It was “The Silicon Valley of the 19th Century.”
For roughly 100 years — from 1818 right through to the early years of the 20th century — the West Point Foundry in New York’s Hudson Valley was one of America’s great industrial and innovation centers, designing and manufacturing armaments that helped turn the tide of the Civil War, as well as a steady stream of steam engines, industrial machinery, cast-iron fittings, and more. Changing times and technologies ultimately led to its abandonment, and the 87-acre site fell into disrepair. In 1996, it came under the protection of Scenic Hudson, an advocacy group which works to restore the Hudson River and surrounding landscape.
Scenic Hudson, in turn, commissioned C&G Partners, the award-winning multi-specialty design studio based in Manhattan, to design interpretive graphics, signage and exhibits for its new West Point Foundry Preserve. C&G Partners has counted Yankee Stadium, JFK Airport, the Hearst Corporation, and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation among its past and present clientele for signage, wayfinding, exhibits and environments. The goal of the project for Scenic Hudson: to bring to life the history and spirit of the Foundry while enhancing it as a destination for recreation and contemplation.
To capture the sense of place, C&G Partners created a cast-iron West Point Foundry seal to become the visual centerpiece of the project. The seal is derived from historical sources and embellished with contemporary references to the preserve, such as graphic cattails from the nearby marsh and a stylized white oak wreath frame. Trails follow old rail beds and pass extensive remains of the Foundry’s Casting House, Office Building, Boring Mill and other workshops, ruins that led to the Preserve’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. At each location, the designers created evocative interpretive features — including a full-scale sculptural model of the 36-foot water wheel that powered the Boring Mill, and a replica of the Foundry’s cannon-testing tower — that tell the story of the site’s contributions to the Industrial Revolution and Civil War, as well as the cleanup leading to its ecological renewal. Kiosks throughout the Preserve act as directional markers, while also presenting narratives on facets of daily life; many are anchored by bricks taken from the Foundry ruins. A modern sweeping interpretive staircase follows the trail that workers took to and from their homes in what was essentially the country’s first company town.
Keith Helmetag, a founder of C&G Partners, provided creative leadership and project management over its eight year duration, working closely with Scenic Hudson, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, and other team members. His current projects include the U.S. State Department’s new American Embassy in London, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s National Opera & Library of Greece, the National September 11th Memorial & Museum, and Dilworth Plaza at Philadelphia City Hall. Mr. Helmetag notes that C&G’s work marks just one aspect of the Foundry project, with a wide-ranging team of specialists. Collaborators included Mathews Nielsen, exhibit fabricator Meyer Contracting Corporation, Systeme Huntington for graphic panels, and custom ironwork by Hatfield Metal Fabrication. The Putnam History Museum, adjacent to the Preserve, is home to the Foundry’s archives and its photographs and primary documents are found throughout the exhibits, while project photographer au2626’s handsome images adorn the accompanying monograph. And then of course there is the overall client, Scenic Hudson, and its dedicated team of planners and preservationists.
DISTILLING THE ESSENCE INTO A BOOK
At the conclusion of the project, Mr. Helmetag sought to capture the essence of the endeavor in a small monograph, as a keepsake to share with clients and peers. More than a simple promotional publication, this lavishly illustrated booklet – produced and printed by mPress Graphics LLC in Manhattan – delves deep into the background of the project, thoughtfully considers its problems and challenges, and explains how the design solutions help contribute value and meaning. For studies of environmental graphics projects, Helmetag says, a printed piece seems the appropriate medium: it has a permanence, tangibility and dimensionality that correlates to the nature of the underlying work.
mPress LLC founder Gerry Schneiderman explains that this particular monograph has four notable features that contribute to its successful execution. His company works with many leading design studios on sophisticated print and identity projects; Mr. Schneiderman and partner Maggie Black contract with the best-in-class printing facilities, and draw on decades of actual printing plant ownership and management experience to specify, prepare and guide work through to production. First, the striking black cover of the West Point Foundry Preserve book is foil stamped and blind embossed with the West Point Foundry Preserve seal. Second, the paper used for the interior is an 80 lb. cover, which give the page heft. Third, mPress recommended PUR Binding, a method which has superior adhesion and allows a book with heavier coated paper stock to open all the way, lie flat, and show the spreads well. Finally, the mPress team employed various varnishes that can render dull and shiny images on the same page, with eye-popping contrasts.