Our friend and colleague was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1967 and moved to Indianapolis with his family in 1976. He earned his BFA in Visual Communications from the Herron School of Art and his MFA from the Graduate Design program at Cranbrook Academy of Art. When Fred joined the design program at Cranbook, they were accepting only six students each year. The experimental philosophy of Cranbrook can be sensed in Fred’s own work, which it situated between art and design.
While at Cranbook, Fred was chosen to design materials for an exhibition titled “Glimpse” featuring the work of Yoko Ono. She requested that a student produce the exhibition catalog, poster and invitation. Fred worked with Ono and her curator as he designed this material. With Fred’s typical understatement, he thought he was chosen for this project because he was “a mild-mannered guy from the Midwest who would be able to get things done”. His work for Yoko Ono received several awards and was included in the American Center for Design 100 Show.
After receiving his MFA from Cranbrook, Fred worked as a book designer for Hayden Books, a division of Macmillan Computer Publishing, in Indianapolis. He soon moved to Seattle, Washington, where he worked for Foundation, a company that serviced fashion industry corporations such as Ralph Lauren, Nautica and Girbaud. After gaining experience working within publishing companies and design firms, Fred decided to pursue teaching.
In 1996, Fred joined the faculty at the University of Alabama, where he taught for four years. He returned to Indiana, where many members of his family lived, to teach at Herron for a year. He joined the Ball State Visual Communication faculty in 2001 and has taught at Ball State for the past eighteen years.
In 2009, the Indianapolis design magazine Commercial Article devoted an issue to Fred, in which Fred described his work as “one last heaping gasp of postmodern design”. In 2014, the Commercial Article series was part of a touring exhibition that was co-curated by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. This publication was also recognized by Print Magazine and AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts).
An excerpt from the introduction of the Fred Bower issue:
His work is a diverse collection of bits and pieces of personal iconography. He uses found and self-generated illustrations, colorless photography, textbook text, and his own mordant commentary to solve particular design challenges that, in turn, invite the viewer to explore the problem on their own.
A quote from Fred about his chosen discipline:
When I think about design work, I see it as a romance with ephemera, but not as the easily dismissed, unimportant part of an event or occurrence.
- The New Madrid Journal of Contemporary Literature “Intelligent Design”, a publication that showcased poetry, essays, fiction and visual art.
- Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue – Selections from Emigre Magazine #1 – 69. This book covers the best of a quarter century of Emigre magazine – one of the most influential design publications in the country. Fred’s work “The Last Wave” appeared in issue #54.
- His work “Output” was featured in the books Type Design, Radical Innovations and Experimentation from HDI Publishers and No More Rules, Graphic Design and Postmodernism, published by Yale Press.
- His artwork Bureaucratic Instruction was shown at the Florida International Combined Talents show at the Florida State University Museum of Art.
- Fred recently received two Awards of Excellence from the University College Designers Association and has work in their permanent collection.
Throughout Fred’s career, he produced design work for artists and art organizations such as the International Society of Experimental Artists, the Indianapolis Gallery of Contemporary Art, the National Association for Schools of Art and Design, and the Detroit Artists Market.
Years after Fred left the University of Alabama, he continued to create design work for the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art on that campus. His work was used in exhibitions for internationally known artists such as Judy Pfaff and Robert Colescott.
Fred’s work was shown and published widely from Los Angles to Florida. He also showed his work in regional art and design exhibitions, including shows at Minnetrista, the Richmond Art Museum and the Big Car Gallery in Indy.
In addition to creating materials for others, design was always an independently driven creative practice for Fred. His ongoing project, the “Morgan Museum of Cultural Phenomenon”, is in the tradition of nomadic, virtual or theoretical institutions. Fred created and collected objects for this project.
I want to describe two examples:
Fortune-telling wrapping paper:
“Uncommon Wrapping Paper &/or Miraculous Fortune Telling Mechanism”, in Three Themes: Encyclopedic, Instructive, From Beyond. It featured images and text such as “Seeing is believing is a common saying. But it is not always a good one.”
Another entry in the museum’s collection was a study of pistachio shell activities. These little shells were photographed in sites located around Fred’s office, and presented with the following typed scientific observations:
“The most observable characteristic with the increase of populations and the increase of coupling, was the imperfect nature of couplings. When seen next to other the various couplings show asymmetry by degrees. The most noted of these were the ‘shoe-shine couple’ the ‘picture frame couple’ (whose coupling was actually fairly symmetric, which still had no effect on the non-coupling microfauna beside them, who continued to non-couple despite ease of vicinity), the ‘third-brown-stack couple’, the ‘under-globe couple’, and the ‘beside the rack couple’.
With even a marked asymmetric coupling, the microfauna still maintains it’s coupling behavior.”
Commercial Article described this project as “Fred’s contemplation on people and their nuance and relationship to each other.”
Fred described this project in this way:
It’s people and observing behavior, and using this fiction of a lifeform as an analogy to talk about it.
Further thoughts from Fred on his Morgan Museum project:
What isn’t short-lived or transitory? A building? One that won’t be around in 200 years? Or a ticket to the Columbian Exhibition which someone keeps for the rest of their life? The designer is an active contributor to this message-carrying, ephemera-packed culture of ours. I collect this stuff, which makes it part of my classroom and the Morgan’s collection, which also contains bits and pieces that reflect man’s endeavors and value systems.
At Ball State
As a faculty member and colleague, Fred was very generous with his time and with his skills. He produced a significant amount of design work for faculty and for programs at Ball State. For years, he created our posters and materials for the Visiting Artists, Designers and Scholars lecture series, countless posters for individual visiting artists, and materials for the Ball State Museum of Art (now the David Owsley Museum) and the Atrium Gallery. This work often circulated beyond the Ball State campus; an ad he designed for the David Owsley Museum of Art appeared in three national publications.
Fred supported his colleagues in the School of Art by creating numerous exhibition postcards and catalogs for them. The list of design work contributed to Ball State on Fred’s CV is literally pages long . . . in a very small font.
While at Ball State, Fred taught classes ranging from sophomore level studies in Visual Communication to Senior Projects. His assignments were often open-ended, offering students the opportunity to bring their own individual interests and concerns to their work, as he did as a designer. Fred’s office housed his collections of ephemera and the visual materials that he was so drawn to, as well as a substantial library of books and design publications.
“I just quoted him [Fred] yesterday during a presentation to my colleagues. “If you want to be a good designer, surround yourself with good design.” We were discussing sources of inspiration. Fred’s office was a museum of interesting and entertaining design... so fitting because he was full of interesting and entertaining stories and ideas. I learned so much from him- both inside the classroom and out. He will be missed- but never forgotten. He will live on every time one of his students pauses before placing an image... considers copyright laws... and laughs to themselves as they recall Fred’s number one copyright rule: “I AM NOT A LAWYER!”
He will be deeply missed by the School of Art and his absence will be particularly felt on the third floor of the Art and Journalism Building.
—Alana Michelle Papoy, Art Director at Regions Bank
"Often times in classes with Fred Bower, he would go around to us when we were supposed to have ideas and sketches for new projects. He would always say our name, "_____, restore my faith in humanity." Some people in our class wondered what he really meant by that statement. Is getting to be adult really that bad that you need some stressed out college students to restore your faith in the world? That's how some people interpreted it. I thought it was kinder than that. I think he always had a hope that we could show him something incredible that the world had never seen before. That he trusted that one day maybe we could change the darker parts of humanity with something we designed.
It resonated with me a lot, because when I was a kid my dream was to change the world. I gave up on that dream somewhere in high school and I started to realize that maybe I can have it again. That I can dare to dream that I can change someone's life with something I designed. That maybe I can surprise someone and design something that could make the world a better place. That I could do something amazing.
Fred always said, "restore my faith in humanity", little did he know, he restored something else. He restored dreams, the dreams of some students that would motivate them to change the world.
That his students would be the change he wished to see in the world.
We will "restore his faith in humanity". Even if he won't be here to see it.