The Neche Collection

July 11th, 2011  Art, Chicago, Design

Nearly three months ago, Chicago-based designer Veronica Corzo-Duchardt launched the Neche Collection, a visual archive chronicling the objects and documents her late grandfather collected throughout his life. Cuban identification cards, address books, rent receipts, and the like are all thoroughly recorded with photographs and curated notes. But more than a digital display case, the project serves as the basis for a corresponding print series. A screen print inspired by one or more of the objects is featured at the end of each week, giving Veronica the opportunity to pull from this vintage assortment and spin the items into contemporary stimuli for her studio. The NC is a place where three shopping bags of pencils discovered in a bedroom closet can find salvation and be re-assigned as artistic inspiration. And they have.

Veronica, owner and operator of winterbureau, grew up amidst an array of grid paper and tax forms, courtesy of her grandfather, Neche Eugenio Hadad. A Cuban Exile and accountant, he helped raise her, and the aesthetic of his office supplies coupled with the ‘textured ephemera’ from Cuba greatly impacted her design sensibility. “I grew up with the tools of my grandfather’s craft,” she explains. “Part of the reason I started the Neche Collection was to offer a glimpse into how I think and work. Collecting and researching is a very big part of my process as a designer and artist.” Two years after his death, Neche continues to influence her practice. The method of discovery and reinterpretation used in the NC turns the project into a collaborative work, and the weekly screen prints push it forward.

Veronica’s engagement with this highly personal collection makes perfect sense, as does her family’s thrill with the undertaking, but the NC appeals to a wider audience, garnering an especially positive response from other designers. Margot Harrington of Pitch Design Union reasons, “There’s already a cultural familiarity with the items she chooses, and her voice is so relatable which is why people have been gravitating to the collection.”

On June 23, Veronica appeared on The Show ‘n Tell Show at Lincoln Hall. The show’s hosts, Mike Renaud and Zach Dodson, are huge proponents of the NC, but, as Mike admits, it’s difficult to think about the NC as a design project that exists for professional reasons. “The vintage packaging and typographic examples are obviously inspiring to people, but she’s celebrating the little things that made up [Neche's] life and is exploring them honestly, without self-promotion.”

The number of artists contextualizing this retro genre is mighty small, and in many instances it’s a style utilized as a crutch. In Veronica’s case, the NC begins to intersect with winterbureau and puts her professional work in a new light.  The trend toward vintage is undeniable, but the NC manages to back precision graphics with a strong narrative. “I was constantly surrounded by this stuff growing up and I love it. It still fascinates me. These are things that inspire my work, not just the aesthetic but also the cultural and historical context.”

Despite Neche’s relentless ‘thievery’ and amassing, the NC has a limited lifespan. The 170-some items and photos Veronica acquired will eventually run out. But the project is not exclusively tied to her grandfather’s items; rather, it revolves around the act of collecting. “That same ‘thing’ he had with collecting, I have. I think once I go through his stuff I will begin to post my own because it’s something he passed on to me, and I certainly have a growing collection of my own.” Beyond the daily posts, the possibility exists for exhibiting guest collections, creating different kinds of prints, and even using the NC to inspire designs of objects and printed matter. “Veronica is making new things out of who her grandfather was, and I think that’s why it’s so appealing to people,” Mike says. “It reminds us that there is real love and soul behind all of the eye-candy that we massively consume on a day-to-day basis.”

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