July 15, 2016 at 10:45am
Dane Lisser

The Art of Classic Rock

Classic rock music posters of the 60s and 70s helped promote some of the most legendary artists of the psychedelic music era and captured people's attention through iconic imagery.

As part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project, Millikin University student Sydney Doherty, a junior graphic design major from Lake Saint Louis, Mo., and Ed Walker, Millikin associate professor of art, have teamed up to research how vintage rock posters developed into a creative art form that symbolized a social movement.

Millikin Art Research

Walker reached out to Marc Willis of Decatur, Ill., who owns an extensive vintage music poster collection, to use samples of his collection for the research project. Doherty and Walker are using Birks Museum and Perkinson Art Gallery on Millikin's campus as work areas to do photography and organize the collection.

The results of the research will be featured during an exhibit of the vintage rock posters in Perkinson Art Gallery on January 26, 2017.

"We really want to push the envelope in terms of making the exhibition more of an experience," Walker says. "In terms of the visual presentation of the posters, we want to include music recordings of the artists to go along with the gallery and project images on the walls."

Millikin Art Research

Doherty added, "The walls will include cultural items from that time period, like record albums. It will be an immersive experience."

In addition to preparing the exhibit, Walker and Doherty will produce a book that will serve as a catalog for the exhibit in January. The book will be published through Bronze Man Books, Millikin's student-run publishing company. Walker and Doherty will design the framework of the book this summer and turn it over to the Bronze Man Books editors in the fall.  

"The book is going to frame our interpretation of why the posters are important culturally and from a designer standpoint," Walker says. "We're looking into the production of the posters. Everything back then was done by hand and being able to dissect the process from a design standpoint will be a valuable part for design students to learn."

Millikin Art Research

Marc Willis, owner of No. 2 Millikin Place in Decatur, previously worked with Ed Walker and Millikin students during a graphic design course in fall 2015. Willis inherited his current collection of vintage rock posters from his brother. 

"I asked Marc about engaging the Millikin students and booking a show for the gallery to make it a benefit for the students and for the design program," Walker said. "It's not academic art, but it's a perfect venue to learn about design history and technique."

From a design standpoint, it's inspiring to see that type of original art and research how the artists developed it. It's bringing exciting and creative energy into my own work.

Vintage rock posters continue to be a unique art form that reached a height during the San Francisco rock scene of the 60s. The social impact of the 60s and 70s played an important role with the development of the posters.

In terms of the research, Doherty says, "It's a challenge to decide where to take the research. It's about the posters but it's also about that period of time, everything that was going on, and what inspired the designers."

Millikin Art Research

Throughout their research, Doherty and Walker will pick out certain things in the posters that will be relevant to the cultural period of the 60s and 70s, such as the Vietnam War.

"It wasn't just one artist, there are examples of artists dabbling in all areas," Walker says. "From a research standpoint it's a deep pool of material to work with but we also want to develop a chapter on the production of the posters."

The posters at the exhibit and in the book will be set in chronological order, and other items such as ticket stubs and postcards will be included.

"I've heard many stories about the culture of the 60s and 70s and it's been great to delve into that time period," Doherty says. "From a design standpoint, it's inspiring to see that type of original art and research how the artists developed it. It's bringing exciting and creative energy into my own work."

Millikin Art Research  

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (SURF) 

Millikin's SURF Program pairs a student with a faculty member to perform in-depth research throughout the summer months. An example of Performance Learning, the research is one of the "graduate level" opportunities undergraduates experience at Millikin.

The 2016 SURF Program features Millikin students and faculty across multiple disciplines conducting research and collaboratively building new academic ground. This summer, seven SURF fellowships were granted.