The Early Days of Portland Advertising
By Wolfgang Schildmeyer
Written as a part of the Portland Design History Class at PSU
Mark Norrander was a prominent Portland ad man back in the 1970s. He was a part of one of the most well-known graphic design studios in Portland and helped found an award-winning firm. Recently, I was given the opportunity to meet with Mark in person when I visited him at his home in Bainbridge, Washington to inquire about his life. I learned that Mark is extremely humble and pays great homage to the support he received on his path and the importance of community.
Maybe Mark’s outlook towards life and his accomplishments came from his upbringing and early life spent during the Great Depression. Mark grew up on a poultry farm on the outskirts of the Portland in 1938 during the late years of the American Depression. Although he was too young to remember the heart of the Depression itself, he felt some of the effects of it all the same. One story he shared with me was the memories of him drawing as a child and the joy that it brought his mother. His mother would save the butcher paper that came with the meat his family had purchased and clean it for Mark to draw on. It’s this love of drawing at such a young age that Mark drew on later in life when he picked his career in graphic design. Mark had a strong desire to leave his hometown on the outskirts of Portland and find a different path than that of a chicken farmer.
Getting His Start
After spending time as a Marine, Mark returned home and pursued his love of drawing at the Museum Art School (now PNCA) in 1958. He attended for four years as a part-time student and worked at a gas station until his connections began to grow. One of his teachers, Doug Lynch, was in connection with a man named Porterfield who owned a display company that would build traveling exhibits. Porterfield asked Doug if he knew anyone who could give him a helping hand, and through that connection Mark got a job working on the traveling exhibits. Mark says he would do a little designing, as well as a little manual labor, but he had his foot in the door. Doug Lynch was also in contact with a man name Jack Myers. Jack Myers ran Studio 1030, a prominent freelancers co-working studio, and when Mark was working for Porterfield, one of the offices opened up. Again Doug recommended Mark as being a good fit. This is how Mark became a part of Studio 1030 and that, he says, made his career.
Once he was a part of Studio 1030, Mark’s social circle and community of graphic artists began to grow. Mark said to me, “When you get out of art school, graphic design, you can’t do anything! Nobody is going to go say, ‘You’re a genius go design this’”. Mark’s first major design projects came through his community at Studio 1030, handed down to him by Jack Myers and his assistant from big Portland agencies like Cole & Weber and McCann Erickson. Mark would do mechanical paste ups under the watchful eye of Jack Myers who would be extremely critical and have Mark do them over a few times until he got it right. After working on mechanicals with the help of Jack over time, Mark became pretty good at them. The mechanicals became accurate and Mark learned how to count type through his work. Before too long the Art Directors at each of the agencies in town knew who Mark was and he started getting comprehensive layout jobs from them. They would hand-off the copy and a thumbnail photo for an advertisement and tell him who it would be for and he would take it from there.
Mock ups that Mark created for an advertising layout done by hand. A finished print advertisement by Mark and an album cover designed by Mark.
Before too long, Cole & Weber came to the conclusion, “Why hire Mark through the studio when we can just hire him directly?” At first, Mark said it was “a bull pen situation” at Cole & Weber where he was mainly doing mechanicals and some layouts. This went on for a year or so before McCann Erickson made Mark an offer he couldn’t refuse as an Art Director. After some time at McCann Erickson working on various jobs for companies like Georgia Pacific and Western Wood Products Association, Cole & Weber hired Mark back for more money. “What was I supposed to do? Of course I’ll go work for you for a few more thousand dollars.” It was at McCann Erickson that Mark was put into contact with copywriter Bill Borders.
Taking a Leap of Faith
Bill Borders and West Perrin, both employees at McCann Erickson, decided to split off from the company in 1977 and start their own agency. They invited Mark to come with. Taking a leap of faith, Borders Perrin and Norrander, or BPN, was founded in 1977. Mark is quick to bring up how important his teammates were during the growth of the company and how it couldn’t have happened without them. Facing the trials that all new companies face, BPN pushed through and became a prominent ad agency that is still around today!
When I asked Mark what his favorite projects were he brought up two different clients. First, Mark reflects on a project of his that BPN did for Washington State Lottery. The ad campaign headline was, “Some lucky dog’s gonna win it.” Mark talked fondly about one commercial with a smile on his face. It was TV commercial that was shot in a old train car that was turned into a diner. Mark positioned a line of customers sitting on the stools, and then had the director crop in so only part of their backs down to their butts was showing. The shot panned along the row of people while this “spokesperson,” dressed as a waiter, working at the diner gave a talk about the lottery. When the camera got to the end, the spokesperson says, “And some lucky dog’s gonna win it.” The final customer sitting at the diner has a dog tail that is wagging back and forward.
The other client that Mark brought up was working for Columbia Sportswear. He wasn’t completely sure how they acquired the account, but has a feeling that someone referred their account executive West Perrin to them. He does recall that it was in the beginning of Columbia starting up. They were using GORE-TEX when no other company was and that helped set them apart from the competition. A recent article from Travel Oregon about Gert Boyle (Columbia President and daughter of the founder) talked about how BPN played a role in the early days of Columbia. “About those advertisements: In 1984 Portland ad agency Borders Perrin and Norrander launched a campaign that would last more than two decades and put Gert’s personality on an international stage,‘To be really frank,’ Gert told AdAge magazine, ‘how many ways can you make a coat? There’s a front, back and two sleeves.’ Advertising was Columbia’s path to originality.” Together with Columbia, BPN won many awards and had write ups in magazines and newspapers such as Communication Arts and New York Times. They opened up a second office in Seattle, and Mark moved nearby, to Bainbridge Island to man that branch of the office. Mark retired from BPN in 1990 and the company went on without him.
Pages from an advertisement book for Columbia that BPN created showcasing some of their new styles.
The Finer Things
I asked Mark why he retired, as to his coworkers, it seemed sudden. He simply said that he felt the company had run its course for him and it was time. Post-retirement, Mark resided Bainbridge Island were he spent years fly-fishing and building boats, while also taking up fine art. He taught himself how to paint with tempera, a painting technique that uses eggs to bind the pigment to the surface. Using this style, Mark reconnected with his youthful mindset of creating art for the sake of art, because it brought him joy. He painted abstract works that were based on landscapes. He would make these paintings in a painstakingly long process using the smallest brush he had and making individual strokes until it filled up the canvas. It almost felt like a form of meditation. Mark created over one hundred paintings, having art shows at a local gallery in Bainbridge until he felt that had run its course as well.
Four paintings that Mark created after retirement. A handout adverting some of Mark’s new work that was showcased at the Gallery Fraga.
I get the sense that currently Mark lives a peaceful life. He stayed involved with the Portland design community over the years, making trips to the city here and there to visit When I asked him if he had any regrets he said that he didn’t. But I felt a longing from him when I asked about his friends and fellow designers. “I’m one of the only ones left alive,” he relayed and his eyes grew slightly more distant. This is completely understandable. When you build the community and friendships that Mark did with the people you work with, it’s hard not to miss them. When you give them credit for your success, and they are your fly-fishing partners, they become more than just friends, they become family.
Mark Norrander fly fishing in one of his favorite spots. A boat that Mark built himself.
I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Mark in his apartment where he currently lives with his wife. It’s in a small, sleepy town and the apartment itself is nice and feels humble for a man that has accomplished as much as Mark. There is a collection of artwork that hangs around Mark’s place that he gave me a tour of. Most of it is work that he has created over the years after his retirement but there is also a portion of his collection that is from friends that he acquired at Studio 1030 and working at BPN. They are mementos of emotion and tokens of connection. They are hung around his apartment with pride.
Mark Norrander was one of the most successful and thoughtful people I have had the opportunity to talk with. He illustrates an important point to me, that the idea of a lone artist working in isolation is a romanticized reality that doesn’t exist. We all draw on outside inspiration and resources to create and grow. We are nothing without our friends and family, blood family or found family and they can make life exponentially easier. That community is an important thing for a career but also for us as humans to live fulfilling lives. •