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Susan Skarsgard —Keynote Presentation

Where Today Meets Tomorrow: Eero Saarinen and the General Motors Technical Center by Susan Skarsgard. Princeton Architectural Press, 2019 (James Haefner)

Fri., Nov. 6. | Susan Skarsgard surprised me with her story about designing nameplates and emblems for a big car company—how could working for General Motors be interesting? Her unlikely and mundane beginnings as a hospital ward clerk led her to study calligraphy with Friedrich Neugebauer, who showed her how an artist lived and whose “mystic art of written forms” inspired and changed her.

Skarsgard’s mentor, the inimitable lettering artist Jerry Campbell—one of the original “mad men” who ran an art studio in the Detroit area—launched her on a rich and meaningful career. She began working at GM, hand-lettering car names, and other design work until she was assigned a project to create “something” to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the General Motors Technical Center, Eero Saarinen‘s celebrated mid-century modern campus design. This project ultimately led to the establishment of a new department: the GM Design Archive & Special Collections. She and her staff discovered an enormous trove of materials and documented the careers of hundreds of designers, including Gere Kavanaugh, one of the first women working at GM Design in the early days and an original “damsel of design.” This all means that Skarsgard’s new book Where Today Meets Tomorrow: Eero Saarinen and the General Motors Technical Center promises to be a fascinating and enjoyable story to read.