Arts & Culture
November 1999

Crane, artist collaborate on 'Preserve America' line
By Rosemary Jette

The goals of commerce and historic preservation are being joined in a new line of products called Preserve America that Crane & Company and its Excelsior Printing division have launched with artist Carol Wallace. The collection is a series of note cards featured artwork by Wallace, who has spent many years documenting sites of historic and scenic interest as a personal mission to contribute to the preservation of America's heritage. "This is a combination of commercial interests and good will," said Wallace, a resident of Barkhamsted, Conn., who has been working to combine art with heritage-preservation efforts since the early 1980s. "Progress is important, but it is also good to preserve elements of the past. I'm very excited by this."

Crane officials expressed enthusiasm for the venture, both as a business opportunity and as a worthy project to help the company commemorate its 200th birthday in 2001. "Not only are we captivated by Carol's artwork, but we also take great pride in the role our papers play in preserving pieces of history," said David Crane, chief financial officer and a seventh-generation member of the family that has owned the business since its inception.

The Preserve America collection was formally unveiled at a presentation last month at Blantyre resort in Lenox. The initial product is The Berkshires of Massachusetts, a series of note cards featuring Wallace's depictions of seven historic Berkshire sites including Blantyre, Arrowhead, Hancock Shaker Village, Tanglewood, Chesterwood and Naumkeag. These have been sold since the summer at the sites depicted, and also by Crane at its store in the Prime Outlets at Lee complex. The project's scope extends far beyond the Berkshires' borders, however. Over the years Wallace has painted and documented sites as far-ranging and diverse as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. to the Angel Delgadillo Barber Shop on Route 66 in Arizona.

Crane and Wallace anticipate releasing other products in the Preserve America series with cards depicting sites and scenes from other regions. They also hope to extend it to prints and other products. Wallace approached Crane last year to discuss her Preserve America which she had already been pursuing on her own. Crane agreed to support her as a business collaboration, and the work to expand the venture began in earnest last winter.

Craig Suriner, account representative for printed-related material for Crane, said the company sees the Preserve America venture as reflecting the theme of Crane's upcoming 200th anniversary. "Our history is tied in with important historical places and events," he explained. "We did the invitations for the Statue of Liberty dedication and Golden Gate Bridge and President Roosevelt's Christmas cards. The history of Crane ties into that series of cards."

Increase awareness
Wallace and the company see the products as a way to increase awareness of historic and scenic sites, and the importance of preserving them. The ability to sell the cards also provides an additional revenue source for preservation organizations.

The Smithsonian Institute and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are also using Wallace's detailed images and written histories of sites for research purposes and as education aids. From a business standpoint, Crane sees the venture as an opportunity to cultivate new customer relationships with the organizations and businesses that own and operate historic sites, who will commission and resell the products.

The cards are produced and printed by Excelsior Printing in North Adams. Wallace holds the Preserve America trademark. The line will also bear the Crane product name, and the cards will be printed on high-grade fiber papers exclusively reserved for the company's own products. "The first series of cards is just the beginning," predicted Suriner. "We expect that when (buyers) see the quality of the cards, there is the possibility of them wanting coffee table books, posters, calendars. We see it as a stepping stone that we can run through (the entire company). We are already working with Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It's very exciting what's out there. Other area businesses and organizations are also involved. Gargan Communication Group of Dalton (which regularly works with Crane as a client) helped develop a marketing strategy for the Preserve America series. For the Berkshires line, Wallace also has received help from Ann Claffie at the Berkshires Visitors Bureau. Claffie, who promotes the region for the visitors' bureau, said Wallace contacted her seeking assistance with identifying significant historical, architectural and pastoral landmarks. "This is an exciting project," said Claffie. "Wallace is not only preserving architecture, but also farms and open space. She draws from the heart. And to have a major corporation such as Crane collaborating with a single artist is quite nice."

From Beverly Hills to Berkshires
The partnership had its origins last year in the unlikely setting of fashionable Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. Wallace was there talking to Annelle Guss, of Francis-Orr Stationery Store, which is a customer of Crane's. Wallace was describing to Guss how the chic Beverly Hills commercial strip once was a bridal path, and how it still retained many historic buildings that should be documented. During this conversation, Wallace also casually mentioned her interest in doing a card line of the Berkshires. Guss suggested that Wallace contact Crane & Co. Wallace called David Crane and explained her overall ideas for the Preserve America project. "Soon the phone lines were burning between me and David and Craig," recalled Wallace. "They were interested in everything I was doing. And just a few weeks later, I met Bob Bloom, the president of Excelsior Printing Company. We all worked together to make it possible." Bloom said Wallace's passion further reinforced their interest in the idea's potential. "Carol's enthusiasm and wealth of ideas are contagious," said Bloom. In addition to creating and producing the Berkshire series, Wallace and the company began to develop an overall marketing strategy. Based on research Wallace had collected and suggestions from the National Trust, a targeted mailing list of the owners of 500 historic properties was assembled. The mailings, which include a Blantyre note card, went out the second week of October. Suriner said a response rate of 10 percent out of the 500 mailings, equal to 50, would be considered a good initial start.

Early Fervor
Wallace has been an artist for 25 years and exhibits her works locally at the Lenox Gallery of Fine Art on Church St. in Lenox, and at the Pope's Gallery in Charlotte, N.C. She is also a member of the Society of Illustrators. She traces the earliest stages of the project to the early 1980s when she was hired by the Litchfield County Times to supply black-and-white drawings of rural scenes, landscapes and architecture for publication.
The images drew the attention of the Litchfield County Travel Council, which asked Wallace to design brochures. This in turn led to an association with the Connecticut Office of Travel and Tourism where, as executive producer, she helped create the state's first major television advertising campaign, which won a Connecticut Tourism Award from then Gov. William O'Neill. "I came to see the importance of history on people," recalled Wallace. She also began to produce cards and posters on a small scale. "People would see my work and ask me to do things on a commission basis," she recalled. "Sometimes they would ask me to make cards. So that aspect (note cards) I developed on my own. I had a couple of card lines in Connecticut already going before I connected with Crane.

Her commitment intensified in 1996 with a visit to a Vermont country store, where she overheard a conversation by two residents who were worried that the arrival of a large retail chain store would put their local country stores out of business. Their distress, which Wallace shared, motivated the artist to act by creating a poster to increase appreciation for local businesses there. Wallace convinced each store to cover a certain part of the publishing costs. The result was two-sided posters (2' x 3'). On the front were 30 black-and-white drawings of country stores, highlighted in the middle by a colorful watercolor montage illustrating the authentic Americana found in the stores. The back of each poster featured quotes from each country store owner, detailing his site's history."It was a labor of love. I got to meet great folks and hear great stories," she recalled. "I did it all on a handshake."

Once the posters were made, the work spread quickly and soon schools and libraries throughout Vermont featured a country store poster. With their unique histories and images of long-forgotten items, such as high-button shoes, they became educational tools. Wallace's gallery director sent the posters to the Smithsonian, which expressed interest in using them for research purposes. Then her mother offered to become her daughter's sales representative. An avid supporter, she encouraged her daughter to draw different scenes for her cards, and also convinced the sites to purchase them. Very quickly, Wallace expanded her activities, depicting sites and researching their histories. In addition to well-known sites, she also documents everyday Americana. One of her goals is to encourage preservation of farmland, a project she calls Farms Across America. Wallace believes Crane is the logical company to help her take the Preserve America project to a new level. "I enjoy tremendously working with Crane. I feel like I'm working with a family," she said, "Plus, their history is phenomenal. They deserve a line of cards themselves."