Celebrated Great Lakes tragedy inspires students

The Rouse Simmons. Courtesy of The Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.

The haunting Great Lakes tale of the Christmas Tree Ship celebrated its 100th anniversary on Nov. 23, 2012.

Each November during the early 1900s, Captain Herman Schuenemann loaded the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons to nearly overflowing with evergreens from Upper Michigan. After sailing to Chicago, Captain Schuenemann moored his vessel to a downtown pier, hoisted a decorated tree up the mast and strung electric lights throughout the rigging, bringing holiday cheer to the bustling city.

In November 1912, however, Captain Schuenemann and the Rouse Simmons never arrived at Chicago. Following a raging storm that swept Lake Michigan, the Rouse Simmons and her crew were lost off the shores of Two Rivers, Wis.

Can you capture the romantic lore of the Rouse Simmons in a single image? That has been the task of four senior-level Peck School of the Arts students in Design and Visual Communications, Department of Art and Design. The students’ assignment was to create a “mark” to be used on special-event invitations, anniversary keepsakes and the Milwaukee Public Library holiday card.

One ship, two projects

Poster design by Ryan Soukop. (See a slideshow of the posters at the bottom of the page.)

Associate Professor Lee Ann Garrison devised a one-credit, independent study Advanced Design Workshop and recruited students to create these designs. Garrison also is executive director of the PSOA’s Design Research Institute.

In a related effort, Teaching Assistant Corbett Toomsen challenged his illustration class to
create poster designs commemorating the 100th anniversary.

Work by both classes is for two “clients.” Peter Hirthe is president of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society (WMHS), and Paula Kiely (’87 BFA Art, ’92 MLIS) is Milwaukee Public Library Director. WMHS is dedicated to discovering, collecting, recording, preserving and disseminating materials related to Great Lakes maritime history. The Milwaukee Public Library houses the prestigious Great Lakes Marine Collection, developed jointly by the WMHS and the library.

Hirthe and Kiely originally approached Garrison with the idea of UWM students creating designs for the Rouse Simmons anniversary. After brainstorming, the three decided on two separate design challenges. According to students in both groups, Hirthe and Kiely have provided background, inspiration and support throughout the process.

For example, the students tapped the Great Lakes Marine Collection as they researched the Rouse Simmons and other Great Lakes schooners of that era. Along with Jeff Phillips, Marine Operations Manager at Discovery World, Hirthe coordinated an opportunity for the seniors in the Advanced Design Workshop and Garrison to sail on the S/V Denis Sullivan and experience a three-masted schooner
“in action.”

“It is no coincidence that one of the ships that inspired the design of Wisconsin’s flagship was indeed the Rouse Simmons, as she was such a well known representative of the state’s schooner era,” says Hirthe.

A rich – and difficult – subject

Students in the Advanced Design Workshop held a formal presentation for “clients” Peter Hirthe and Paula Kiely (center) to unveil their proposed “marks” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the schooner Rouse Simmons. Receiving feedback were (from left) Taylor Beauchesne, Sam Mueller, Anna Krajcik and Kevin Monroe. (Photo by Troye Fox)

Kevin Monroe, a student in the Advanced Design Workshop, says that the rich history surrounding the Rouse Simmons made it very easy to be inspired, but also “incredibly difficult, as a designer, to pick and choose which aspects of the story to depict. With such a rich subject, it was very difficult to whittle down.” He adds that there was the additional challenge of keeping in mind the time period during which the Rouse Simmons sailed.

“This was such a great opportunity and experience, I felt obligated to knock this project ‘out of the park,’ so that more projects like this come to UWM.”

For Taylor Beauchesne, a workshop member who is graduating this December, “It was rewarding to have a last opportunity to work with a client while still being part of a classroom environment.”

She describes the rewards of an assignment that drew from “real historical events, places, images and an archive of information from the library. We were able to ask questions and discuss concepts with our clients. I’m very fortunate to have had this opportunity to work with knowledgeable clients, determined classmates and an enthusiastic teacher.”

Hirthe and Kiely met separately with both groups for client presentations, and provided feedback directly to the students. The posters were judged by Michael Dillon, CEO and executive creative director of McDill Design, and Karen Duffy, retired president and COO of Laughlin Constable, with the top three designs awarded cash prizes, donated by Reilly Insurance.

“Peter and I thought this project would be a great partnership between the WMHS, the library and UWM,” said Kiely. “We’ve been delighted by the results and impressed with the creativity and talent of the students.”

The posters and other designs will be on display at the Central Library through December.