (the era in which the paper cup was popularly received and the period I examine most closely) . . . I find the initial research question often yields tangential inquiries that can prove critically illuminating and informative to the conception of the project. I looked at a broad array of sources from patents to Life magazine advertisements to the work of theorists like Susan Sontag and historians like T.J. Jackson Lears.
WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES IN THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE DIXIE CUP HAS ALTERED SOCIETY? MVDS: Ads for the paper cup began appearing in the popular press around the late 1880s, at least 30 years before they were commercially successful products. The success of the paper cup had everything to do with the specific socio-cultural milieu of the early 20th century. Thanks to Lawrence Luellen and Hugh Moore, the founders of the Dixie Cup Company, the design of the paper cup changed drastically in this period . . . so the way I see it, it was society that ultimately altered the paper cup.
WHAT OTHER EXAMPLES OF INDUSTRIAL DESIGN ARE YOU HOPING TO SHOWCASE? MVDS + CH: Other products that we’re considering include the paperclip, remote control, toothbrush, bendy straw, and the square-bottom paper bag.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US DESIGN-WISE ABOUT BROADSHEET? CH: It is starting as a limited print run of 200 and will soon have some new-media elements. We will likely include a revolving group of artists — I like collaboration, collecting different creative visions and viewpoints of an object. This issue will have an accompanying poster, which will fold into a paper cup.
MVDS: (For this issue) we also drew from an amazing community of creative minds: Matt Chamberlain drew a portrait of one of the protagonists of the paper-cup story (Hugh Moore); David Wolfe served as a creative consultant; Steve Bowden helped with layout; and many others contributed to this process.
Visit www.aa-ee.org for more information. Annie Larmon can be reached at email@example.com.
"STORYTELLERS" | January 24-March 12 | reception January 27 @ 5:30 pm | Kate Cheney Chappell Center for Book Arts, USM Glickman Family Library, Portland | 207.780.4270