Reinterpreting Reiss: Artists use modern techniques for manufacturing murals inspired by noted works

Formica, Rumpke, Perfetti featured so far
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-06 12:00:50-04

CINCINNATI -- Formica laminate. Vector imaging software. Laser cutting. It’s a far cry from the methods Winold Reiss employed when he created the iconic workers murals that once hung at Union Terminal.

But Matt Lynch, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, believes Reiss would have used the same tools if he had them at his disposal.

Lynch and Columbus-based artist Curtis Goldstein, a DAAP alumnus, have teamed up to create new murals that depict modern manufacturing, in some ways emulating the murals Reiss created nearly a century ago. But where Reiss’ work exuded optimism and the ideal American worker, Lynch and Goldstein are taking a more honest approach.

“We’re not trying to prove an agenda we already have,” Lynch said. “We’re kind of reporting, I guess.”

Artists Matt Lynch, left, and Curtis Goldstein hope to complete at least 10 murals by the end of next year. Provided

Lynch's and Goldstein’s process begins on the production floor of their subjects, where they tour and take hundreds of photos. Goldstein then takes the photos back to Columbus, where after settling upon one photo in collaboration with Lynch, he sketches and inks the scene at half-scale.

Goldstein’s drawing them comes back to Cincinnati, where it’s scanned. Goldstein takes the scanned image and determines the laminate colors to be used in the mosaic. Once those decisions are made, Lynch cuts out the shapes using a laser and arranges them, tapes them down and eventually glues them together.

That part of the process isn’t always easy. Sometimes pieces that are cut from the same sheet of laminate are similar in size, which makes assembly like putting together a puzzle. But Lynch doesn’t mind.

“It’s healthy,” he said. “It’s like meditation, I guess -- dig a hole.”

So far, the duo has completed three murals. The first, which depicts the factory floor at Formica Corp., was a natural choice. After all, it’s where the materials being used to create the murals were made, and Formica is the materials sponsor for the project.

“When (Lynch) came to us with the opportunity, we really jumped on it,” said Amy Gath, vice president of North America Marketing with Formica. “I think it’s exciting to be able to tell the history of Cincinnati’s manufacturing community with a material that is hometown material, over 100 years old.”

Naturally, the Formica mural now hangs in the company’s Evendale headquarters.

“I always find it interesting to find materials that relate directly to your subject and the story you’re telling,” Goldstein said. “It’s a fun idea, a fun project, and it’s great that we get to tour factories and make designs from all of the pictures.”

The other two, which depict Rumpke Recycling and the Airheads candy production line at Erlanger-based Perfetti Van Melle, hang in the foyer at DAAP.

Lynch is working on creating the fourth, which depicts the assembly of an engine at GE Aircraft. The pair plan to create at least 10 murals, though ideally there will be 14, the same number Reiss made.

Future possible subjects include Flavor Producers, Verdin Bells & Clocks and Rookwood Pottery, which was also depicted in the original Reiss murals.

“I think it’s nice to have continuity between the old project and the new project,” Lynch said.

He often gets questions about how many pieces are in each mural, and how many hours go into their creation. He’s not sure of the answer to either question, and he’s not sure he wants to know the answer to the latter.

The murals will be on display at the Weston Art Gallery in winter of next year. After that, Lynch would like to see them displayed in public places.

“The Museum Center would be nice,” Lynch mused. “That’d be full-circle.”