Duane Mitch worked at Tyler Graphics in Bedford Village for seven years. He worked on the inventory and transport of prints to buyers in the United States and around the world and in addition, used his skills as a woodworker to create custom furniture for the workshop and moulds, frames and other items for specific artist projects.
What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little about what that role entailed?
I was hired as the curator of TGL in 1977. I was not aware of that job description. I took over all of the shipping duties. The print inventory was growing quickly because of the prints coming to TGL from Gemini. TGL was in full swing with Ken collaborating with artist projects and the inventory therefore growing steadily. There was a warehouse facility about a 45 minute drive away. My orders came from John Wagner, who would regularly send me off to get a load of sold prints to ship. Now, I had never heard of this or that person or artists, and it became a real challenge to learn not only what I was supposed to ship, but whether or not I would need to repair it first. Together, the TGL team was developing a very secure and safe method to ship art prints so that they would arrive in pristine condition. I believe it developed into a very successful system.
My role was different for each artist. I did have a small workshop unattached from the studio, from where many woodworking projects were constructed. Some were for artists’ projects, and sometimes they were construction projects for the workshop which would often see me working with the carpenter, electrician, gardener, Italian stonemason and so on.
Can you outline some of the technical processes involved in your work?
From time to time different art objects would need shipping, and with my woodworking skills I was able to construct some pretty outstanding crating jobs. These were fun, innovative, and of course, always produced in a rush.
Once Ken notices my woodworking and mechanical aptitude, I started undertaking many other workshop duties. It seemed like at least once a month for the first year or so I was making a lot of different fixtures and tables for the shop. TGL was still young, so it was exciting to help improve the workshop environment.
Can you tell us about the atmosphere at the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?
The activity level of the workshop was constantly in motion. One artist might have been leaving from a two or three day project, and then before you knew it another project with a different artist has started. They usually did not overlap. The printing methods and workspace were constantly changing to adapt to whoever was currently in residence. There were many tasks to do when the change of artists happened: an apartment over the shop needed cleaning; sheets changed; lunches picked up; vehicles readied; work stationery created; and sometimes new supplies and hardware gathered from throughout the country for a special project. Thank you to Alan Shields and Frank Stella for eye opening results.
The high energy level and constant change in my job description was the most enjoyable part of my TGL years. There was almost always an atmosphere in the workshop of a team effort with high quality people working in different mediums. The results of the finished projects were very rewarding fro everyone involved in their creation. Hard work was a hallmark at TGL. Precision, dedication, repetition and collaboration were among the most obvious. To be multi-tasking and versatile is what made this environment successful, and every employee had this attribute. All of the TGL team members had terrific experience and pride for what they were doing. It was a very proud time of my life.
Do you still work in the arts? How did your time with TGL affect your career path?
My woodworking and art-handling skills were developed and groomed by Ken Tyler. It was a definite building block for my later career. I created a business in the Chicago area when I left, utilizing many of the skills which I learned at TGL and am very grateful for that experience.
I became a custom furniture builder, along with my life partner, who was at the time managing our custom frame shop and art gallery.
Do you have a favourite project from TGL, or did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist? Can you explain a little about what made that project or person special?
My favourite project at TGL might have to be even between to different artists: David Hockney and Frank Stella.
When Hockney showed up to visit – and ended up staying several months – we set up a paper mill. I was the one who built many of the fixtures needed to produce handmade paper. This was the birth of Hockney’s Paper pool project. Wow, did we pump out a lot of work for a month or two. After the production wound down, I was involved with the framing and installation of the project at Castelli Gallery. That was a great time at TGL. Is seemed like an important moment for art history, and especially for TGL. I was most proud to be a part of that moment in art history: developing moulds for the paper sculptures was a creative process, and a lot of work, which greatly paid off.
The other project that is very memorable was the development of Frank Stella’s sculptures. I had to help with many attachment and construction techniques, and then once the prototypes were complete, I built storage cases for each one. These storage cases were also used as the shipping creates. The editions were small, and each multiple needed a crate. This project was a lot of fun, and very tedious. Creating a safe capsule for each art piece was the mission, and again, we were very successful.
Can you share your favourite memory of the workshop with us?
My favourite memory from working at TGL was the preparation, packing, loading, and then transporting works of art to the Chicago Art Show each year. I really enjoyed the independence and responsibility that Ken gave to me in this regard. A lot of framing was done, and display ideas discussed, in preparation for the Art Fair. I drove the art to Chicago, installed it, then after the show Ken, John Wagner and I would dismantle the booth, wrap all the art and repack it in the truck for its safe journey back to TGL. This would all happen in a few hours, and then off on the road I would go. It was fun and real, honest fellowship.
The trip would culminate in lunch back at TGL with the shop staff. I would bring bags of White Castle hamburgers and a case of Stroh’s beer, and then of course share stories about the trip and how the Art Fair installation had worked out.