When I first met up with Leslie McManus at Blueprint Design Studio to discuss her passion for tile work, I had no idea that I would be led down so many other local design roads. One of those roads was a visit with Traci Ackerman at Red Disk, a studio that specializes in producing wallpaper that is based on the works of local artists. After seeing the products firsthand at Blueprint, I decided to take a drive to the Red Disk warehouse, where Ackerman, a former art teacher, has been building her visionary wallpaper business.
It was while Ackerman was volunteering at The Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) a couple years ago that she first got the wallpaper bug. You see, it was artist Charles E. Burchfield, in 1921, that moved to Buffalo to work at the H.M. Birge wallpaper company. While he was at Birge, he designed a number of different wallpapers that, while successful at first, eventually faded into obscurity – the Depression meant that people weren’t buying that much wallpaper anymore, so the timing was perfect to capitalize on his artwork.
Almost 100 years after Burchfield designed his wallpapers in Buffalo, Ackerman found herself on a mission to bring back the famed artist’s long-dormant wallpaper works back to life, while creating an assortment of new Buffalo-inspired images.
For a hot second, Ackerman thought about sourcing the job out to a company in Brooklyn, before she reconsidered, noting that the Buffalo’s artisan/design community would readily accommodate her needs. Not long after deciding to bring the production work in-house, Ackerman found herself, with BPAC’s blessing, in the basement of a friend’s house designing a Burchfield wallpaper prototype. From there, she built a 15 foot table in her garage, which was the key to getting the first run of wallpaper exhibited at the Junior League of Buffalo 2017 Decorators’ Show House (The Kevin Guest House).
Talking to Ackerman, it is clear that she is passionate about her work. When she first got the go ahead to reinterpret Burchfield’s 1920s-era wallpaper designs, she immediately realized that while the designs and the dimensions would be the exact same, the process would be different. Back in the days, Burchfield used wood block rollers to ink print the wallpaper. That dated process would not be efficient in this day and age, which is why Ackerman chose to hand silk screen the paper, using paint. She says that while the look and feel is pretty much the same, there is a more contemporary feel to it.
It wouldn’t be long before a couple more pieces of the puzzle would come together. Ackerman reached out to Tom Hill, Founder of C2 Paint in WNY, to strike up a relationship. Ackerman liked that the paint was only produced in colors that were found in nature, which she felt would jibe well with the Burchfield printing palette. Not only did Ackerman begin to use C2 Paint in the silkscreening process, she ended up moving her business into an available bay at the paint company’s headquarters in Amherst. The relationship between Red Disk and C2 Paint was solidified, which translated to Red Disk wallpaper being available at upwards of 100 independent retailers and design centers, where C2 paint is sold in the US and Canada.
Today, Ackerman and her crew are able to burn the screens in house. They also have two 39 foot wallpaper tables that make fulfilling the orders a lot quicker. Along with the increased orders, and the mounting production schedules, Ackerman has advanced her mission to produce more wallpaper with designs from Buffalo area artists. What started as a single authentic colorway from Burchfield (freshly branded as Flowers At Night), has now blossomed into five additional Burchfield colorways (same design), a number of other Burchfield designs and doodles including (next up) Dogwood, and a handful of wallpaper designs from local artists including Cassandra Ott and Karen Matchette.
“There’s a story behind every wallpaper,” Ackerman told me. “It’s a narrative in the home. These wallpaper designs can be color customized with any C2 Paint at no upcharge. In order to get to the point where we can do all of this, there have been numerous obstacles. But something kept pushing us through, and now we’re happy – we’re in a good place. I’ve got a great team of talented artisans who help to make it all possible – our lead printmaker is Nate Deganis-Librera. Billy Prendergast is a metals artist, and Patrick Morris works at Main Frame. Philippa Radon is our interior designer and color specialist. The Buffalo community has been very supportive of this venture as well.”
Red Disk wallpaper is currently available locally at Blueprint Design Studio, Ró on Elmwood, Buffalo Paint and Wallpaper on Bailey, the BPAC museum store, and even Kittinger Furniture is creating a couple of display walls at their headquarters. The wallpaper can also be viewed at a number of local businesses, including The Terrace at Delaware Park, and even some offices in Downtown Buffalo. Be sure to pay attention to the Buffalo homes that you walk into from now on – you might be surprised to find the walls adorned with works from your new favorite Buffalo artist, or one of your longtime favorites.