French Paper Co. Hits the Road with 150 Years Exhibition

French Paper Co. is touring the country to show off it's nearly 150 year history.

As the French Paper Co. approaches its 150th anniversary, the Niles, Michigan business began a deep dive into its archives, resulting in “The Road to 150 Tour,” an exhibition of its work, specifically with Charles Anderson Design.

The national tour will bring the 100-piece exhibition around the country and will kick off on Friday, March 23 in Grand Rapids. The event takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Ballroom at City Flats Hotel. The tour is in talks with 65 cities and counting.

“We are excited that Grand Rapids is the first stop,” said Brian French, sixth generation member of the French Paper Co. “It’s close to our hearts and it’s good to start something like this where we know everybody supports us and loves us.”

The French Paper Co. has a long history in Grand Rapids with collaborations that span the region’s design industry. If you talk about the area’s design legacy, you’ll hear the French Paper Co. cited within minutes.

French Paper Co. is hitting the road to show off its nearly 150 year history.
French Paper Co. is hitting the road to show off its nearly 150-year history.

French plans to give a presentation at 6:45 p.m., where he’ll talk about the company’s history as well as its collaboration with Charles Anderson Design, which began in the 1980s. The remainder of the evening includes a reception and the opportunity to view the exhibit.

“The exhibition itself goes through the last 40 years of our promotional items, printed materials, things we’ve created to advertise for the company,” French said. “There will be about 100 pieces, from posters to brochures to old letterhead and business cards.”

He said the exhibit specifically highlights the company’s collaboration with Charles Anderson Design.

French highlighted a couple of the items in the exhibit that stood out for him. “The one that stands out the most to me is the original piece we did with Charles Anderson Design, that is in the Library of Congress as a piece of graphic design history.

“It’s a little booklet that advertises our grade, which is called speckle tone. It was a dual promotion between us and the designer; we had to put our budgets together to make that happen. That was the first thing we did together. There aren’t many of those left in the world.”

French said he also finds the posters to be neat items because they bring people together.

“We have a series of posters we worked with Adobe on, which are really cool. Those are the most recent piece in the exhibition,” he said. “We did two posters for a big conference they do every year. We made an Illustrator and Photoshop poster to advertise their products and ours together. It’s one of those things that is an odd juxtaposition, you wouldn’t think of Adobe and a paper company working together, but it all comes together and makes a lot of sense.”

French Paper Co. was started in 1871 and has remained a small company with a big footprint.

“The exhibit really shows the power of design,” French said. “For a very small family owned paper mill in a small town in Michigan to do what we do with a limited budget and to excel for 150 years, literally the power of design kept us above everyone else, which is really cool. If you allow a designer to do what they do, it will work out for you.”

French is part of the family’s sixth generation and has been working with the company full time for a decade along with his sister and his father, who serves as the company’s CEO.

“As I’ve traveled around the country and met people and heard stories about all these things we’ve been a part of over the years, it is really cool, because growing up I didn’t really realize we were so included in this world. The design world is its own little community and for a goofy little paper mill to be accepted into that is really awesome.”

When the tour eventually concludes, French said he isn’t sure exactly what will happen with the materials but he expects an effort will be made to preserve the items in the exhibit.

AIGA West Michigan is hosting “The Road to 150 Tour” in Grand Rapids. Visit Eventbrite for tickets, which are $10.

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