Fresh Ink

November 3, 2016
Author: Christina Hagopian

Gere Kavanaugh: A Career of Inspiration

A spotlight on the 2016 AIGA Medalist

Gere Kavanaugh: A spotlight on the 2016 AIGA Medalist

When I first watched this interview with Gere Kavanaugh I immediately thought: “I want to be her when I grow up!” Gere is a multidisciplinary designer, with experience ranging from tableware, textiles and industrial design and a 2016 AIGA medalist, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of design and visual communication.

Gere graciously took the time to answer a few questions about her life, education, career, and what inspires her to keep producing work at the age of 86. Vibrant and full of charisma, Gere made a point to pass on words of wisdom about being a working woman and the importance of stepping away from the computer to get your hands dirty.

Gere KavanaughGere Kavanaugh
Furniture and textiles designs by Gere Kavanaugh. Photos from AIGA.

FORMAL Education

Gere was the fifth woman to participate in the Masters program at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Maija Grotell, Florence Knoll, Ray Eames and Ruth Adler were some of the founding women that preceded and inspired her at Cranbrook. Despite being one of only a few women at Cranbrook–to say nothing of the societal norms for women at the time– she insisted that she ignored any gender-related limitations. “I didn’t believe being a woman would prohibit me from my goals and ignored it as a barrier,” she said with admirable conviction.

Gere Kavanaugh

“I want to inspire you to form a girls club just like men always have their boys club. There wasn’t enough women working nearby to form a club.”

While discussing our education (I am a Pratt alumna), she made sure to point out a bit of history left out of my curriculum. Gere was a part of an all-woman exhibition at Pratt in 1994, Goddess in the Details, highlighting women in industrial design. Regrettably, I was unfamiliar with some of the women she mentioned. Many are still alive today and she was adamant about carrying on their legacy, encouraging us to learn more about them. My homework assignment is complete – we got our hands on a copy of the exhibit catalogue!

Goddess in the Details, Product Design by Women, Pratt Exhibition 1994
Gere Kavanaugh

A hands on approach

Gere has a very hands-on approach not only in her work, but in her research. She is inspired by seeing, feeling and experiencing all that surrounds her. She insisted younger generations especially younger designers, should get away from the computer, believing they are only useful for quick bites of information.

She made certain to note that she was not a niche designer – something apparent through her wide breadth of work. “The world is cheated by thinking there is only one thing. It’s not one thing, but many things. You have to have the guts to present yourself in many ways.”

Gere Kavanaugh

Gere is currently working on personal archives that will be featured at Cranbrook. She is cataloging 20 boxes of personal work and it’s taken 2 years to sort and inventory (in part because she has never thrown anything out). She doesn’t know when she will finish and advises everyone to save their work carefully.

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Gere’s workspace and portrait above. Photos by Brian Guido for Metropolis.

So what’s next? Gere is travelling to the Czech Republic soon, as she’s a recipient of the Ladislav Sutnar Award — named after the famed industrial designer. She is also speaking at the AIGA this month.

We can’t wait to see what she creates next!

We told Gere we would email a link to the final blog post. She replied, “Your generation only uses email. It’s boring. Go ahead and email if you want to be boring, but please use handwriting!” We obviously sent her copy of this blog post printed along with a hand written letter.

Gere, thank you for your inspiring career. We can only aspire to have the collection of work that you do. Congratulations again on your AIGA medal!

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