“It’s like all good design - it changes,” Clay Lowe remarks offhandedly, holding a 20-inch flower made out of Italian paper and washi tape. Kathy and Clay are assembling their latest window display for Mill Creek Picture Framing. It’s an all-consuming labour of love they undertake every couple of months. It’s a time honoured tradition, something that the previous owners started years ago, that Kathy always felt important to continue, a sentiment which Clay emphatically echoes.
“If it brings people joy or they randomly come in to share their delight or email us, it’s worth the labour. When you come across a beautiful window, you see the thought and care that goes into it. Really in some ways I’m revisiting something I haven’t done in a long time: collaborating in a retail space with a small business.”
Clay talks highly about making use of space. He’s a champion for rethinking spaces - the curator of the legal graffiti wall downtown, the longest running one in Western Canada (between 95 / 96 Street and 100 Street) started in 2001, as well as the man power behind the 8-foot tall letters he projected, traced and cut out of fabric to adhere on the side of 100 Street Place on Rice Howard Way. As a graphic designer, he worked for the Art Gallery of Alberta (2007 - 2014) as a communication designer for the AGA visual art exhibitions and programming, including branding Refinery, the late night art parties.
The art of designing window displays is an atypical canvas. Clay laughs, “Kathy is my only client who I pitched the idea of doing window work together purely for joy when we talked about design. I have had experience doing other windows, but I hadn’t designed a window since 2006 (this window display was for Foosh Audio and Apparel - Whyte Avenue, in collaboration with OBEY Giant, which won an award for the installation) before online sales started affecting small clothing shops.” The first window Clay and Kathy designed together was a glowing galaxy that hung in the shop window from late November to the end of January: “We wanted it to be related to the holidays, but inspired by the cosmos.” Clay proposed the antique print, an ode to the night sky inspired by science, star charts, diagrams and looking to the past - things that are drawn or painstakingly etched - antique imagery made new again.
But that was December and now it’s March, so the galaxy has been dismantled and replaced by a rainbow of flowers in bloom. It’s the simple reality of storefront windows, the retail equivalent to a mandala. Ribbon horses, a roaring fire in a faux mantle, a sailboat and yes, even the cosmos, imagined, lovingly built and quietly torn down in favour of the next masterpiece. It’s easy to question the why of it all, the resources, the time, the effort, but Kathy says it best -
“Whats the point? It brings joy, it is art - some people don’t get it, but some people really do, they understand the importance of art.”
FIVE MINUTES WITH CLAY LOWE DESIGN
Was design something you were always drawn to?
When I was a kid I wanted to work outdoors, and nature and landscape remains a big inspiration for my design work. My dad is a master carpenter and I grew up in a wood-working shop so I learned about organizing and building early in life. Those intentions I come by honestly.
Where do you find inspiration?
Music is a big one - though I often wonder how it relates to design. People and other art and design can inspire, and certainly nature. That being said, there’s something about being inspired or motivated from chaos and conflict. We have the choice to act everyday - I think that optimism is inspiring.
Do you prefer to work alone or collaboratively?
I do partner on large projects. Those collaborations can be with clients as well as other creatives. Clients can offer perspective, as they know their business the best. It’s rarely self expression alone - more collaborative work - I do think it usually makes for better process and design. Design is often in search of solutions, and if working in a “bubble”, it’s probably not going to be a very good solution. When creating personal work for myself, personal expression is important.
What design in Edmonton do you find compelling?
I find the Mill Creek Ravine a compelling piece of natural urban planning and historically important public park way. I’m very excited by the footbridge revitalization, and the proposed daylighting of Mill Creek waters that would create a new fish spawning habitat near the North Saskatchewan River, and a natural stormwater pond near Argyll Park.
I also know Edmontonians to be very inspiring! I recently participated in the Rubaboo Indigenous Arts Festival, and the Flying Canoe Volant in early February. I signed up for a traditional bow making workshop by local Elder Jerry Saddleback. It was all so compelling and nourishing for creativity and multi-cultural sharing. I was inspired to co-host Assemblage, a poetry performance and creative workshop with my colleagues Pierrette Requier and AJA Louden at La Cite Francophone.
I love to cook everything! I do love neighbourhood spots, and the design decor doesn’t get much more eccentric then the Red Goose cafe in Hazeldean. Also looking forward to the soon-to-open Ritchie Market, as it’s on my route to the studio at Timbre!
My favourite public art murals include Transition, by Josh Holinaty & Luke Ramsay and the Wane One painting just north of the La Cite Francophone as part of the Rust Magic Graffiti Mural Festival. I also enjoy architecture and working with architects. Since a kid, I've loved the Edmonton Space and Science Centre designed by Alberta born architect Douglas Cardinal, and the 1960’s modernist Planetarium nearby to be restored this year. Anything to do with astronomy, I’m in!