How our new nameplate came to be

  • Bob Marstall in his studio in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Marstall in his studio in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Editor in Chief
Published: 9/16/2019 12:19:59 AM

Dear readers,
We hope you like our redesign! This is a project that has been in the works for months, and, along the way, many people have been involved. But ultimately, the nameplate is the vision of one artist: landscape painter and children’s book illustrator Bob Marstall.

I discovered Marstall’s work a little over two years ago when I first started working at the Gazette as arts and culture editor and wrote about the collaboration between the Easthampton artist and Hatfield author Jane Yolen, who had just published the book “On Bird Hill.” The first in a series of children’s books for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the story follows a boy and his dog on a walk as they discover a bird that has just hatched in its nest.

I’ve since read “On Bird Hill” to my children countless times, but this spring, as longtime designer Lucy Pickett (now retired) and I were discussing what the Gazette nameplate could look like, the picture book’s cover image came to mind. One of the ideas we’d been toying with was an illustration depicting the Pioneer Valley with its pastoral beauty. The book’s dust jacket features a whimsical white dove-like bird whose feathers form a semicircle shape that serves as a keyhole to an idyllic world: Here is a tiny house with a single wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, nestled among trees and before an expanse of farmland, mountains and sky.

With these choice lines and curves, Marstall captures what it feels like to live in a valley. We wondered if he could capture what it feels like to live in our Valley.

In April, we emailed Marstall asking just that, and he replied immediately, enthusiastically expressing his interest. As it turns out, Marstall designed quite a few logos back in the day for businesses around Northampton. “Some (or vestiges of) can still be found,” he wrote back. “The Northampton Bicycle sign; the old ‘Beardsley’s’ restaurant sign, which has been hanging for many years on Packard’s ceiling near the entrance ... and many others for businesses that sadly disappeared before you arrived.” He also created an original bookmark for Broadside Bookshop in 1975.

We were intrigued to learn that Marstall used to work part time for the Gazette “several eons ago, doing real paste-up and layout in the days before computers,” he said. “Many friends have worked there over the years, and I’ve always felt connected — plus I’ve been a happy subscriber for many decades.”

Marstall’s personal ties to the paper, and to the Valley, make his contribution all the more meaningful.

They also made the process of designing our nameplate all the more challenging. The hardest part for all of us: how to choose a limited number of landmarks. [Editor’s note: See accompanying key.] Early in his tenure, our publisher, Michael Moses, became a key part of those conversations, as we discussed the importance of inclusion. We wanted every reader to feel represented in some way.

“As the newspaper of record for Hampshire County, and beyond, we represent the collective voices of our region,” Moses recently said. “We felt it was important to not just reflect that through our coverage but to illuminate our historical ties to our surrounding communities through illustration.”

Before determining the initial landmarks to feature in the nameplate, we went through rounds of lists. We asked librarians and historians in the area for their ideas, and Gazette staffers also submitted suggestions. At one point, an early draft of the nameplate featured the Whately milk bottle, but we cut it since it’s technically in Franklin County, and we wanted to focus on Hampshire County. Late this summer, we decided to add one more landmark, from Hampden County: Holyoke City Hall.

In the end, we chose not to feature religious landmarks, such as churches, so as not to place emphasis on one religion over another, The New England Peace Pagoda being something of an exception because, as Marstall put it, “it’s totally cool, and we all agreed on it.” We also decided not to picture any colleges; it felt unfair to highlight one and not another.”

“Everyone recognized certain things were essential,” Marstall recently recalled, “and city and town halls were right at the heart of it.” The barn represents the Valley’s agricultural history, and the river connects us all. Marstall also depicted John James Memorial Hall in Goshen at the far right of the nameplate because, he said, “I wanted to do something at that end of the world.”

While Marstall checked in with us regularly throughout the process, he did the real work behind the scenes in his studio. “What was enjoyable was the challenge of figuring out how to render these huge buildings down to the size of a half of an inch and have it look and feel right and all work together,” he said. “The foliage was key, also.”

I recently asked Marstall to walk me through his process. First, he began with a pencil drawing, “essentially all made up,” he said. He looked at photos of Northampton City Hall and Easthampton’s Old Town Hall on his iPhone for 30 seconds or so, he said, “and all the rest were made up in my head. It was the feeling I was going for.”

A newspaper nameplate presents a specific space: long, narrow and horizontal. “We have a natural setting for those low mountains, single river and buildings on either side of it,” he said. Along with the meadows, the scene captures the cozy, pastoral beauty of the Valley — just as we had hoped. Once Marstall created the right feeling, he started filling in the buildings, knowing that they could be interchanged and someday swapped out. He visited some of the landmarks in person, while relying on photographs for others.

After the pencil drawing stage, Marstall got to work on pen-and-ink versions, figuring out what thickness of lines would work best. He soon discovered that total historical accuracy wouldn’t translate to the page — too many tiny bricks, windows or steps would be hard on the eye. For example, he reduced the number of stairs on Northampton’s City Hall so that it would “read” better as a flat image. “The hardest part was sort of cartoonizing the central features of each building so that they came through in that tiny level,” he said. “That meant simplifying it, using all kinds of tricks to make it look right. If you examine photos of the buildings and what I ended up with, it’s just far simpler, particularly with some of these old buildings and the elaborate details.”

Finally, he drew each element in pixels in Photoshop, using a digital tablet and pen.

When Pickett retired, the Gazette’s sales operations manager and color sorcerer, Stephanie Hadley, and her design team stepped in, tweaking colors and text and running print tests, with the help of our press operations manager, Bill Foster. Hadley’s team also suggested the new font for our name, which complements Marstall’s illustration.

So, that’s the story of how our new nameplate came to be. We love the idea of swapping in new buildings over the years, and we’re also thinking of changing its colors with the seasons. Is there something you’d like to see represented on the nameplate in the future? Let us know at bhauser@gazettenet.com and mmoses@gazettenet.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

   




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