By Mark Sinclair

From Dress Code’s film about Steve Frykholm and his Herman Miller Picnic Posters

In 1970, the Herman Miller Furniture Company hired a Cranbrook School of Art graduate named Steve Frykholm as its first in-house graphic designer – one of his first jobs was to create a poster for the firm’s annual summer picnic. In a new film, Frykholm tells the story of how his series of screenprints developed over 20 years…

Profiled in Herman Miller’s online magazine, WHY, Frykholm is also the subject of The Picnic Posters, a short documentary by Dress Code which profiles his work at the furniture company in the 1970s and 80s (you can watch it below).

After 45 years, Frykholm remains a Herman Miller employee to this day and is now its vice president of creative design.

Picnic Posters, 1970 and 1983, courtesy Herman Miller

Picnic Posters, 1975 and 1982, courtesy Herman Miller

Picnic Posters, 1978 and 1977, courtesy Herman Miller

In the late 1960s, following two years teaching in Nigeria with the Peace Corps, Frykholm went to Cranbrook School of Art to take an MFA in design. “After that, I wanted to work on either coast – just get me out of here!,” he tells Amber Bravo on the WHY site. “New York, LA, San Francisco – that’s where it was happening.”

In fact, Frykholm remained in Michigan – “When you get a job offer at Herman Miller, you have to at least give it a whack,” he says – and from 1970, the esteemed company where Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard and George Nelson had built their reputations became the place where Frykholm would also make his name.

In the film, Frykholm says that the picnics at Herman Miller had been an annual tradition since the 1940s. When he arrived at the offices he was asked to design a poster for the forthcoming summer party and came up with the ‘Sweet Corn Festival’ design, shown above.

Over another 20 editions, Frykholm tackled the ‘seven layer salad’; various fruits and desserts; and also an ice-cream cone which featured type sprinkled on top like chocolate chips. It’s perhaps not surprising that MoMA soon added some examples from the series into their permanent collection.

Produced and Directed by: Dress Code. Producer: Tara Rose Stromberg. Cinematography: Adam McDaid, Andre Andreev. Editor: Dan Covert, Mike Cook. Herman Miller Team: Executive Creative Director: Ben Watson. VP of Brand: Richard Elder. Brand Manager: Kathy Keating. Art Director: Everett Pelayo. Writers: Amber Bravo, Clark Malcolm. Program Manager: Gay Strobel

Asked by Bravo how it feels to have been at the company for nearly half a century, Frykholm is reflective. “It just happened,” he says. “I ran into a former colleague who retired several years ago and he said, ‘How are things at Herman Miller?’ And I said, ‘Well I got to tell you man, I wish I was ten years younger so I could ride this sucker a little longer.'”

To celebrate his time at the company, Frykholm has also recently reprinted his first poster again. The process is still something he enjoys doing, as he explains in the film. For the designer, the three-colour screenprint is essentially “a sequence of events”, says Frykholm, where the printer works with one colour at a time. “When that last colour goes on – it’s better than you imagine.”

The full interview with Frykholm is on the Herman Miller WHY site, here. Thanks to Emma Tucker for the heads up about the new film.

Still from Dress Code’s film: Frykholm oversees the reprinting of his first Picnic Poster, originally designed in 1970

One of the Herman Miller Picnics, image courtesy Herman Miller

Picnic Posters, 1979 and 1974, courtesy Herman Miller

Picnic Posters, 1980 and 1976, courtesy Herman Miller

Read more here:: Steve Frykholm, Herman Miller and the Picnic Posters