Tempur-Pedic headquarters taps inspiration from local artists

February 11, 2013

Don Ament’s photo of a dogwood tree in his front yard was enlarged to 42 feet wide by 11 feet tall to cover a folding wall that separates an employee cafe from a meeting room at TempurPedic’s new corporate headquarters building in Lexington.   Photo by Don Ament


Many artists dream of landing a big commission. For photographer Don Ament, it came from Tempur-Pedic, the Lexington-based mattress company.

Representatives from Tempur-Pedic met Ament last March at Kentucky Crafted: The Market. Then they saw an image on his website of dogwood blossoms in sunlight. The website has images Ament made all over the world, but this one was shot in his yard in Lexington.

The company was furnishing its new headquarters building near Coldstream Park, and executives thought Ament’s photo would be perfect for a folding wall that separates the employee café from a meeting room.

This commission was challenging because it literally was big. The image, taken on a 2.25-inch square piece of film, needed to be enlarged and printed 11 feet tall by 42 feet wide.

Ament scanned the film to create a high-resolution digital file, then, with help from friend and fellow photographer Frank Döring, manipulated the image to sharpen edges and preserve color vibrancy. A company in Maine printed the photo in sections, and last week it was installed like wallpaper. The result is stunning.

“They could go anywhere for art,” Ament said of Tempur-Pedic. “But they seem really dedicated to local.”

Indeed, as Tempur-Pedic settles into its new 128,000-square-foot space, much more local art will be purchased, said Patrice Varni, a senior vice president.

The only other pieces now are two Italian glass and stone mosaics designed by Guy Kemper, a Woodford County glass artist who has done installations all over the world, some as big as airport terminal walls.

Kemper’s mosaics for Tempur-Pedic are abstract evocations, roughly 10 feet square, for the fourth-floor executive area.

One is called After the Storm. “It recalls the feeling of a Kentucky forest after a summer storm, when a steamy sun comes out and everything is dripping wet,” Kemper said.

The other mosaic, called Daybreak, is “a shot of color to energize the work environment and promote creativity,” he said. “A reference that you’ve had a good night’s sleep.” (On a Tempur-Pedic mattress, no doubt.)

Kemper said Tempur-Pedic executives and their interior designer, Gary Volz of Champlin Architecture in Cincinnati, approached him after seeing two mosaics he did for elevator lobbies at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the pieces by Don and Guy,” Varni said. “I’ve really been struck by the positive response from employees.

“There was a steady stream of people stopping by to watch the installations.”

Tempur-Pedic built its new headquarters, which has large windows and expansive views of the Bluegrass landscape, to replace a former warehouse that had evolved into offices and become overcrowded as the company grew.

“This building was designed with a particular focus on collaboration and integrating the various work groups, and engendering creativity and innovative thinking,” Varni said. “Art is a big part of that, that is meant to showcase and inspire creativity and innovation.”

Varni said the company has budgeted purchases of more art during the next few years, as its 360 employees settle into the building, figure out what would complement the space and learn more about the work of local artists.

“We feel very much a part of the community, because the company was founded here,” Varni said. “In our support for the arts, we felt first and foremost we should support local artists.”

Varni said the Kentucky Arts Council has suggested several local artists whose work might be a good fit.

“Art is such a subjective, personal taste kind of thing,” she said. “We like things that have some sense of nature and that run the range from more literal to more abstract. And we’re interested in a different range of mediums.”

As part of its mission to help Kentucky artists be able to earn a living from their art, the council sponsors Kentucky Crafted: The Market, which returns to Lexington Center from March 1 through 3.

Kemper and Ament hope more Kentucky companies will follow Tempur-Pedic’s example because the arts flourishes only in places where artists find good patrons. Plus, when that investment is made in the community, it help’s Kentucky’s economy.

“You don’t have to run to New York or Chicago to look for something great,” Ament said. “There’s more good work being done here all the time.”

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Kentuckian’s stained-glass art gets world’s attention

February 27, 2011

VERSAILLES — To see examples of Guy Kemper‘s stained-glass art, go to the Catholic Memorial Chapel at New York’s Ground Zero; a light-rail station in Seattle; or airports in Chicago, Baltimore or Orlando, Fla.

To see where his art is fabricated, go to two factories in Germany, where craftsmen work by hand, using centuries-old methods of coloring, blowing and shaping glass.

But to see where Kemper’s art begins — with quick, bold brush strokes of tempera paint on paper — drive to the end of a narrow country road, down a gravel path onto 52 acres where Clear Creek runs through the Woodford County backwoods.

When I drove there earlier this month, light reflecting off the previous night’s snow poured through the windows of Kemper’s studio, which a previous owner had built to be a machine shop. Kemper, 52, was working on designs for a wall of glass panels that will dominate the lobby of a new hospital in Birmingham, Ala.

“My art is not about what I want; it’s about what the building wants,” Kemper said, explaining that his goal is to use color and light to create not so much a piece of art as an environment.

“You really have to think about where the space is and how light will come into it,” he said. “What’s going to be the right mood for the psychology of the user? Every window wants to move. You have to get the right direction and the right colors.”

Kemper’s huge, abstract windows have brought him international acclaim. Now, he is finishing his first commission in Lexington since 2001. It is something he has never done before: mosaics.

In late April, Kemper will install the 9-foot-square mosaics in lobbies at the new University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. The pieces, being fabricated by the German company Franz Mayer of Munich, use pieces of glass and polished stone in patterns that suggest blades of grass.

It is the latest evolution of Kemper’s artistic career, which began almost by accident.

The Louisville native had always dabbled in drawing and painting, but he didn’t think he could earn a living as an artist. Kemper moved to Lexington in 1979 and earned a degree in soil and plant science. He figured he might become an extension agent or work for a seed company. Instead, he started repairing stained-glass windows a friend was buying and selling.

Kemper set up a glass shop in downtown Lexington in 1983, and he got his first artistic commission a few years later from Ohavay Zion Synagogue in Lexington. A few others followed, including the one in 1999 that changed his career: a huge window for Florida’s Greater Orlando International Airport.

That job led Kemper to begin working with two German companies — Lamberts Glassworks, in eastern Germany near the Czech border, and Derix Glassstudios near Frankfurt. They are among the last practitioners of ancient techniques that Kemper says create glass of unrivaled color and durability.

The Germans introduced Kemper to a European tradition of separating art and craft. Artists design, but craftsmen produce. “That was a revelation for me,” he said. “Before, I would only design what I could make. This freed my imagination.”

The result has been a close partnership. Kemper leaves his farm periodically to spend several weeks in Germany, helping the craftsmen execute his artistic vision. “I go to the best glass-blowers in the world, and they make me look really good,” he said.

Kemper says he begins his process by studying the place where his window will be installed. He analyzes light patterns, thinks about how people will use the space and sometimes builds detailed architectural models.

He then uses brushes and paint to create images and color combinations that will translate well into the unique properties of hand-blown glass. Many of Kemper’s huge windows, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to make, are inspired by feelings of flight, motion and energy.

Once the designs are finished, Kemper goes to Germany, where craftsmen mouth-blow large glass bottles with two or three layers of color. They cut off the bottles’ tops and bottoms, and through careful reheating and flattening, they create sheets of unique glass.

Powerful acids are used to dissolve some of the glass surface to create his designs, along with occasional use of vitreous enamels that are then kiln-fired. Sometimes sandblasting is used, or prisms are worked into the design to create colorful patterns of light in a room.

Kemper hopes to continue pushing the limits of his creativity for many years, but he worries about whether the craftsmen will be around to produce it. Most artists use faster, cheaper ways to make stained-glass windows, but Kemper doesn’t think they look as good or will last as long.

“Nobody else does what I do,” he said. “Some people don’t like it. But if you like it, there’s nowhere else to get it.”

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