Window watching: An ode to Faces

“The thing I learned from Steve Vogel is that it’s not always about product in the window. It’s about people being interested in your store – if you can get someone’s head to turn while they are walking down the sidewalk and look at your store’s window — you have won!” says Dan Manson, who designed the windows at Faces for fifteen years.

  • Dan Manson, right, works on a Mother's Day window at Faces as a family stops to look at it on Main Street in Northampton in 2004. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Faces founder and former owner Steve Vogel, left, and Dan Manson work on a Mother's Day window display in 2004. The downtown Northampton institution closed suddenly at the end of March. FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steve Vogel, left, the founder of Faces, and Dan Manson work on the back lighting for a Mother's Day window display at Faces in 2004. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson works on a Mother's Day window at Faces, on Main Street in Northampton in 2004. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson talks about his work at his studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019 amid creations that were used in the window of Faces in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At Dan Manson's studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019, a trick-or-treater and a tree creature are among creations that had a part in a Faces window display. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson talks about his work amid creations that were used in the window of Faces. Before his job at the store, he’d never designed a window per se, but honed his artistic talents building over-the-top props for his annual pumpkin carving parties. At right, an alien Manson created for the window. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At Dan Manson's studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019, a pumpkin man was park of a hillbilly family that decorated the Faces window. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The sink at Dan Manson's studio, April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Creation by Dan Manson and found items line a wall at his studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson talks about an alien he created for a Faces window at his studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Dan Manson creation rests on a workbench at his studio in Northampton, Friday April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • An alien and a crow in a nest that were created by Dan Manson for a Faces window rest in his studio, Friday April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson displays his latest project, concrete planters, at his studio in Northampton, Friday, April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • An alien Manson created for a Faces window. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A cowboy pickle on a swing created by Manson. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A kinetic sculpture created by Dan Manson that served as a model for a Faces window project rests in his studio, Friday April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A skeleton and a monster that was created by Dan Manson for a Faces window rest in his studio, Friday April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A skeleton, top, that was created by Dan Manson for a Faces window hangs above a mannequin covered in extension cords at his studio, Friday April 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson installs a Mother's Day window at Faces in 2004. “I know every inch of the window, it’s a 23-foot window. So I know what size to build things and in what proportions.” FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson, left, and Steve Vogel, who founded Faces, work on a window display at Manson's studio in Northampton, in 2004. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steve Vogel, left, the founder of Faces, and Dan Manson work on a Mother's Day window display at Faces in 2004. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson stands in front of a ticket booth he restored at his studio in Northampton. Once used at Mountain Park in Holyoke — he is holding a vintage picture of the booth in use — the booth is now bound for Holyoke Heritage State Park. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manson, left, and Steve Vogel, the founder of Faces, work on a Mother's Day window display at Faces in 2004.at his studio in Northampton last Friday FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For Hampshire Life
Published: 4/18/2019 2:01:24 PM

 

‘When I first started working at Faces, I was a carpenter pretending to be a window guy,” says Dan Manson, the installation artist behind Faces’ windows for fifteen years.

Faces, a store that was once filled with colorful merchandise ranging from slinkys to aromatherapy candles, closed its doors unexpectedly at the end of March. Manson laments the loss of such an iconic store.

Manson got his first lesson in the art of window dressing from former store owner Steve Vogel in 2004. Manson refers to Vogel as his “window mentor.”

“He grew up in the New York City area, he worked in Manhattan. So he understood the power of a storefront window. He was the driving force behind the Faces windows.”

Before hiring Manson, Vogel would come up with most of the window concepts and have a couple of people build them. But he was happy to pass the torch to Manson, and give him the full-time responsibility of creating displays.

Vogel says the two met through a job working on a window and found they worked very well together. So Vogel decided to ask Manson to join the Faces crew.

“I needed a carpenter and Dan was a carpenter at the time. I asked him if he wanted to do some windows with me, and he said, ‘sure!’ ”

Though he’d never designed a window per se, Manson possessed plenty of artistic talent. He actually gained most of the skills needed for displays from the annual pumpkin-carving parties he threw for thirty years. These parties were always held the weekend after Columbus Day. What started as a small, pumpkin-carving get together with friends slowly grew into a large bash, producing 500 jack o’ lanterns.

Manson got experience creating installations just by hosting this event. A volcano erupting pumpkins, a 90-foot spaceship and a 75-foot pirate ship were just some of the things he built to fit the themes at these elaborate parties.

So he knew how to make characters and props, and he used those talents in his displays as well. Once he got the opportunity to work for Faces, he turned his focus to learning the art of window displays.

“It was something I studied and I took very seriously. I probably looked at thousands of windows online. I would get window display books just to look and see how other people in the window display industry inspired me.”

Vogel gave Manson some lessons in staging and was impressed by his ability to build the displays just as Vogel pictured them.

“When you can get that kind of partnership with someone, it’s very valuable,” Vogel says.

Once Manson had a grasp on the art of window displays, he just had to get creative and think up his intricate designs. But finding inspiration was never an issue.

“Sometimes it comes in a flash,” he says. “You think about it when you’re going to sleep. Your eyes are open to find something that can relate to your upcoming window.”

Initially, Manson would run his ideas by the owners at their weekly meetings, but after 15 years, they trusted him enough to give him free reign. Also, he enjoyed getting suggestions from the community on potential designs.

“I always said I’m like a tattoo artist. You go to a tattoo artist and say, ‘I want a dragon!’” and to this, Manson would respond, “‘Do you want a dragon flying? Do you want a dragon blowing fire?’ They come up to me with an idea and I can expand on that idea.”

After he had his plan, Manson would sketch out the exact dimensions of his displays. In his studio, in downtown Northampton, he had a model storefront window that he would use to position the props and see how they would look in the actual display window.

“I know every inch of the window, it’s a 23-foot window. So I know what size to build things and in what proportions.”

But the designs did not always turn out how they looked on paper, Manson emphasized, and he always had to look from the outside to see how to best form his designs.

“In your mind’s eye it looks like this,” he says, referring to his window designs, “but once you put it into the window, even though I put it exactly where I want to put it, I’ll look at it and see. Maybe this thing needs to move over here and that needs to move over there.”

He felt particularly inspired in October.

“My favorite windows were the Halloween ones. That’s my roots, that’s where I thrive.”

A prop from one of his favorite Halloween displays, from about 10 years ago, stands on top of a table in his workshop in Northampton. It is a large, daunting monster formed by Manson out of wood, paper, burlap, masking tape and fake nails sharpened into claws.

Complete with a jack o' lantern head and a thin, winding body, this Halloween monster stood on the right side of the window, inside of a small house adorned with siding, steps and a picket fence. On the other side of the door was a small kid dressed as a ghost, ringing the doorbell.

“This guy here (referring to the monster) was inside in a very scary room, I made it look like a cave with a really dim light and creepy stuff on the floor. So he’s reaching for the doorknob as this unsuspecting little kid was reaching for the doorknob,” Manson says.

On the left side of the display was the Halloween merchandise, and winter accessories filled the opposite side.

“It takes me about a month to do,” Manson says of creating his displays. “Definitely I would have an idea three months ahead of Christmas, but the other ones, I’m working a month ahead.”

Another fun window Manson did was in honor of Mother’s Day in 2017.

“I told the employees that I want a picture of your mother and a statement or something your mom always would say, like ‘Because I said so,'’ or ‘I’ll give you something to cry about.’ ”

According to Manson, the display was “full of pictures and it was full of quotes from moms.” Mother’s Day cards from the store also filled the window. It was a sweet display and one of Manson’s more comical windows.

But Manson’s job was not just to advertise the store’s holiday products. It was to capture people’s attention.

“The thing I learned from Steve Vogel is that it’s not always about product in the window. It’s about people being interested in your store – if you can get someone’s head to turn while they are walking down the sidewalk and look at your store’s window – you have won!”

Vogel talks about the edict that window display artists live by.

“You have thirty seconds to see the window before you get to it and 10 seconds as you pass it, and that’s it. That’s all the window’s worth.”

Manson’s “Stuff” window, inspired by Vogel, was an attention grabber featured annually, right before the winter holiday season.

“We would fill the window with almost everything in the store,” Manson says. “And I would arrange it artistically.”

Manson said that these were the most difficult to take down when preparing for his next display. When he did take down his monthly displays and form his next creation, it was in the public for all to see. However, he says that people didn’t really notice the man behind the window.

“You’d be surprised by how many people don’t really pay attention to the windows when you’re in the window. They’re just walking down the sidewalk, they’re not looking to look at a window display. That’s why I have to catch their attention.”

Besides the occasional thumbs up or compliment from a local, Manson had an entire day, usually a Monday, to deconstruct his last display and form his new one with little interruption. He would begin at 8:00 a.m., transporting props from his studio, and work until 5. Sometimes the props were so large that they would have to be broken down and reassembled in the window.

When he was done with the old installations, he rarely kept them, saying “If I’d kept all the props that I ever made, we’d be standing in a giant warehouse right now,” referring to his 24-foot-by-24-foot studio.

Though the displays disappeared each month, most of them are saved in photo album books belonging to the Vogels, and Manson saves the primary sketches of his past designs.

The box of old sketches now sits in his studio with a couple of props from past displays. Now, Manson spends his time working in construction. He has created installations for the Mill 180 Park as well, including intricate plant creatures and some giant mushrooms.

Manson is currently dabbling in new mediums like concrete. However, he says that his favorite medium is still paper and tape, the main tools he used to make his memorable characters and objects for the Faces windows.

He talks about the sense of community he felt, designing the displays downtown for everyone to enjoy. “I get a lot of good vibes from the people. It’s nice, you’re part of the community, you’re putting it out to the world. You try to make people smile and give them something to look at.”

Manson could take paper, tape and wire and turn them into incredible installations, meant to dazzle the people walking by. Now, he looks through his old sketches and reminiscences on his time as the display artist for Faces, the zany gem of Northampton. Though he hasn’t designed windows in over a year, he still talks about his time as their display artist in the present tense.

“Faces was a big part of my life for a long time. It really meant a lot to me and I took my job very seriously.”

Though the windows are now empty and dark, the various props that sit in Manson’s studio — a Halloween monster, a trick or treater and several pumpkin characters — keep the memory of past Faces display windows alive.

Isabel Fowler is an editorial intern at the Gazette and a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she studies English and Spanish. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she’s interested in pursuing journalism at a graduate level and enjoys music, travel, movies and contemporary art.

 


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