Winslow Homer, in all his glory. Photo by Zack Bowen.

Winslow Homer, in all his glory. Photo by Zack Bowen.

A few weeks into developing the product line for Portland Museum of Art, I had an idea. Though we had planned several luxury items, as well as gifts that fit the most frugal shopper, we didn't have a headline grabbing product that would appeal to everyone—young, old, serious, nonchalant, acquisitive, and discerning alike. I became slightly obsessed with finding a product that would have the broadest appeal to any type of customer at the museum's store. Then, one day, I had it—a Winslow Homer bobblehead!

Now, let me pause for a moment and make my case. You might be thinking that a bobblehead is an odd, specific gag gift suited for the sports fan or geek in your life, and you wouldn't be wrong. A quick google search or two will result in more bobbleheads than you ever knew existed. Among the typical college mascots, athletes, and televison characters, however, there are plenty of unexpected bobbles out there. Albert Einstein. Charles Darwin. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. If a Justice Ginsberg bobble had appeal to someone, surely a bobble of Mr. Homer could find an audience at a museum store. I pictured someone getting it as a cute gift for their art loving spouse. I imagined a grandparent picking it up for a whimsical grandchild. Priced appropriately, it could sway an unlikely shopper to buying it, as well as serve as an add-on for someone already picking up a few items. It was, as I jokingly say around the office, a ‘golden ticket idea,’ but I still needed to convince the museum to give us the green light.

I laid out all of my points over a few weeks as they mulled it over. Though initially hesitant (there were concerns it wouldn't be appropriate in a museum setting), everyone seemed to get more and more excited as they let the idea sink in. The key was to put it in context with the entire product line. Made as a one-off, it seemed silly, but as part of a collection that included map cases, pillows, pencils and mugs, handkerchiefs, soaps, onesies, and old-timey posters, the bobblehead didn't seem inappropriate at all. In fact, the inherent frivolity of a bobblehead was a needed addition to the collection. After a few weeks, we got the go-ahead from the museum, and we were pumped. We got back to the office and were talking about how cool this was going to be, and then it dawned on us—how do we go about making this bobblehead anyway?!?!

Einstein, Bader Ginsburg, and yes, even Jesus Christ.

Einstein, Bader Ginsburg, and yes, even Jesus Christ.

Traditionally, when you make a bobble, you send a photo of what you want, and a month or so later get a bobble that is, well, picture perfect. The problem was, as we immediately found out, there were only a handful of photographs of Winslow Homer in existence, and almost all of them had some sort of issue that prohibited us from saying, "Make him look like this." Some pictures had the clothes and styling we liked, others the correct age we wanted him to be. The more we looked, the more we realized this bobble had to be a collage of, how do you say, Homer's most Homer-y features. We worked with the museum and came up with a list of the things that mattered most to them—namely his age, posture, facial expression, and what he should be wearing. I got in touch with our rep at the bobble company and he began peppering me with more specific questions. What do you want his eyebrows to look like? How should he be holding the paint palette? How do we want the mustache to curl?

They needed a visual reference for each and every aspect of the bobble, and we needed to explicitly lay every little detail out. I diligently compiled everything we wanted into an insanely detailed, 10-page PDF. I even posed in the position we wanted Homer to be in because we didn't have a picture that summed everything up.

About 10 days later and we got the first look at clays. At first glance it looked pretty good. It was just so cool to see something you'd only conceptualized come to life in a physical way. But something wasn't right. His moustache was a bit cartoonish. His chin and jawline, broad in a way that conjured Tom Selleck, wasn't right. As a result, Homer looked more like he belonged in 19th century Utah than 19th century Maine. Lastly, when I had posed to give an overall look for the bobble, I had held a cutting board with a spatula to mimic the palette and brush we wanted Homer to hold. Sure enough, there Winslow was, holding a cutting board and spatula.

The moustache was a little wild west and the paintbrush was, well, a spatula.

The moustache was a little wild west and the paintbrush was, well, a spatula.

We requested his face become thinner and provided pictures for reference. I found the exact moustache we wanted (which didn't exist in any of the images we had of Homer) and sent that along as well. They changed the cutting board to a palette and spatula to a paintbrush, and just like that, the clays were complete.

Sometimes you gotta use a hipster to get the 19th century moustache just right.

Sometimes you gotta use a hipster to get the 19th century moustache just right.

Next we worked on the overall color scheme, which was an array of blacks and deep browns. It was interesting to try and pick a skin tone for Homer—too pink would make him look like a salmon but too fair would wash him out. Over several rounds of color we realized that A) his hair couldn't be black because it made him look like death, B) He needed a touch of red in his tie, and C) asking for a slight change of tone in his vest sometimes meant they changed the color of his shirt. Eventually we got everything as we liked it and the museum signed off. 

Color iterations 1 through 5.

Color iterations 1 through 5.

While we waited the 8 weeks or so for the bobble to be manufactured, Morgan designed a killer box for Mr. Homer to hang in, and finally, the official Winslow Homer bobblehead arrived. We have all been pretty excited and proud about how he turned out, and the museum loves them so much they are looking to wholesale them out to other museums around the country. It isn't everyday that you get to design, for all intents and purposes, a toy. I'm just glad the folks at Portland Museum of Art gave us the opportunity and the team at Might & Main rallied behind a seemingly far fetched product. I even think Winslow himself would think it's uniquely awesome. I know the bobble likes it—he's nodding as we speak.


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AuthorGraeme Kennedy
CategoriesProjects