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Kendall Honors Distinguished Alumni in Annual Event

Posted May 13, 2011 in AlumniAward WinnersEvents

The Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner was held Thursday, May 5 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

This Year’sHonorees were Gwen O’Brien, Graphic Design, 1997, Distinguished Alumni Award winner; and Matt Brown, Industrial Design, 2005, Recent Graduate Award winner. A special tribute was awarded to Sara Molina, Interior Design, 2003, for her volunteerism with the Kendall Alumni Association and the Grand Rapids community.

The invitation said, “Creative black tie” and black was the word of the evening, ranging from sparkly sweaters and little black dresses worn with vividly-patterned black tights, to Dean Max Shangle, wearing a tuxedo, with well-worn, blue high-top tennis shoes, and a pair of incredibly garish cuff links. (He looked great!)

We nibbled on sushi and prosciutto while admiring a beautiful marble sculpture created by Industrial Design alum John Warner. The marble used in the sculpture and in the beautiful awards John created came from the same quarry that Michelanglo used.

2011 DAA Award Trophy

John told me a great story about the elements he used to create the awards. Beside the marble, mentioned above, he told me that he purchased the cherrywood from a company that was unfortunately going out of business. “I got it for pennies on the dollar, with the promise that I would use it to make something beautiful,” he said. The stainless steel came from, of all places, a greenhouse where John worked while in college. Together, the elements were absolutely striking.

Matt Brown DAA 2011

Of course there was laughter and tears as alumni accepted their awards. Matt Brown confessed that he and his fellow Industrial Design classmates used to steal lunches from the Interior Design students’ kitchen. In addition to his job at IDEO, Matt writes a column “Design Fancy” for core77.com, and one of his pieces on mythical designer Carlo Heckman and his book “A Practical Guide to Sticks” had the room in stitches.

Gwen O'Brien 2011 Alumni Award

Gwen O’Brien, Creative Director and Principal at Grand Rapids design studio Plenty Creative, accepted her award in memory of her late mother, interior designer Jeanette O’Brien, who nurtured Gwen’s love of art at an early age. Gwen also announced that she and her firm are creating an interior design scholarship in honor of her mother.

Sara Molina Distinguished alumni award 2011

And the Alumni Board paid tribute to retiring board member Sara Molina with a gentle pre-recorded roast, saying that she was, “scattered-brained”, “disorganized”, “a bad dresser” and “always late” —qualities the exact opposite of Sara’s dedication and sense of style. 

Selecting this year’s winners were fine artist Michael Phlaghaar; Nicolai Czuma-Bront, Senior Industrial Designer, Haworth Studio; and Luisa Schumacher, Director of the West Michigan Center for Art and Technology.

Wrapping up the evening, Dr. Evans remarked, “When one is as fortunate as we are at Kendall to be surrounded by creativity and artistry every day, we become immune to how remarkable our students and alumni are. Tonight is a wonderful opportunity to honor our graduates and their contributions to the fields of art and design.”


– Pamela Patton


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