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Gretchen Gscheidle

Gretchen Gscheidle

Former design director | Herman Miller, Inc. | Class of 1991

You name it, 1991 industrial design grad Gretchen Gscheidle drew it — with her right hand, her left hand, even with a brush scrunched between her toes.

Welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of freshman art and design at Illinois, circa the late ’80s.

“I was fortunate to have Professor Dennis Rowan for Drawing I and II and Professor Christiane (Chris) Martens for Design I and II, all demanding a fair amount of materials purchased at Art Coop, 610, The Pyramid and sometimes elsewhere,” says the longtime former Herman Miller design director and keynote speaker at the UI’s 2019 Art + Design convocation ceremony.

“We drew together every day in drawing class. We’d draw still lifes or live — often nude — models, or our fully clothed classmates. Sometimes, Dennis had us draw with our non-dominant hand, or with pencils held between our toes. Other times, we had to express a particular model’s pose with just one line, or outline the form without looking at our paper.

“And, we always had an outside assignment. I remember Dennis was good about sending us around campus to take advantage of all it had to offer. There were assignments that required us to draw pieces on display at the Natural History Museum, Krannert Art Museum or where there were replicas of Greek statues.

“When these or other homework assignments were due, the first thing we did was pin them all up and critique them as a class. Dennis started by asking us which one we liked best. Every week, there was one classmate who liked his drawing the best — except once, when he picked mine. It still feels like an accomplishment.

“If Dennis was free-spirited in his assignments, Chris was the disciplinarian. There was a lot of precision line work at the start of first semester: in multiple boxes on one sheet of paper — 2" x 5" for example, hand draw increasingly smaller grids, down to 1/16’ x 1/16.’ Accuracy and neatness were the key.

“I remember the girl who sat next to me who never understood how my line work was so neat versus hers that always smeared. I knew then but never told her it was a matter of dragging her straight edge over the wet ink. She didn’t take into account that she should move hers away from the wet ink, rather than drag it over. Of course it would smear — every time.

“In second-semester 3D Design, Chris posed a signature challenge to students, annually. The constraints differed year-to-year but it all built in the direction of Chris’ practice as a sculptor. We had to construct sculptures out of 4x8’sheets of corrugated cardboard.

“Ours were displayed outdoors on the Art + Design Building south lawn, later years’ displays were on the Quad. I still have the 1/10th scale model of my sculpture — because it was such a challenge.

“The materials and construction consumed our dorm rooms and our lives for several weeks. And there were engineering, space and weather challenges. My classmate Diana had to move a 14-foot-long section of sculpture and fit it together with two other sections that would hold it up some 3 feet off the ground and not topple over in the wind.

“That same semester, based on my craftsmanship and other factors, Chris hired me to construct site models, beside which she photographed the scale models of her sculpture proposals, for competitions and such. She hired me to do some more later, maybe three or four in total.

“I just saw Chris two months ago; we’re friends to this day and I was honored to help celebrate her retirement in 2007 and 50 years in the U.S. in 2018.”