What better way for an local entrepreneur to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her small business than to show off her work at the world’s busiest airport? And it’s not a bad way to thumb one’s nose at the layoff that led to the founding of the business.
Local designer Carolyn Dean of Rice Dean Graphics, recently completed work on “A Walk Through Atlanta History,” a unique, multimedia exhibit in the Transportation Mall between concourses B and C at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, serving more than 92 million passengers annually.
Curated by the Atlanta History Center, the exhibit features large wall murals, brief videos and reader rails that highlight key periods, milestones and events from Native Americans to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
The total project included nearly 800 linear feet of high resolution images, all composed and processed in Morristown at Dean’s studio before being sent to Atlanta for final printing and installation. Design and layout, photo color correction, masking and restoration were all delivered on time and within budget by one designer.
Dean earned a bachelor of fine art degree in 1980 at what is now Texas A&M at Corpus Christi. She then took a job as a paste-up artist for a commercial printer.
“I didn’t realize it at the time but it was the best practical experience I could have had to become a graphic designer,” Dean said. “It wasn’t long before I was correcting the work that came to our office from graphic designers. It was then that I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Dean and her husband, Jerry, whom she married in 1979, relocated to Morristown in the mid 1980s. Dean searched for graphic design positions and said she was “absolutely thrilled” to be hired by TVA Knoxville in 1985.
Three years later, Dean’s success story took, well, a turn.
“In 1988 President Ronald Reagan put Marvin Runyon at the helm of the Tennessee Valley Authority,” Dean said. “He laid off more than 12,000 of the federal utility’s employees. It earned him the name Carvin Marvin, but all I got was a T-shirt. Literally, I still have the T-shirt with a cartoon on the front that says ‘I was laid off by Carvin Marvin.’ In fact, the entire department of Graphic Services at TVA was eliminated.”
Although Dean said she was devastated at the news, she didn’t waste any time getting back on her feet.
“I loved my job at TVA. I enjoyed being on the Market Square in Knoxville. However, my graphic design position at TVA taught me a lot about running a freelance business and it has always been my dream to work for myself, so I went to some seminars by the SBA to learn the nuts and bolts of business start up and began Rice Dean Graphics,” Dean said. “I had also taken a night class in 1988 at UT in computer aided graphic design. TVA was my first client because even though they had laid us all off they still needed the service.”
Dean’s past experience bode well for the challenge of completing the large Atlanta airport exhibit.
“When I look back to what I did as a paste-up artist in the early 80s, I can say that I now literally do things on the computer that I used to do with an exacto knife,” she said. “The technological changes and the growth of the internet has been and continues to be amazing and I love the challenge of keeping up with those changes.”
For the exhibit, Dean needed to work with huge image files, due to the high resolution needed for pictures that would be looked at from a close range.
“Not too many years ago it would not have been possible to work on a project with those size specifications while working from a small office hundreds of miles away from my client,” Dean said. “However, today, with a single computer and high speed internet, it was a smooth operation to transfer a mind boggling amount of image data during the course of this project.”
Rice Dean Graphics, along with exhibit designer Gary Lee Super Associates, videographer Gary Moss and The Atlanta History center were honored for their work during a ceremony held by aviation officials to dedicate the exhibit, which highlights several prominent Atlantans, including former mayors Shirley Franklin, Andrew Young and Maynard H. Jackson Jr., who played important roles in shaping the city’s history.
The exhibit covers eight time frames: the pre-Colonial era through 1840; the first train stop in Atlanta; the Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta; Reconstruction and the rebuilding of Atlanta into a commerce hub; the rise of the Sweet Auburn district; Mayor William B. Hartsfield’s achievements; Jim Crow and the civil rights movement; and Atlanta’s entry onto the global stage.
“It’s undeniable that ‘A Walk Through Atlanta History’ has transformed an ordinary corridor traveled by thousands of passengers each day into a historical, storytelling museum,” Aviation General Manager Louis Miller said. “I believe this is one of the best airport art exhibits that travelers will discover.”
Jerry Dean is a maintenance electrician for the aerial tram at Ober Gatlinburg. The couple have two daughters, Sarah Grace, age 23, and Erica, age 18, a drum major at Morristown-Hamblen High School West.
- By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer