Graphic Design & Printing

Seeking Michigan: From Signage to Santa

Seeking MichiganBy Mary Zimmeth, Archives of Michigan and courtesy Seeking Michigan and the Archives of Michigan. The goal of Seeking Michigan is simple: to connect you to the stories of this great state. Visit them regularly for a dynamic & evolving look at Michigan’s cultural heritage and see more stories from Seeking Michigan at Absolute Michigan.

25 Christmas Lane on a winter’s eve, circa 2010 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

My favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Clark Griswold, (Chevy Chase), our hero, has a plan for the traditional Griswold family Christmas that includes fifty thousand twinkling outdoor lights on the roof. When Clark drags his entire family out to see his masterpiece, the lights don’t work. The frustrating, yet entertaining, effort to fix the problem resonates with me (This includes Clark on the roof checking each individual bulb.). My favorite part comes when Clark prevails, the family is impressed, and he thanks his father for teaching him about exterior illumination.


Wallace Bronner (1927-2008) knew that exterior illumination is essential for the holidays. We are all familiar with his enormous enterprise: Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, located on 25 Christmas Lane in Frankenmuth. Initially, this behemoth of holiday cheer started as a signage business. During the early forties, Wally worked as a sign painter and a clerk at the Hubinger Grocery Store, which was owned by his maternal relatives. Part of his job included designing window displays. In 1945, as Frankenmuth celebrated its centennial year, Bronner Display and Sign Advertising was in demand for painting signs and decorating store windows and parade floats. That year Wallace Bronner met Irene Ruth Pretzer, the woman he would marry on June 23, 1951 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Hemlock, Michigan.

Signs designed by Wally Bronner for the city of Clare, 1951 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.).

Irene was instrumental in helping Wally land a monthly window display contract with the Jennison Hardware Company of Bay City (c. 1947) (Irene had attended Bay City Junior College and boarded at the home of G.W. Cooke, president of the hardware company.). Bronner’s work for the hardware company resulted in a referral to the town of Clare, Michigan (1951). This first municipal holiday commission was to design decorative lamppost panels. After that job, Wally hired his friend Fred Bernthal to look for new clients in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario.

Bronner also entered into contracts with General Plastics Corporation (Marion, Indiana) and Mold-Craft Corporation (Port Washington, Wisconsin). These companies provided street trims and ornaments, latex Santas, reindeers and nativity scenes. In 1952, Bronner staged two shows exhibiting outdoor Christmas decorations, one in the Frankenmuth Township Hall, the other at the St. Lorenz School gymnasium. Both were successful. However, both venues were temporary. Bronner decided to rent a more permanent building, a vacated one-room schoolhouse (formerly Frankenmuth School District Number 1). Thus, year round exhibit of Christmas decorations became possible! “At first the people of the community thought the idea to be rather unusual, but accepted it fully when Frankenmuth became known as the Christmas Town.” (Bronner’s 2005 Corporate History, page 35.)

“Thinking Big”

Wally Bronner with employees. (Photo taken in the 1960s. Photo is courtesy Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

Herman Bronner (Wally’s father) was a building contractor and stone mason. He convinced his son to “think big” by changing the plans for the first Bronner-owned building from two, L-shaped, rectangular buildings to one large, square building. The Bronner’s store at 121 East Tuscola (a lot adjoining Aunt Hattie’s grocery store) opened in 1954. It was divided into two sections, one space for the sign painting business, the other for Christmas decorations.

Wally was grateful for his dad’s vision and business acumen. The municipal clientele grew to include shopping centers and commercial interiors. As buyers selected decorations for their stores and churches, their wives requested home decorations. From 1954 to 1963, Bronner exhibited at the Saginaw County Fair, which, at the time, boasted numbers of three hundred thousand people. By 1960, the company was officially incorporated, and home decorations were added to the product line. In 1964, the first billboard advertising Bronners appeared on I-75, ten miles south of Exit 136 (Frankenmuth). Many travelling up North are familiar with that sign. Subsequent ones (more than sixty located in seven states) continue to extol the importance of holiday cheer and illumination.

Source material

Picturesque Story of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, as related by Wally Bronner. Published by Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, 2005.

The History of Bronner’s Christmas Decorations by Doris A Paul. Published by the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, 1981.

Brad Redford, a native of Frankenmuth visited Bronner’s last year and has a pretty funny video in his show Redford’s Rundown. However, we’re going to have to go with this awesome music video of Wally Bronner (Christmas Always) by Michigan rockers The Hard Lessons. A little tip: click that link and subscribe to their email list to download their entire new album Arms Forest AND stay tuned at the end of the video for the B-side of this song, O Holy Night!

Detroit Design Festival ~ September 21-28, 2011

ddfDetroit Design Festival on FacebookThe inaugural Detroit Design Festival (DDF) starts tomorrow (Wednesday, Sep 21) with a kickoff party from 6-9 PM at New Center Park. DDF is a “crowd-sourced design festival” developed to showcase the talents and abilities Detroit’s creative community.

Over the eight days and nights of DDF—September 21 through September 28—a variety of Design Happenings will take place across at venues across the city of Detroit. The types of happenings will include studio tours, panels and roundtable discussions, fashion shows, and art battles to name a few.

Detroit Creative Corridor Center established the Detroit Design Festival to connect creative practitioners with one another, expose them to new markets and consumers, and of course put on display the creative talent that will help Detroit become a global center of creative innovation.

Art battles??!! Maybe someone can tell us what those are!

The site lists 85 Happenings, all “unfolded” in their blog. Competitions, presentations, panels, roundtables & lectures (Leon Krier next Tuesday sounds great), performances, benefits (25 chefs!), fashion shows, film screenings, cocktail receptions/dinners/parties, tours of all kinds, of art exhibits like Bordertown (cities and borders), Mind the Gap (public design ideas competition for Detroit’s in-between spaces), Woodward Windows (empty storefront windows as galleries) – so many events of so many types at so many venues that it feels like Detroit may be generating some of the same energy that Grand Rapids will be for ArtPrize. Anyone think that the rest of Michigan should jump on board next year and celebrate the positive in all our communities?

Anyway, here’s the video from and we hope you get a chance to check out (and report on) some of the fun of DDF:

DDF - Fathead from Charlie Kelly on Vimeo.

TEDx Traverse City – May 17, 2011


FIM Group and Northwestern Michigan College have collaborated to present the inaugural TEDx TraverseCity on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Milliken Auditorium at Northwestern Michigan College. Tickets go on sale TODAY (Tuesday, April 5) at 10 AM through the website at They will probably go quickly! They are sold out! Absolute Michigan will be there and will have a live blog & some video.

The daylong event’s theme is designed  to educate, inspire and connect great minds by honoring innovators who have passion, curiosity, creativity and adaptability to change the world with revolutionary ideas. Guest speakers include Carl Ganter, director and co-founder of Circle of Blue; Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of FEED Projects; environmental activist  Peter Sinclair; Dominique Jaurola, founder of Hunome; photojournalist  Paola Gianturco;  James Gartner, television and film director; Carl Erickson, cofounder and president of Atomic Object; American conductor  Kevin Rhodes; author and Great Lakes advocate Jerry Dennis, author; educator  Yong Zhao;  and marine science educator  Teresa Carey who you can learn about in the video below!

TEDx  is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.  TED started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment and Design. You can click that link for a lot more information and some amazing TED Talks that take you from the deepest caves to the planet Saturn and explore cool innovations such as transforming education with video or Google’s driverless car with all kinds of luminaries including Bill Gates (state budgets), Jane Goodall (what separates us from the apes) and web innovator Ze Frank.

AMP and the Arsenal of Creativity

Untitled by vanessamiller
Untitled by Vanessa Miller

Vanessa has a great set of photos from
allied media conference oh8

Wiretap’s Jenny Lee has a great article called In Detroit: Arsenal of Creativity. It begins:

“Michigan will be the next film capitol of the world,” Clint Eastwood said in a recent interview following the release of his new film Gran Torino, shot in Detroit. The state’s generous tax incentives for film production have spurred a boost in jobs in a year that’s seen declines in nearly every other industry. While it’s exciting to see the rise of film-based enterprise in Michigan, we can’t rely on it, or any single industry to fill the enormous hole left by the decline of the auto industry. Amid the current crisis we have an opportunity to fill the gap in our region’s economy with diverse local initiatives, including community-based media, which thrives off the city’s creative past and present.

It continues and ends well as it does a great job of introducing you to Allied Media Projects (AMP) and looking at some of last year’s conference recommendations like building community wireless and broadband, cultivating local music and teaching media arts. You should go read it.

AMP hosts the annual Allied Media Conference in Detroit, which attracts North America’s most creative and skilled media makers and social justice organizers. The 11th AMC takes place July 16-19, 2009 – check it out!

GM Designers in the classroom

It appears that General Motors is in the midst of a transformation from a massive company to a somewhat less massive company. It seems that while – or perhaps because – that is happening, interesting things are bubbling out of Michigan’s largest company.

One such item is a venture of GM and the College of Creative Studies (CCS) who have created an art education program with Detroit Public Schools called You Make a Difference (view video). GM explains:

The program pairs together a GM designer and a College of Creative Studies student in Detroit. Six times a year, the duo visits a local high school and teaches students the basics of automotive design. Since the kids are new to the topic, they start with the fundamentals– drawing straight lines and elipses. Over the course of the program, students learn the concepts of perspective, angles and shading and then put all their knowledge together by sketching their dream car, which is put on display at the College of Creative Studies.

“I want them to know that whatever you do, as long as you are passionate about it, it will reward you in the long run,” says David Rojas, a HUMMER designer who mentors the art students at Mumford High School in Detroit.

This year, the program has grown to 22 schools and has expanded outside Detroit to the cities of Pontiac, Mich., and Los Angeles. For some kids, “You Make a Difference” is the first step on the path to a career in car design. In fact, three students have already gone on to receive scholarships at CCS.

I’m curious what folks think about bringing business into the classroom in programs like this and more extensive ones like the Henry Ford Hospital’s Early College where public school students a high school diploma, an Associates Degree from Henry Ford Community College, and certification in specific health fields.

Arresting Site for May 2008: Michigan Innovators

Hands at Work by detroitsky

Tim Pulice’s Pulice Report blog has announced the Arresting Site of the Month for May 2008. The inaugural selection is Michigan Innovators and Tim writes:

I first ran across this terrific online destination last summer, which dovetails perfectly with the spirit of this blog, wherein I look to spotlight Michiganders who display creative zeal. Bud Gibson is doing just that. Along with Diana Wong – who now is in an advisory role – Gibson founded the site in June of 2007, and has compiled an impressive archive of video interviews with business and community leaders across the state, including MicroMax’s Rachel McCormack, the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s Donald Harrison, Metro Parent’s Alyssa Martina, Blight Busters’ John George, and many others…

Read on and learn how to submit your favorite Michigan web site or blog.

Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan

Orange Tulip by markmarko

This weekend is the kickoff of Holland’s Tulip Time celebration. The annual festival starts this Saturday (May 3, 2008) and continues through May 10.

The Tulip Time Festival’s history page says that Tulip Time was introduced in 1927 at a Woman’s Literary Club meeting by Holland biology teacher Miss Lida Rogers. It’s grown to be one of the largest flower festivals in the country and features plenty of tulips, music, parades and celebrations and explorations of Holland’s Dutch heritage including Klompen dancing (video of Klompen dancers).

Yo SignsIn honor of this event (and to check out a bunch of tulip photos) we’re featuring a Tulip & Tulip Time slideshow courtesy the Absolute Michigan group on Flickr. One of the members of the group (artist Yolanda Gonzales of Grand Rapids) designed the 2008 Tulip Time poster.

You can read more about the history & background of the event from the Archives of Michigan and Tulip Time 2007 and 2006 from Michigan in Pictures.

Photo Friday: Lioness by rckrawczykjr

Lioness by rckrawczykjr

This photo is titled Lioness and it was taken by Ralph Krawczyk Jr. at the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle in Detroit. If you follow Michigan in Pictures, you’ve seen a lot of Ralph. If you don’t click here to see what you’ve been missing!

Ralph says that he’s a graphic designer, a geek, a pirate and that he has no clever quote. What he does have is an awesome array of analog (2 Holga 120Ns; Agfa Clack; Agfa Click; Capital ’120′; Ising Pucky I; Diana; Polaroid SX-70; Pilot 6) and digital (Canon PowerShot SD500; Nikon D50) cameras and the skill and will to use them all.

I could ramble on and on about his cool pictures of everything from cars to the UP to decay, but let me just say: wander through his photos … your eyes will thank you.

Service Tax repeal appears certain

Capitol, Landing MI by Irina Vasiliu

Below you’ll find a news release from Governor Granholm regarding an agreement to add a 21.9% surcharge to the new Michigan Business Tax to replace the 6% Michigan Service Tax.

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have details on the agreement as well.

The Eleven Seconds to Midnight Gang rides again

Carousel by jnhkrawczyk

“We’ve got a shift starting in 36 hours that we’ve got to charge 6% more on … and I don’t know how to do it.”
-John Evans, president of Evans Distribution

Welcome to Michigan, where we somehow seem to be stuck in the Reality TV version of Groundhog Day: Your Government inAction. With just hours remaining before a confusing, unexplained and really random 6% Service Tax goes into effect, everyone who might have to pay the tax is watching the clock and wondering what Lansing will do. Read on for much more…