GDC Fellow

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Gregory Silver, FGDC

Born (1953) and raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, Greg is the eldest of four boys in a family that, for several generations, had been in the retail ladies wear business. As a youngster working part time in the family enterprise Greg took more interest in the merchandising displays than in his assigned janitorial and delivery duties and got his first taste of commercial design work apprenticing with the store’s professional window dresser. A few years later, while attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Greg earned a little extra money dressing windows and setting up store displays for clothing retailers in downtown Halifax.

Greg took painting and drawing lessons from Mrs. Bates around the corner from home; and from Peter Harris, then curator at St. Catharines’ Rodman Hall Art Gallery. He also took as many art classes as possible in high school, and fondly remembers his art teachers Carole Saunders and Shirley Pike. Greg also was interested in music and enjoyed excellent music programs in the local school system, learning to play trombone with the school concert band; taking piano lessons, and for a time, playing keyboards and drums in rock and blues bands.

After high school Greg studied graphic design for one year at Sheridan College. In 1972 Greg transferred to Halifax and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where he enrolled in the Visual Communications program. Here he was greatly influenced by his German and British-schooled instructors Horst Deppe, Hanno Ehses, Tony Mann, Frank Fox, Ludwig Scharfe, and others….and developed a life-long affinity for the International Style. Greg was active in student politics and served as Student Union president, published a campus newspaper, and was a student representative on NSCAD’s Board of Governors.

Greg was fortunate to find a co-op work term placement for college credit with a multi-disciplinary engineering/architecture/planning firm where he was an in-house graphic designer for that firm’s corporate identity, publications and marketing materials. It was not long before his employer asked him to provide similar services for the firm’s clients and he took a year off from his studies to work full time in that capacity, building a small department of young graphic designers, and creating print, signage and exhibit projects for domestic and international clients. In 1974 he returned to NSCAD to complete his degree, graduating in 1976.

During the last two years of school he took on freelance design projects with a local ad agency and other small business clients, and this experience helped to further develop skills in talking about design with clients, selling design services – and in the management of a small design studio. This business started to grow and he was fortunate to convince a recent NSCAD graduate, Denise Saulnier, to help handle the workload. Together they founded Communication Design Group Limited (CDG), and worked as partners in this enterprise for over 30 years. CDG served a growing and increasingly sophisticated regional clientele, with a focus on corporate identity and marketing communications projects, and peaked with a staff of about 25 people. With the advent of international players in the oil exploration business coming to Atlantic Canada there was an emerging local demand for trade show exhibit design expertise, and CDG found itself working in this new milieu. By the early 1980’s CDG had established a separate trade show division, Design Group Displays Inc., offering turnkey display design, supply and services for trade show exhibitors.

Greg returned to academia part time in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, developing curricula for design courses in a new public relations degree program at Mount St. Vincent University, and subsequently lecturing in that program. He also developed and delivered courses on design for business at the World Trade Institute, an initiative of St. Mary’s and Dalhousie Universities in Halifax, and prepared and delivered courses and workshops on strategic use of graphic design for a variety of industries and professions, including architects, lawyers, accountants and craftspeople.

CDG ventured into some other areas that seemed, at the time, to be new territory for graphic designers in the Atlantic region. Working with multidisciplinary teams of architects, landscape architects and planners, Greg was involved in design for the revitalization of historic downtowns and waterfront districts, focusing on design of building facades and their signage, streetscape and environmental graphics, and place-marketing programs. The clients for these kinds of projects were quite different than the usual ad agencies, corporate marketing departments and small business owners – they were ‘communities’ represented by client committees with diverse interests and motivations. Learning to work with these community-centred clients provided opportunities that led to work on cultural exhibition projects. Since the early 1990’s, Greg’s focus turned to exhibition design for interpretive centres and museum galleries, and environmental graphics and signage for parks and hiking trails. At the same time, connections made with international interests brought Greg to China, where he worked for over a decade as a design consultant and advisor to a client involved in manufacturing and distribution of bound print products such as diaries, notebooks, business and school stationery and gift product lines.

Greg became involved with the GDC while still a student at NSCAD, during a time when the Atlantic Chapter was in its formative years. Upon graduation he took a position on the Chapter executive, then served as its Chair – from 1978 to 1981 and concurrently as representative on the GDC National Council. This took place at the time when GDC Chair Walter Jungkind was re-inventing the Society and introducing a new mandate and constitution. Through this experience Greg became more and more involved in the GDC, subsequently joining the National Executive, serving as Vice President, and then serving as national President from 1983 to 1985, with the very capable assistance of his partner Denise. During the 1980’s and 90’s Greg also became involved as a volunteer with a number of community organizations and served as a director of the Halifax Board of Trade; a board member and eventually Chairman of the Board of Governors of his alma mater NSCAD, and executive positions with other not-for-profit social and economic development organizations. In 1985 Greg was honoured to be named a Fellow of the Graphic Designers of Canada.

In 1997 Greg and partner Denise decided it was time for a change in life and workstyle – and to slow things down. They moved to rural Cape Breton and scaled the studio down to just the two of them, with the notion of working more part time than full time, focusing on corporate work in China, and community-based work closer to home. Since that time Greg’s concentration has become more and more on community economic development projects of a cultural nature, and resulted in design/build assignments for a number of interpretive exhibits, small museums, visitor centres, and downtown and waterfront revitalization projects. Greg continues his design practice in a one-man studio under the shingle Greg Silver Graphic Design, at his home in St. Peter’s on the Bras d’Or Lake. Here he also has the environment, friends, and time to pursue his passion for playing the fiddle and sailing his boat Misty Cat.