Connecting Communities: OSU students work with Russ Teubner in Downtown Stillwater

In our earliest conversations about the OSU Museum of Art’s potential downtown location, we were already hoping that the university could become a part of the larger renaissance that is happening in Downtown Stillwater. A major player in that rejuvenation is our Art Advisory Council member Russ Teubner, a business and real estate owner on Main Street. Last fall, I was very pleased to be able to connect Teubner with Melinda Lyon, an assistant professor in the Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising whose research and teaching focuses on the interface between people and the built environment.

Teubner was interested in repurposing space in one of his buildings. Lyon’s students collaborated with him to propose hypothetical structural and aesthetic modifications that would best serve his vision.

OSU Professor Melinda Lyon and Stillwater businessman Russ Teubner discuss his plans for renovating a space currently used for storage in his downtown building.

OSU Professor Melinda Lyon and Stillwater businessman Russ Teubner discuss his plans for renovating a space currently used for storage in his downtown building.

Something of a renaissance man himself, Teubner’s background is in software development—but as a recent article in Currentland reveals, his interests go far beyond computer science.

I met Teubner at a Postal Plaza Gallery reception almost two years ago—yes, that’s when the building had just undergone exploratory demolition! We hit it off, discovering a shared passion not just for Stillwater but for the educational potential of hands-on, real-world experiences like the OSU Museum of Art and, as it transpired, Teubner’s vision for his own corner of downtown Stillwater. A few days after the reception, I had an email from Teubner. “I hope to use part of my building for business/professional meetings,” he explained, and also “an upscale/modern evening spot.” An unusual combination, perhaps—but one that would maximize the space’s use. “I would enjoy the opportunity to show you my facility so you might connect me with the appropriate students, faculty or staff who might be able to help us,” he concluded.

A night-time view into Russ Teubner's gallery, on 7th Ave in downtown Stillwater.

A night-time view into Russ Teubner’s gallery, on 7th Ave in downtown Stillwater.

I did visit, and was deeply impressed. Teubner’s art collection—part of which is on view in a small gallery space in the building, and much of which hangs throughout his offices and the rest of the space—is highly individual, and filled with fantastic individual pieces that also speak to each other in engaging ways. Every piece has a story, and it is evident that Teubner collects thoughtfully but also with a personal love for each piece he acquires. He believes that it adds significant value to his work environment, too: “To me, great work is art… and great art is work. My facilities have been an attempt to inspire the interplay between the two. Creative people think/produce/behave differently when they are surrounded by the creative work of others (regardless of the medium).”

“Creative people think differently when they are surrounded by the creative work of others,” says Teubner.

The building is more evidence supporting Teubner’s theory: once a movie theatre, now shared between a bank, some other tenants, and Teubner’s own company, it has undergone substantial renovation in his care, and the architectural design is an artwork in its own right. We walked through and chatted about his idea for the dual-purpose business/evening venue, brainstorming about the ways in which art, technology, and design might come together. “I am very (VERY!) intrigued by the prospect of a joint project involving art, interior design, and software,” he wrote to me after our meeting. I was equally excited about connecting OSU students and faculty with his passion and drive for innovation—and for Stillwater.

As we discussed logistics, we agreed that the first step would be to explore the design factor. After all, it’s hard to engineer something when you don’t know quite what that thing is, yet! I reached out to the faculty in Design, Housing and Merchandising, in the College of Human Sciences, with whom we’ve done a variety of projects in the past. Professor Ted Drab introduced me to Lyon, who responded enthusiastically, envisioning the project as a perfect opportunity for her large-scale commercial interior design studio students.

Teubner with the idea board for the project—an early brainstorming moment for him and the students.

Teubner with the idea board for the project—an early brainstorming moment for him and the students.

Students met with Teubner for a dynamic brainstorming session, listening to his ideas about the space and exploring his vision for possible themes and design paths. Then they started their own research phase, working in teams to come up with concepts around which to build specific proposals.

Students kept detailed notebooks of their early design ideas, experimentation, and final decisions.

Students kept detailed notebooks of their early design ideas, experimentation, and final decisions.

Sketches quickly became specific textiles, furniture pieces, and lighting fixtures, collated on sample boards.

Sample boards were created to give Teubner a more concrete sense of the design elements proposed by each group.

Sample boards were created to give Teubner a more concrete sense of the design elements proposed by each group.

In their final projects, complete presentations were made to Teubner—in the space itself. Some of the concepts, such as “Back Alley,” interpreted the space as an intimate, hidden retreat; a speakeasy whose bookshelves and piano encourage conversation and relaxation.

Presentation materials for the group project, "Back Alley."

Presentation materials for the group project, “Back Alley.” (click for larger image)

Another project, “Backstage,” took its inspiration from the former life of Teubner’s building as a movie theater. A funky combination of antique furniture and modern art captured the forward-looking aspects of Teubner’s vision while retaining a classic sense of style appropriate for business meetings and other daytime uses.

Presentation materials for the project, "Backstage."

Presentation materials for the project, “Backstage.” (click for larger image)

Like many of the projects, “Backstage” made use of works of art and design already in Teubner’s collection, like his Warhol portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, and a pair of Byzantine-style spiraled wooden columns.

Wooden columns — part of Teubner's eclectic collection.

Wooden columns — part of Teubner’s eclectic collection.

Overall, the value of the experience for Teubner was in part how it functioned as an extended brainstorming and research session, introducing him to new ideas and specific design elements. “Melinda’s class was great,” he wrote to me when I asked how it had gone. “The students seemed to enjoy the process, and the project definitely moved forward.”

Andy Warhol, "Teddy Roosevelt #386 (Cowboys & Indians)," 1986. Screenprint, 36 x 36 inches.

Andy Warhol, “Teddy Roosevelt #386 (Cowboys & Indians),” 1986. Screenprint,
36 x 36 inches.

The students also felt the benefit—and not only the one that Teubner subsequently hired to do some follow-up work on lighting design! Participant Theresa Hudson wrote of the project, “I learned to follow my inspiration and to hone my designs. First, I was inspired by the graphic and art design from the film Metropolis. We used this as our foundation to create an Art Deco-designed speakeasy, which would become known by word of mouth.”

“Working with Mr. Teubner was extremely beneficial to our studio class,” wrote student Theresa Hudson.

Unlike many student projects, which have hypothetical rather than real-world clients, this project required students to work closely with a thoughtful and opinionated client! For Hudson, that was one of the best parts of the experience: “Working with Mr. Teubner was extremely beneficial to everyone in our studio class… [We were] developing our communication, presentation, and design skills.”

As the Postal Plaza Gallery becomes a fully-functioning member of the downtown community over the next few months, we hope to remain a catalyst for engagement between the university and Stillwater communities.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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