FORT WARD, BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — It was late afternoon in early November, so by the time we got out to Point White Pier, the sun was already sagging in the southwest sky.
It was picture-postcard perfect, if you weren’t the one taking the picture. Severely backlit, it would be a real challenge to get the one shot the guy holding the camera had in mind: facing down the pier toward open water, with our subject in the foreground.
But Ryan S. (I’m pretty sure it was Ryan, whose fine images graced the Bainbridge Island Review newspaper for a few years in the early 2000s), was a wizard with the fill flash.
Our subject was Marc Anderson, then a BHS junior and aspiring graphic artist who’d just created a series of iconographic signs for Bainbridge parks. The signs were striking and the volunteer effort earned him an Eagle Scout, and if that wasn’t a story ready-made for the hometown newspaper, well, c’mon. So on that afternoon we packed up the gear, Marc picked us up at the office, and off we went to the pier for the shoot.
Ryan got his camera dialed in as Marc and I took in the setting, talked about his work and probably bristled a bit at the autumn bite. Marc plopped down cross-legged on the rough planks, hugged a poster board bearing his stylized image of the island’s landmark pier, and *FLASH* Ryan caught the moment for posterity.
Marc remembers the day from a different angle, the chagrin of a kid with strange passengers and a humble ride.
“Yes, you were there,” he recalled last summer, after I tracked him down by email a decade and a half removed from that sliver of an afternoon. “We drove down in my little hatchback, with the tires rubbing on the wheel wells the whole time.”
History suggests that Marc’s car did get us there and back again, swaying springs notwithstanding. I will have to fill in the rest of the scene by inference. Back at the newsroom, Ryan would have sifted through his digital images and settled on The Shot destined for that week’s front page, before motoring home in his old white Saab. I would have checked my scribbled notes and banged out a quick feature on the designer and his colorful signs, evocative of vintage travel posters and the work of famous graphic artist Michael Schwab, and then probably gone off to the Pub for the evening. We were all younger.
I do know the story ran under the headline “You CAN get there from here,” reflecting the essential message of all directional signage and a nod toward the editor’s endless obsession with the band R.E.M.
Stay tied to one place long enough, and your life will eventually circle back on itself. Especially true in a small community, on a small island – which begins to explain how these 17 years later, Marc Anderson has created one more iconographic sign for one more Bainbridge Island park: the new Fort Ward Community Hall. And how I find myself writing about this once again.
GOOD GRAPHIC DESIGN is key to brand identity, giving your product critical visual appeal in a crowded and attention-deficit-disordered market. Period, context, message, allusion, allure … done right, your story all comes together in a magical mix of image, color and type.
We’ve been fortunate to have great graphic art working for us throughout the five-year bakery restoration project. Back in 2015 when we were just getting Friends of Fort Ward going as a nonprofit, our neighbor and graphic artist Alex Sanso gifted us with a warm, whimsical rendition of the bakery for a logo and poster, all pro bono.
Did that ever pay off. We made a minor mint flogging T-shirts, coffee mugs and fine-art prints with Alex’s wonderful designs, seed money that got this whole thing off the ground.
Brand recognition too. At that point, nobody knew what the heck this old “Fort Ward bakery” place we kept talking about even looked like. It had been sitting right here in our midst for 105 years, a half-block off the main road, and everybody seemed to have lived in it as a renter at some point, but most who claimed to know it were thinking of a different building entirely. It was like Woodstock that way: if you could remember it, you weren’t there.
But Alex’s logo gave people a visual image to latch onto, an idea of what our little historic bakery would look like restored, someday, if everything fell into place, and if only folks would give a little to help make it happen. They gave, enthusiastically.
It’s fair to say that without Alex and her generosity, recent history would look a lot different. Friends of Fort Ward might never have made any friends at all, and the bakery might still be sitting there sagging in sad decay.
FORTUNATELY, HISTORY IS WHAT IT IS. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I always figured that someday we’d need a directional sign, too – ideally, in the same style as the ones that Marc Anderson kid had conjured up so many years ago, still part of the island’s visual fabric and still guiding islanders to their favorite parks and trails.
You know them all, those silhouetted icons of each park’s signature feature: Battle Point Park’s telltale water tower, the wooded shoreline tableau at Gazzam Lake, Sands Fields’ Little Leaguer in crisp batter’s stance, and so on. Over the years, those signs have become iconic in their own right.
Whatever happened to the artist, anyway? Hm.
Last summer, in a seriously weird moment, I was in the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation office when a guy came in off the street wearing a T-shirt screen-printed with one of those park sign designs. I guess he’d snapped a photo of the sign – Sands Fields, or maybe it was Battle Point – and bootlegged the image onto a shirt.
“You know who did these signs?” he asked, pointing to his chest. “Somebody should put ‘em on shirts to raise money for parks. Everybody loves ‘em.”
Actually, I said, I do know. It was quite a while ago, almost twenty years, but yeah, there was this local kid named Marc Anderson, and ….
This was early August 2019, four years into the bakery project and almost a year into the physical restoration.
As will happen when you dig really deep into a century-old building and try to drag it along with you into the future, we’d found one “surprise” after another, most leading to long and costly delays. Construction stuttered along with no end in sight, and there was certainly no pressing need to help the motoring public find its way to the building.
Still, the moment seemed fated. I emailed Marc’s father, island architect Bruce Anderson, who said that his son was indeed now practicing graphic design professionally, had recently moved back to Seattle after some years on the East Coast, and had his own design studio, Rainfall.
I said we had a new park and needed new sign. Bruce promised to ask.
A few minutes later I got an email back from Marc. He remembered. He was in.
AT THIS POINT I could try to describe the sign that Marc came up with, and what I think makes it so great. Better though to let the artist speak for his own work:
“The illustrative artwork for Fort Ward Community Hall marks a continuation of the wayfinding signage that I created in 2004 for iconic Bainbridge Island Parks. For my return, I wanted to create a composition that felt as though it was a part of the original family of signs, while also exhibiting my growth as a designer in the years following the original works. The result is a composition that employs light and shadow to express the fundamental shape of the historic bakery building, with a particular focus on the structure’s most distinct feature, its cupola.
“The fir branches are intended to frame the composition and acknowledge the time that has passed since the building’s original use in the early 1900s, as they imply that the viewer is standing under a tree that now occupies the corner of the property…. With this new sign, the Fort Ward Community Hall asserts its presence amongst its historical neighbors both on the island and nationwide.”
For the record, the typeface Marc chose is GT Walsheim, a contemporary font released in 2012 by the Grilli Type Foundry and inspired by the work of Swiss designer Otto Baumberger in the 1930s. Baumberger, it should be noted, pioneered that retro travel poster style still so popular today, when the style wasn’t yet retro.
“Its bold, geometric simplicity makes it clearly legible, and combines observable strength with a bit of quirkiness,” Marc says of the Walsheim typeface, “not unlike the building.”
NOT CONTENT WITH JUST A SIGN, Marc also stepped up to design the Fort Ward Community Hall’s interpretive panels and door placards. True, it was his polite way of saying my own attempts at graphic design stunk, not an unfair view. But the extra effort he put in to create the panels also brings a visual continuity – a brand – to the presentation throughout the building.
Drawn from our many historic resources – and supported by grants from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, with help from our friends at the Coast Defense Study Group – the panels tell the Fort Ward story through various periods and from different angles.
They’re the first in a series of historic montages that will rotate through the building over time. They’re visually stunning and just super cool generally, and anyone who uses the hall should enjoy them and maybe be surprised anew the next time they visit.
Here, an author’s note: Over the course of the bakery chronicles, I’ve penned these little yarns from the comfortable remove of the collective voice, one long creative writing exercise from the perspective of We. It’s a reflexive stance from an original social-distancer, but also an honest attempt to reflect the collective spirit of the bakery project: this is the community hall the community built.
This story though, and probably only this one, felt a little more personal. I was there. So today you get I.
Looking back on that feature story in the Review so many years ago, I see folks were wowed from the get-go by Marc’s Bainbridge Island park signs. “He’s a very talented young man and has a great future ahead of him for graphic artwork,” was the view from the city’s sign shop, “and the community will be equally impressed.”
All of which proved true. The signs are still up and still enjoyed. And last fall, when he visited the bakery to scout out the building, take some photos for reference and begin to set his creative wheels in motion, Marc gave me a ride again, this time in his new car, a Tesla. He seemed a bit sheepish about this one too, probably for different reasons.
Marc – own it, man! It’s good for the planet, and hey, you got there from here.
When the new Fort Ward Community Hall road sign goes up one day soon, islanders will get here from there.
DC/FFW, June 2020