By Jesse Robitaille
Merivale High School, located in Nepean (now part of the City of Ottawa), has a local reputation of offering the region’s best arts program. Nation-wide, it’s recognized for its endeavours, which include Valentine’s Day covers sent by students to family around the country, and more recently, award-winning designs from a competition celebrating Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary.
“What I try to do is come up with something they each can have a piece of,” said Irving Osterer, the award-winning department head who oversees Merivale’s Fine Arts, Technical Education and Computer Science departments. He’s also the co-ordinator of the school’s Focus program, whose 18 students designed a special poster celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode as part of a year-end unit teaching printing technologies.
“Anybody that’s going into graphic design has to realize there are certain harsh realities in the industry, and one of those harsh realities is you’re going to have to cross all platforms,” said Osterer. “Increasingly, what’s going to happen with young designers is they’re going to have to cross a lot of platforms; you’ll have to take your artwork and prepare it a certain way because even though the artwork is the same, it’s prepared differently for letterpress and offset.”
Some years, while Osterer explores letterpress printing or silk screening; this year, it was offset lithography.
He had his students create artwork in class before visiting the nearby Trico Group, located on 47 Antares Dr. in Ottawa, to see first-hand how a commercial job is processed and printed. It’s all part of Osterer’s “experiential learning” plan, which aims to teach students about the entire process, from start to finish, in whatever medium they’re studying.
“I wanted to do it in a way they could feel and see what the process looks like, so my class sees the file sent from the computer down to the plate maker, and they watch the plate being burned. I think it’s really good for them to understand this stuff,” he said, adding his students are “always taken aback with how fast it prints.”
Osterer said Trico sales representative Jonathan Stokes did a “great job” accommodating him and his class.
“My kids saw an aluminum printing plate being made and had a chance to see their work printed on their large litho press,” said Osterer, adding the experience was impressive for students and Trico workers alike. “They’re all keen, and it really takes the people in these places by surprise that all of them are interested in what they’re doing.”
Osterer, a long-time graphic designer, said he “tries to impart respect on tradespeople as well because down the line that kind of relationship pays off.”
As Osterer’s Focus program was completing its year-end project celebrating Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, Canada Post “quite serendipitously” happened to release a much-hyped series of Star Trek stamps celebrating the same thing.
“I touched base with Jim Phillips at Canada Post, and he assigned Joy Parks to our group,” said Osterer. “We were able to bring our posters to a boardroom in the Riverside Drive head office, put stamps in the appropriate places, and cancel them with a special Vulcan, Alberta postmark.”
Phillips, who’s Canada Post’s director of stamp services, also taught students about the “highly specialized and expensive” lenticular printing process using a “very large” sample of Canada Post’s recent lenticular issue.
“Canada Post picked up the cost of the stamps for our project, and also presented each student with an OFDC [official first-day cover] of the lenticular stamps. They did a terrific job with our students.”
As with Stokes and the Trico Group, Parks and Phillips at Canada Post were “terrific” with Osterer and his class, he said.
“They were really excited and fascinated we were interested in the stamp stuff; they’re making every effort to make kids interested in stamps, and this was sort of like magic for them,” he said. “They really went out of their way to make it a great experience. Jim’s a busy guy, and it was in middle of the World Stamp Show in New York, but he took time to come and meet the kids and talk to them.”
Osterer, who has been teaching for 35 years and collecting stamps even longer, said the large lenticular was “really impressive;” so much so he’s considering buying one for Merivale and displaying it proudly in the hall. And as self-professed “Trekkie,” Osterer said he was impressed with Canada Post’s recent release.
“The approach they took is interesting. They tried to capture the intimacy of the show, and they designed them really, really nicely,” he said. “There’s a really nice Canadian hook to it all because [William] Shatner, [John] Colicos, and [James] Doohan are all Canadian.”
Osterer said most people don’t consider Canada’s “integral” role in Star Trek’s beloved original series.
“I’m more honed in on first series than the subsequent films and other incarnations of it, although I’m interested in all of it,” he admits. “It’s really fascinating stuff. It broke a lot of new ground we all take for granted now. It was all new at that time – how to make all that stuff look real – and at its time … what a revelation it was and how we were drawn to it every week.”
Although this school year has only just come to a close, the award-winning teacher said he’s already looking ahead to next year’s philatelic project.
“We always do the Valentine’s Day covers, but I’m trying to think of something really interesting that’s semi-related to stamps,” he said, adding he’s hopeful the artistic community – from artists to tradespeople to Crown corporation employees – can come together like they did this year.
“It was just one of those serendipitous events that worked out really well for all concerned.”