Local artist wins national contest for Woodstock anniversary poster

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Rochester Hills artist Tim Gralewski won a nationwide poster contest for the 50th anniversary of  Woodstock, sponsored by the arts center that now sits on the concert site.

A Rochester Hills artist has won a national contest to design the poster for Woodstock's 50th anniversary. 

Tim Gralewski, a graphic designer who teaches at the University of Michigan-Flint and Oakland University, beat out 272 other artists to win the grand prize from the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. That's a performance space and museum located on what in 1969 was Max Yasgur's farm, the site of the original three-day rock concert that drew over half a million, and became a cultural touchstone. 

Gralewski was floored to learn he won. "I got a text from Bethel about a week ago that started with, 'Congratulations,'" he said. "I was kind of shaking. I couldn't believe it. I'm still kind of surprised. It hasn't sunk in yet."

The award comes with $2,500 and a free trip to the Bethel Woods Center to participate in the Center's "Power of the Poster" festival June 5, where Gralewski will appear on a panel with graphic-design giants David Edward Byrd and Frank "Fraver" Verlizzo, who judged the contest. 

The official "Woodstock 50" anniversary, which the Bethel Center has no connection with, is scheduled for Aug. 16 through 18 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Verlizzo, who's done virtually every Broadway poster you've ever seen -- including iconic ones for "The Lion King," "Sweeney Todd" and "Sunday in the Park with George" -- says Gralewski's design grabbed him right away. 

"The thing I liked is that it was a terrific, clever shout-out to the late 60s and 70s," he said, "which is perfect for a 50th anniversary. Tim's technique borders on fine art, though it's also graphic commercial art."

Gralewski took pains, not surprisingly, to avoid mimicking the original classic poster that promised "three days of peace and music," with its peace dove roosting on a guitar as it's being played. 

Tim Gralewski's poster will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

"I love the original," he said. "It's minimalistic, and a great, iconic design. It was perfect for that concert." 

All the same, Gralewski said, "A new poster had to have a little reference to the original, so that it pays tribute." 

His solution was a sophisticated collage that stars a vertical guitar -- not horizontal, as in the 1969 poster -- overlaid with a peace sign, and butterflies and a single dove flitting about. 

"I have my own design aesthetic," Gralewski said. "I work a lot with silhouettes, and then within those I'll add texture or patterning. In this case, I started with the guitar." 

As it happens, despite the fact that Gralewski wasn't born until five years after Woodstock, in many ways he was the perfect guy for the job. 

"Starting in my teens, I've always been fascinated with the Woodstock concert," he said. "I played guitar and really got into music -- the Beatles, The Doors. I watched the Woodstock movie and thought it was really cool." 

Indeed, he even attended Woodstock's thirtieth anniversary in 1999. The concert, held some distance from the original site, was a bit of an overpriced bust, he says. Still, Gralewski was able to visit the farm, and found that deeply affecting. 

"To me," said Verlizzo in conclusion, "the most important thing in poster design is to look distinctive and a little unique." And as far as he's concerned, Gralewski's design fits the bill. 

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy