Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, Pioneer of Supergraphics, Dies at 95


Ms. Stauffacher Solomon was the graphic designer for the project, working on promotional materials and the Sea Ranch logo, which she shaped like abstracted ram’s horns — a broad, curly Y — each horn encircling a spiral nautilus shell, a nod to both the land’s former life as a sheep ranch and to the sea.

The architects had nestled Sea Ranch’s athletic club (a tennis court, a pool and locker rooms) into berms that they had created to shield it from the wind. The walls inside were unfinished plywood — money was running out — and they turned the interior over to Ms. Stauffacher Solomon. With the help of a local sign painter, she spent three days creating enormous spatial illusions: bold diagonals, circles, arrows, letters and blocks of bull’s-eye colors. “Make it happy, kid,” the contractor told her.

“Here was serious architecture that was trying to blend in with the surrounding barns and landscape,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, SFMOMA’s curator of architecture and design, who, with Joseph Becker, wrote “The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism” and curated a 2018 exhibition of the same title. “And Bobbie paints the development’s name right on the exterior of the main lodge in bold Helvetica typeface, and paints a wondrous graphic surprise in the athletic center’s shower rooms, which, perhaps to the architects’ ire, became the cover image in architecture magazines and led to the beginning of environmental supergraphics.

“Like Bobbie,” she added, “it was very clever, a little naughty and ahead of its time.”

Ms. Stauffacher Solomon’s work landed on the cover of Progressive Architecture magazine. One of the magazine’s editors, C. Ray Smith, noticing that other designers and architects around the country had been upending space as she had, declared a movement — paint as architecture — and called it supergraphics. In the era of Pop Art and Op Art, supergraphics, Mr. Smith wrote, would “destroy architectural planes, distort corners and explode the rectangular boxes that we construct as rooms.”

Sea Ranch became a pilgrimage site for architecture buffs and, inevitably, a pricey second-home community. Real estate won, Ms. Stauffacher Solomon often said. She moved on, too, to projects in San Francisco, New York and Europe.



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