The now mythic Gastrotypograhicalassemblage (35 feet wide by 8.5 feet tall) three-dimensional mural designed by Lou Dorfsman with typography by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, which hung in the cafeteria of Eero Saarinen’s CBS Building, known as Blackrock, was finished in 1966. In the early 1990s it was removed and discarded, saved from total destruction by the great dimensional illustrator and designer Nick Fasiano (seen in the photographs below), and recently restored by him after years of devoted work on it. The piece was later acquired by the Center for Design Study in Atlanta, which sought funds to restore it. In 2008, it was announced that The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, would fund the restoration and display it on their campus. I recently asked Stephan Hengst, CIA’s Marketing Director, to tell me more about the process and future for this Mid-Century Modern masterpiece.
After many discussions between the college and Mr. Fasciano, we came to an agreement where the college would serve as new site for the piece, which would be on an indefinite loan. Seeing as the piece features food as its core subject, everyone decided that there really seemed to be no more appropriate place for the work to be featured than The Culinary Institute of America.
I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but Mr. Fasciano was actually one of the designers that also worked on the creation of the piece now almost 50 years ago. He carved all the life forms (hands, feet, etc.) that are included in the work. He and Lou remained good friends until Lou’s passing, and he’s dedicated to seeing the piece restored to its formal glory.
What was kind of work was necessary in this rehabilitation? Was anything lost and rebuilt? When the wall was removed from CBS, it was done so with the intention of throwing in the dumpster. That said, many of the letters were broken or destroyed when the pieces were piled on the dock awaiting the arrival of a new dumpster in which to deposit them. Mr. Fasciano had to re-mill about 20% of the letters in the work. Consisting of more than 70 typefaces in his estimate, many letters had to be created from scratch while some in words like ‘egg’ or ‘beef’ could be recreated using the existing letter. Imagine if you will that one of the ‘g’s in ‘egg’ was damaged, but if the other one was fine, he could use the undamaged one as the place to start.
While on display at CBS it had also be repainted many times, and the original letters looked like the moldings on baseboards in an old apartment. They were cracked, they were caked on with many layers of latex paint, and many of the letters had extensive drips as well. More than 1600 individual letters of all shapes and sizes are included in the work, and each one had to be stripped, sanded by hand, sealed, and then repainted before they were all painstaking re-assembled and painted on new wooden backings.
In addition to damage inflicted on the piece when it was removed, the work has been stored in Nick Fascinao’s basement for 23 years; and with that comes a great deal of aging. In many cases the adhesives from the 60’s that were used to secure the letters in place was giving way, and many of the letters simply cracked off the work as soon as they were touched. Not to mention that wall also contains 65 three-dimensional food objects. Fake food that was created in the 60’s was very different from those available with today’s technology, and many of the objects (vegetables, fish, pastas, etc.) that were contained in the work either deteriorated or were aged beyond repair. Very few original food objects remain, although those that are new were styled after the original pieces.
Where will it hang in the new building? Gastrotypograhicalassemblage will hang on a wall on the ground floor of The Culinary Institute of America’s newly constructed Marriott Pavilion and Conference Center in Hyde Park, New York. It will be featured in a large lobby outside the conference center portion of the building which can serve as host to up to 400 attendees.
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