When you spend long hours designing logos, brand identities, websites, and collateral for clients, the thought of taking on a personal design project may seem daunting–especially if it means publishing a book.
But for Woodpile Studios‘ art director Richard Friend, it was always a labor of love.
Richard began writing a blog and curating a Facebook page called “Lost Laurel” back in 2011. The idea was simple–sharing memory triggers of stores, restaurants, and other long-gone businesses from the town where he grew up–Laurel, Maryland. Graphic designers are notorious for their eclectic collecting habits, and Friend’s collection includes everything from vintage matchbook covers from favorite pubs to shopping bags and price tags bearing logos of defunct retailers. Their common thread? They all represent Laurel.
Now living in Northern Virginia, Friend spent his Saturday mornings back in Laurel throughout 2012, combing through every archived issue of the hometown Laurel Leader newspaper on file at the local library–where he once worked as a clerical aide throughout high school and college. Although primarily interested in the 1970s and 80s, Richard was quickly drawn into the earlier history: bound editions of the newspaper dated back to the 1940s, and microfilm went even further. Armed with a camera and portable scanner, he meticulously documented photos and ads from decades gone by. Then, it was off to the Laurel Historical Society for even more resources, discovered in their photos and yearbook collections.
It was Friend’s background in publication design that led him to produce a book on the subject. “For me, it was the next logical step… It was the perfect way for me to present this material.” He began sketching an outline of the book, which would be organized by decade and comprise an entire century of Laurel retail history. “I’d already written and designed at least 75% of it by the time I created the Kickstarter campaign,” he said. “There was never any question about being able to finish it–the only obstacle was getting it printed and making it available affordably.”
Kickstarter proved to be an amazing tool for overcoming that obstacle. Within just the first few days, the project became both a Kickstarter Staff Pick and a Kickstarter Project of the Day–selected from thousands of projects across 13 different genres.
315 pre-orders for the book raised over $17,500 for printing, which allowed Friend to increase the page count from 152 to 192 pages, and cover additional costs, such as Baltimore Sun reproduction fees. Four Colour Print Group produced the book, printing a total of 1080 paperback copies and 143 limited edition hardcovers.
While the book was being completed, another Lost Laurel project began to take shape. The Laurel Museum, inspired by the amount of interest, approached Richard about helping to create their 2014 exhibit around a similar theme. Combining the best of the past and some current local businesses, they developed Lost & Found Laurel–which opened in February 2014 and became the museum’s most popular exhibit in its 18-year history.
Richard not only loaned items for the exhibit, but volunteered to design the exhibit display panels and marketing materials as well. The Museum’s gift shop became the exclusive retailer of the Lost Laurel book, and he also contributed a collectible poster and ornament design–the latter produced by the Chemart Company of Lincoln, Rhode Island, the same company that produces the annual White House Christmas ornament.
Throughout the year, he was also invited to speak on behalf the Laurel Historical Society Speakers Bureau, and enjoyed presenting to the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Center, the Woman’s Club of Laurel, and at a crowded book-signing event for the Laurel Museum itself.
Despite its hyper-local nostalgic appeal, at the heart of the Lost Laurel project is the loss of once-loved places. Even the Laurel Mall, which Friend saw first open as a child in 1979, met its end in 2012. Friend organized a community walk-through in the days before its demolition, allowing old friends the chance to pay a final farewell to what was once a vibrant shopping center.
His book opens with a pair of photos providing stark contrast between the mall’s opening day and one of its last. “It really speaks to how fleeting everything is,” he says. “Just like people, you really can’t take places like this for granted. It’s a part of your life, and before you know it, it’s gone.”
The latest phase of Lost Laurel has come via the city’s recently revamped cable access channel, Laurel TV. Approached to host and produce a monthly series of documentary-style programs based on Lost Laurel, Friend is enjoying the new medium. “It’s not something I expected to be doing, honestly; but it’s another fun way to share the history.”
The Lost & Found Laurel exhibit ended in December, but Friend was happy to volunteer design work for the Museum’s 2015 exhibit, Ripped from the Headlines: Laurel in the News. Beyond the branding itself, he’s designed over 50 exhibit panels that collectively showcase some of the biggest and most compelling news stories Laurel has seen over the past century.