Herman Miller Picnic Posters – Steve Frykholm

Herman Miller 1974 Picnic Poster by Steve Frykholm
Herman Miller 1974 Picnic Poster of a popcorn box by Steve Frykholm

In 1970 a young designer named Steve Frykholm (b.1942) arrived at legendary Herman Miller (HM) Furniture Company. A company where where designers Charles and Ray Eames were still actively involved in the company’s design and Alexander Girard and George Nelson had built their reputations as the leaders of modernist design. Frykholm arrived with a newly minted MFA from Cranbrook academy and art school that schooled the leading lights of American Modern design, notably Florence Knoll, and was run by Eliel Saarinen, a famous architect in his own right, who’s son Eero Saarinen attended the academy and went on to create some of the most iconic pieces of furniture in the 20th century. (For example the tulip table and chairs.) Cranbrook was a virtual breeding ground for good designers which Herman Miller and Knoll used to find and hire new talent.

One of Frykholm’s first assignments at HM, working with designer Phil Mitchell, was to design a poster for the company’s annual “sweet corn” festival in Zeeland, Michigan for company employees. It was a good project for Frykholm since he had extensive experience in silk screen or serigraph production from a stint in the Peace Corps in Nigeria.

What started as a small project to safely test out the new kid turned into a series of posters, some of which are now in the permanent collection of MOMA. The first poster (pictured below) Frykolm wanted to enter in the American Institute of Graphic Art’s annual design competition, then he read the fine print. The poster must be a printing of at least 500 or more. To demonstrate what a small project this was for HM, the original pressing was only supposed to be 50 posters. In order to get Frykholm into the competition HM agreed to go ahead and print 500 and it paid off because he won the competition. Frykholm’s career at HM was off to a stellar start.

The first Herman Miller poster by Frykholm in 1970.
The first Herman Miller poster by Frykholm in 1970.

The poster was such a success, and the company event so popular, it soon became known as the Herman Miller Summer Picnic and every year through out the 1970’s and into the 1980’s a new poster was commissioned by Frykholm, with the last one being produced in 1989. There were 20 different posters in all commissioned. The posters all depict some delicious food aspect of the picnic, done in a bold, pop art style. The original posters are quite large and printed on a glossy, coated thick paper. (39×24 inches) I own two in the photographs here and have had both framed, but without glass in order to appreciate the high gloss surface. The posters proved very popular with Herman Miller employees and they were allow to purchase posters at a bit above cost. Over the years this was expanded a bit and you could order a poster from Herman Miller if you requested it. By far the most popular and sought after posters tend to be the ones produced (probably in smaller numbers) from 1970 to 1979.

I really love this series of posters. The bright vivid colors and smart graphic design make them dynamic focal points in any room and it’s awesome to own a piece of original graphic art history. Frykholm described them as having a lilliputian point of view, and the giant detail on the food certainly gives that impression and an interest perspective.

The posters certainly established Frykholm’s reputation at Herman Miller, since he still works and designs for the company today as it’s Creative Director, Vice President.

Frykholm's 1979 Herman Miller picnic poster of fried chicken.
Frykholm’s 1979 Herman Miller picnic poster of fried chicken.

For more on Steve Frykholm:
A great piece on the Herman Miller website that details some of his life and work, along with a great slideshow of all 20 posters he designed.

A good article by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) who awarded him a medal for lifetime achievement.


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