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William Schmidt Commercial Art Collection: Art, Advertising, and History

William Schmidt Commercial Art Collection: Art, Advertising, and History

Posted: June 19, 2012

"Box 1, File 1-1: Bipperts Farms; 1958; notes and cost estimates. 5pp."

A small, aged piece of paper with notes jotted in pencil is the first artifact in the William Schmidt Commercial Art Collection. Although the scrap of paper seems insignificant, it is the perfect introduction to the body of work that follows.

William Schmidt, ’50, worked extensively in local advertising after graduating from Buffalo State’s art education program. He created hundreds of designs on commercial plastic bags that were sold locally and nationally through Buffalo’s Transparent Bag Company.

Unlike a traditional portfolio, which consists primarily of finished products, Schmidt’s collection is supplemented with dozens of notes, sketches, research material, and prototypes. These scraps, thumbnails, blue prints, and scrawled transcripts (paired with the fact that they were not discarded throughout the decades) give viewers a rare insight into the artist’s process and several mini glances back in history.

“This collection is wonderful because it is so complete,” said Daniel DiLandro, college archivist at E.H. Butler Library. “You can see his progression from the client’s wishes, to his drafts, to his final copies. The work really tells a story.”

Schmidt’s designs came long before the days of Adobe’s Creative Suite. Hand-drawn lettering and precise, delicate gridlines mark sheets of tracing paper that were used to outline various projects. On one draft Schmidt writes “move band half inch down,” and “have rabbit hold radish instead of carrot.” On the accompanying 1959 package for Irondequoit Radishes, you can see the execution of the notes on the final product.

In addition to designing packages for produce, Schmidt designed packages and advertisements for bakeries, apparel companies, grocery stores, paper products, and more. Schmidt donated his work to E.H. Butler Library’s Archives and Special Collections in 1989. Aside from his professional work, which dates from the 1950s through the 1970s, Schmidt included art he created when he was a student in elementary school, high school, and college. He also included personal artwork that reflects his military service in WWII. Interspersed among his work are newspaper clippings, documents, envelopes, and invoices from decades past.

“We accept collections that have strong ties to curriculum at Buffalo State,” DiLandro said. “Schmidt’s work might be of especial interest to art or design students, but it’s very interesting from a business and historical perspective as well. Schmidt is sort of our own ‘Mad Man,’ and the bulk of his work is dated within the time frame of the television series. Anyone interested in advertising, past or present, would enjoy this collection.”

The William Schmidt Commercial Art Collection is available at Archives and Special Collections in E.H. Butler Library, room 140. A finding aid, which details the contents of each of the five boxes of the collection, is now available online.

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