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Christian Gaines

Art of Success

By Dana Blinder, Alexandra Fluegel and Marty Primeau
Photography by Michael Buck and Johnny Quirin

Merriam-Webster defines “art” as a skill acquired by experience, study or observation.

During this month when art takes center stage in Grand Rapids, we want to highlight a few of the people whose skills are inspirational.

Graphic designer Stephen Frykholm is best known for his innovative and award-winning work for Herman Miller. But the story behind his award-winning Picnic Posters is the one that piques our interest. Over two decades, he designed 20 posters for the company’s annual summer picnic, several of which are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Christian Gaines has vast experience leading major international film festivals and working with artists and technology — all skills that will help in his new role as executive director of ArtPrize. Gaines also was an executive at, where he oversaw the global expansion of, a submissions platform that connects filmmakers to more than a thousand film festivals worldwide.

Kathryn Chaplow is an interior designer whose projects include the recent renovation of the historic McKay Tower ballroom in downtown Grand Rapids. She’s also an arts volunteer serving as president of the board of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Under her leadership, the organization is taking steps to become economically stable while attracting a whole new audience of art lovers.

Lisa Rose Starner is passionate about the art of food and has established a reputation as an urban gardener, forager, herbalist and teacher. Her book, “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution,” challenges people to join the local food movement “and become part of this powerful force to help change our community one fork at a time.”

Enjoy their stories.

New ArtPrize executive director Christian Gaines wants Grand Rapids to become a “hotbed of creativity.”
Get Christian Gaines talking about his background and you’ll understand why Rick DeVos snatched up this former Angeleno to serve as executive director of ArtPrize.

“When people ask me where I’m from, they often get a story longer than they bargained for,” said Gaines. “It’s not a quick explanation I can give in passing.”

His longwinded back story starts in Belgium where he was born to American parents working in Europe. Gaines spent most of his childhood in the United Kingdom, returning to the U.S. to attend Vassar College. Then he moved to Los Angeles to chase a career in the music industry. That morphed into working in film — specifically, film festivals — and more traveling, from L.A. to Hawaii.

Most recently, he was an executive at, where he caught the attention of the ArtPrize founder.

“There are a few things that made Christian stand out,” DeVos said. “First, he is a business development specialist with more than two decades of experience in staff management and fundraising with technology services companies and major film festivals — specifically, his experience managing the American Film Institute’s festival system and his work at IMDb/Amazon’s He also connected well with the board and staff during early meetings.”

In April, Gaines moved to Grand Rapids for the new role.

“When I was recruited for the ArtPrize position and started to learn more about it, the more I understood how cool the opportunity would be,” he said. “I have a love of creating great places for artists to do their best work. I’m excited to honor and celebrate the courage artists show in their decision to become artists in the first place. I want to make sure they know Grand Rapids is a hospitable place for them.”

Not only does Gaines have the personal diversification and cultural experience to thrust ArtPrize onto an even bigger stage, the man knows how to run a successful festival.

He has worked for the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival; he held the director of festivals role at the American Film Institute of Los Angeles; and he managed a major film festival in Hawaii.

“My background is in the film festival business working with different artists, managing submissions and selections, and handling the solicitation process,” he said. “I have a tech background, too, which informed me for my current role at ArtPrize.”

Gaines moved his wife and two teenagers to Grand Rapids for the position. His role with ArtPrize is one of many moving parts where he balances his liaison work to the artists’ and audience’s expectations.

“There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn from the film festival world to ArtPrize,” he said. “A lot of it is development work, finding corporate sponsors, marketing, production and publicity.”

Bigger picture, Gaines hopes to take ArtPrize’s four-year momentum and blow it up to even grander proportions.

“My first goal is to not screw anything up,” he said. “I want to take the dramatic accomplishments of ArtPrize — the amount of artists that participate, year-over-year audience growth, global attention, and fame and respect amongst other arts organizations — to the next level.”

Part of his strategy is a diversification project. As ArtPrize has grown, it has attracted artists and attendees from farther and farther away. Gaines hopes to implement funding and strategy to increase that diversification to benefit the artists, audience and ArtPrize, in general.

“Travel and freight costs — or even the cost of living in Grand Rapids to work on an installment — is expensive for artists,” he said. “I’d like to look into national and international grant and foundation funding to make ArtPrize more of an international event, both in terms of artist and audience.”

Gaines’ tech background should enhance the event for local fans, as well. Some new elements will enhance the old ArtPrize app.

“Internally, we’ve developed more engagement tools with audience voting as the centerpiece,” he said. “There’s a better mapping function to better navigate between venues, for instance.”

New functionality to the ArtPrize website will improve the experience for fans and artists. This year, new purchasing and communication functionality on the site will help connect potential buyers with the artists directly.

Beyond this year, Gaines is eager to make significant — but not necessarily sweeping — strides.

“Stronger rather than bigger is the mantra. That means making sure ArtPrize is accessible for artists farther away and also making the framework itself as elegant, streamlined and intuitive as we can,” Gaines said. “We’ll continue to make tweaks, but in terms of big sweeping changes, I’m not quite there yet.”

His idea of reaching out to a wider geographic area for participating ArtPrize artists is as thrilling as having global visionaries, like him, settle in West Michigan.

The way he talks about his new town makes it obvious he’s happy to be here.

“Grand Rapids and West Michigan is the global headquarters for iconic design concepts like Steelcase, Herman Miller and Hayworth,” he said. “I really want to draw attention to the region itself as a hot bed of creativity. We have a fascinating story to tell and we’ve only begun to tell it.” — Dana Blinder

Kathryn Chaplow is a colorful interior designer and arts advocate overseeing changes at the UICA
Kathryn Chaplow is dressed for success — but not in a dark tailored suit.

Her ruffled orange dress and black leggings, loafers with a hint of sparkle and artfully chosen gold bangles combine to give the interior designer a stylish yet approachable look.

“I really love fashion,” she admits with a smile and a toss of her bouncy red curls. “Fashion influences what I do.”

The Tennessee native launched a design company in Grand Rapids eight years ago, starting with residential properties and gradually taking on larger commercial projects. Chaplow also has played a key role in the city’s art community, serving as president of the board of Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and overseeing dramatic changes to the nonprofit organization.

On this summer day, Chaplow was conducting a private tour of the Ballroom at McKay in downtown Grand Rapids, one of her recent projects.

“I’d never designed anything this public,” she said, entering the spacious second floor of McKay Tower that housed Grand Rapids National Bank in the early 1900s. “It’s such a special place. I really felt a sense of responsibility to be true to the architecture yet make it appealing to a broad market.”

Kathryn Chaplow

Working with architect Richard Craig and Owen-Ames-Kimball builders, Chaplow and her team consulted on the layout, design and all the finishes — from the dimmable chandeliers to the custom-colored broadloom carpet.

She points out numerous features, such as the moveable bar in the ballroom, the locally made draperies and the wine storage in the old bank vault. In the kitchen, high-end equipment is perched on wheels to accommodate a variety of caterers.

“There was a lot of attention to the materials and details,” she said.

The same can be said of her other projects, including the Bengtson Center for Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery in the Women’s Health Center and the Barrel Back Restaurant on Walloon Lake. She’s collaborating with Jefferey Hunt to design the interior of the $13.8 million Metro Health Surgical Center planned for southeast Grand Rapids.

When she and her husband, Chris, moved to Grand Rapids in 1995 from her Nashville hometown, Chaplow worked at Klingman’s Furniture. “I got to know the area and learn about the history of furniture in Grand Rapids,” she said. “We sold some beautiful locally made lines, like Baker, Kindel and Widdicomb.”

After four years, she went to work for Rock Kauffman Design, until her first son was born in 2005. “That’s when I decided to open my own business out of my home.”

Initially, homes were her main focus. Though she tailors each project to her clients, she has built a reputation for her use of color. “I’m comfortable with a lot of different styles and color palettes,” she said. “But color has become my signature.”

Also important are personal accents.

“The client’s belongings are what really make a room special — the books, the artwork, the mementos and collections. Those quirky objects are the things that take a room beyond beautiful to becoming special and having a story to tell.”

Many of her clients have two residences, a city house and a lake house — a Michigan tradition she discovered after moving to Grand Rapids.

“I do a lot of cottages,” said Chaplow, who juggles design work with raising Calvin, 8, and Oliver 5. “When we were new here, I’d hear about cottages and I never really understood the culture until I stayed with a client in her 100-year-old lake home — a special place steeped in memories.”

Early in her career, Chaplow says she was inspired by visits to the UICA. “I’m very passionate about local art and especially UICA,” she said. “I attended events and would bump into interesting people. It helped me build a creative network.”

She started volunteering for the organization, helping with fundraising events. Seven years ago, Chaplow accepted a position on the board and for the past two years she has served as board president.

Chaplow has watched the organization go through what she describes as a long haul of ups and downs, from moving into a nifty new building to losing its executive director. What’s more, UICA has skirted with financial disaster.

“The organization has been very stressed,” she said. “I think what we want to do is re-engage the community. It’s been very difficult to focus on that top priority because we’ve been so focused on financial issues. But everyone has fought to keep it alive, and we’re very determined and excited to protect the creative and artistic integrity.”

The board recently hired Miranda Krajniak as interim executive director, who in turn hired Alexander Paschka as exhibitions curator, the first full-time staff curator in UICA’s 36-year history.

“People are going to see new things at UICA that they’ve never seen before,” Chaplow said. “Literally, Miranda is restructuring and rewriting the way things will work. I know there are people who are sentimental about the old UICA. But there is a huge audience for contemporary art in West Michigan. We want to reach the thousands of people who don’t know what UICA is.”

For instance, UICA has partnered with Kendall College of Art & Design for this year’s Odd Ball Sept. 14. Chaplow said the arts organization will introduce more fashion and design elements.

And that, of course, is right up her alley. — Marty Primeau

Herman Miller’s creative director Steve Frykholm reflects on his long career: “It’s been a blast.”
Getting stuck in an elevator with Steve Frykholm wouldn’t be a bad thing. Behind his generous salt-and-pepper beard he wears a smile that immediately puts you at ease. And if fate would have you trapped for a long time, he has interesting tales to entertain you.


Steve Frykholm

A born storyteller, his distinctly Midwestern voice, made of equal parts kindness and confidence, captivates with its twists and turns. He lets long spaces fall between words and phrases — not in marked attempts to emphasize but rather because he seems to lose himself in his recollections.

For more than four decades, Frykholm has used his storytelling abilities to craft the visual identity of West Michigan furniture giant Herman Miller. As the company’s first in-house designer, he was hired in 1970 to give a face to the company through everything from promotional materials to internal communications.

“Growing up, I always wanted to do something helpful,” said Benedict, who described her childhood as “very difficult.”

But Frykholm will tell you he never expected his run with the company to last so long. “I’d had enough of the Midwest,” he said.

The Kansas native received his BFA in advertising art from Bradley University in Illinois and a master’s degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit.

“I really wanted to be on the East Coast or the West Coast — I didn’t care,” he said. “But I had an offer to work at Herman Miller and I said …” He paused. “Boy, it’s got a good reputation. It’d be a nice springboard … get some experience …” (another pause). “It’s been a blast.”

Frykholm is now creative director and vice president of the company, though he describes himself as “just a graphic designer.” He said he’s contemplated what his life would have been like had it taken another route — perhaps something more akin to the hit TV show “Mad Men.”

“I’ve often wondered if designers in advertising agencies might have more fun. Their work is a lot more ephemeral,” he said, quickly adding, “Not that mine isn’t. All of the work graphic designers do, no matter how emotionally attached we get or how great we think they are, it’s not going to last forever.”

Somewhat contrary to Frykholm’s finite view of his work, a series of posters he created for Herman Miller’s annual picnic has been placed in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He calls the “Picnic Posters” one of his favorite projects, and when he tells the story of the first one, it’s clear the work holds a special place for him.

“I didn’t know about the picnic,” he said. He had only been working for the company a couple of weeks when he was asked to design a poster for the annual picnic, which was to have a “sweet corn festival” theme.

“I said, ‘Picnic? OK, I’ll give it a shot.’” The next day, Frykholm came in, placed an ear of corn in his mouth and said two words to his colleague, designer Paul Mitchell: “Draw me.” The duo came up with a 29-by-39-inch screenprint of an ear of corn between two rows of teeth, a Lilliputian view of the Midwestern symbol.

Each year, Frykholm built upon the theme, creating 20 picnic posters in all. “I never dreamed I’d do 20,” he said. “There was something I liked about these things, so I kept going.”

He said perhaps it was the autonomy he possessed when working on them. “Nobody checked on what I was doing. They were mine.” Each poster was done in the Pop-Art style made famous by Andy Warhol.

The idea to screen print each design came from Frykholm’s background as a teacher in an all-girls training school in Nigeria. Of course, there’s a story about how he wound up there.

It was 1964 and Frykholm was in his junior year of college. He was on his way to get a cup of coffee when he noticed a room full of exotic photographs of faraway places. It was an informational session for the Peace Corps.

“The recruiter was in the room giving kids the sales pitch, and it didn’t take much for me,” he said.

Frykholm signed up and six weeks later was on his way to the University of California Berkeley for his first training session. “That’s when I fell in love with the West Coast,” he said, his voice trailing off.

He goes on to talk about the second summer of Peace Corps training he received, which landed him in the dormitories of Morehouse and Spelman colleges, historically black schools in Atlanta, Ga.

“Martin Luther King was still preaching and stuff. It was cool — 1965. That was a wonderful experience,” he said.

Frykholm taught for two years in Nigeria and said the experience did wonders for his self-confidence. “Suddenly, I was this solo white guy teaching in an all-black school,” he explained. “I was living in a big city though, which fit me nicely.”

He says he would’ve stayed for an additional year, but was forced to evacuate the country when a civil war broke out. “It got pretty nasty. I left the country with what I packed in a suitcase.”

When he returned to the U.S., he went to grad school at Cranbrook where he found himself surrounded by a myriad of designers in various disciplines. They worked closely together, which Frykholm said really opened his eyes to other forms of design.

He often derives inspiration from others who cross his path. “I’m always learning — it’s all the time. It’s who you know, who you talk to, what you listen to,” said the self-described NPR junkie.

Frykholm also has a penchant for the ballet and served on the board of Grand Rapids Ballet for 10 years. “I think our ballet company is one of the best tickets in town,” he said.

GRB artistic director Patricia Barker says of Frykholm, “Steve’s energy is contagious. His sunny disposition and witty sense of humor, along with that great beard and twinkling eyes, always brings a smile to my face.”

When asked how he continues to come up with new ways to express ideas year after year, he says, “I’m just lucky I like to try new things.” — Alexandra Fluegel

Lisa Rose Starner

Local food advocate and author Lisa Rose Starner discovered the art of eating while studying in France.
Standing outside MadCap Coffee in downtown Grand Rapids, Lisa Rose Starner plucked leaves from a tree and popped them in her mouth.

The Michigan native, who has spent years foraging in woods and fields and advocating for local food, didn’t seem to notice people were staring as she explained how American linden trees can be used for medicinal purposes.

“Try one,” she said, still munching the greenery. “It’s sweet. You can collect the flower heads and bracts and dry them for tea. It’s super cooling.”

Starner believes all plants everywhere are important to wellness.

“In my urban garden there are the plants that I fuss with and nurture,” said Starner, whose Burdock & Rose business offers a small herbal CSA and classes about edible and medicinal wild plants, herbalism and foraging. “But then there are those wild plants that will push up and push through. Other gardeners find it frustrating. I find it delightful.”

Her passion for plants and food as a way to positively impact health has led to a variety of projects, from teaching children how to grow vegetables to blogging about the food movement in Grand Rapids.

“Food touches all aspects of our lives, from social to the environment, human health and local economy,” she said.

Back inside the coffee shop, where just a few days earlier she was signing copies of her book, “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution,” Starner talked about how food has become her passion.

Growing up in Spring Lake, Starner said she learned foraging from her mother, a gardener who hunted for morels and who canned seasonal fruits and veggies.

She majored in anthropology at Grand Valley State University and spent a year studying in Nice, France, an experience that introduced her to the art of eating.

“In France, it’s not just about the food,” she said. “It’s the conversation, the ambience. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what we’re missing.’ It’s a café culture where things slow down and people are happier.”

Back in the U.S., she worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and volunteered at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, Calif., founded by famed chef Alice Waters.

“That changed my world,” she said. “It was very profound.”

When she returned to Michigan, she worked on an organic farm in Leelenau with a goal of promoting the state’s diverse crops.

In 2003, Starner started Mixed Greens, teaching children about gardening, cooking, tasting new foods and the process of ecology — a program that later merged with Blandford Nature Center.

“People would say, ‘It’s so nice that you want to garden with kids,” she said. “They didn’t get the idea that getting kids to try new foods and learning to cook will change the future of the world. This isn’t just ‘nice.’ It’s so important.”

Starner also spent nearly two years as director of Blandford, overseeing the transition to become a nonprofit. It was gratifying, but also overwhelming.

“I was fried,” she said. “I had two young children and I was spending 70 hours at work and making raw cheese at 2 in the morning. My husband was in Africa and I was turning 30.”

She left Blandford to concentrate on The Urban Ranch, the mid-century modern homestead where Starner and her husband, Seth, live with their son and daughter. The acre of land on GR’s west side features more than 70 plants used for organic food and herbal remedies.

Last year The History Press asked her to write about the food movement in Grand Rapids as part of its American Palette series.

Armed with 12 years of relationships and stories she’d seen and been a part of, she interviewed everyone from entrepreneurs to home chefs. “People who have witnessed the changes and the difficulties,” she explained. “It’s messy work.”

With one book published, Starner is working on “The ReWilded Kitchen: A Forager’s Guide to Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest,” scheduled for a summer 2014 release by Timber Press.

She wants city dwellers to realize how easy it is to find nutritional plants no matter where they live. Her goal is to grow a grassroots health care system based on the practices of traditional plant medicine.

“I did a walk in the Baxter community with a group of women to show residents that nature is all around us,” she said. “By the end, little kids were joining us and asking, ‘Can you eat that?’ and ‘Look at the crazy lady eating flowers.’ I loved it.”
— Marty Primeau

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