Eve Faulkes’ story is like her work. It starts at a point and unfolds in one direction and then another, making any shape but a straight line.
She’s been teaching design at West Virginia University for more than 30 years. In theory, design is innovation, the improvement of experience, environment, or communication. But it is even more for Faulkes.
“It’s a personal challenge of mine to see ‘how can this be designed in a way that
hasn’t been done before or that I have never tried before?’” she said. “It’s
just an extra little puzzle I like to throw in there.”
She has her favorite elements of the craft: wordplay, 3-D, paper as a versatile material, taking something that served one purpose and making it into something else. Passing on an element of added value to clients is her favorite aspect of teaching, having them push beyond the expected solution to the surprise.
She’ll have students recycle string from a weed eater to serve as a building conference lanyard or make 150 pairs of earring from recycled materials to encourage attendees to practice the art of do-it-yourself. Or she’ll make signs for a green political campaign that become tire swings after more traditional signs have been taken to the dumpster.
MANY IRONS, MANY FIRES
If you talk to Faulkes, or about her, you’ll learn about her penchant for pursuing several diverse projects at once. She’ll say she has lots of “irons in the fire.”
Her classes are practical, serving real clients, some of whom are whole communities.
Her senior class designed the brand and experience for The Building Conference in January. They are taking on two museums and packaging the revitalization efforts of a community.
When the Weston State Hospital was reopened as a historic site and named the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, some area residents felt alienated. They had known the hospital’s inhabitants and didn’t agree with the stigma that accompanies the words “lunatic asylum.”
Faulkes and WVU Assistant Professor of History Melissa Bingmann heard about the development of the museum and received a West Virginia Humanities Council grant involving a class in the project. They’re designing two rooms of exhibits that will enable the community to tell the place’s story and hopefully mend some of the mistrust.
“There are a lot of stories to be told there that have to do with compassion,” Faulkes said.
Likewise, she’s gotten on board with a Campus Compact Community LINK project to revitalize the Scott’s Run community, particularly the unincorporated town of Osage.
In the early 1900s Osage was in the thick of a mining boom. The miners spoke a variety of languages, and about 20 ethnicities were included in a comparatively small population, she said. The area was integrated. Blacks and whites lived in community in Osage long before Morgantown and the rest of the nation got up to speed in the civil rights movement.
Today, the town’s residents want to use that same historic glue of community to make a comeback. Faulkes is interested in placing history geocaches around Scott’s Run that extend a history trail anchored by the Scott’s Run Museum. A community garden, a teaching playground with a mining theme, and a revitalized memorial to commemorate a 1942 mining explosion are also on the table.
She also takes on more theoretical designs, like the ones in our heads when we won’t even agree to disagree.
Last year, before the presidential election and perplexed by habitual acrimony in Congress and society, she initiated Designing for the Divide: a Conference on Community Action Across Lines of Difference, an event that shared design tools with community members and designers from across the nation.
“It seemed like everybody was deciding that the new way to work was just to dig in your heels, stay on your side of the fence, and don’t communicate or cooperate,” she said. “We created a laboratory that put those on the right and the left, those with faith or without and those on different sides of the energy debate together to find common ground for shared project ideas.”
All of these projects incorporate physical design artifacts, programs, and exhibits. But the core of the projects is the goal of improving life. Faulkes sees challenges. And then she works to make the situation better through design.
“Maybe because I’m just so in love with the process of design I want to make sure students realize that it’s always about opportunity,” she said. “It’s always about taking what you expect and making it more than that ? It’s finding where design can have the most impact. For me these days it is often in the realm of social value and behavior change that can empower people.”
BIGGER THAN A BIG SHOT
Since she saw her mother’s portfolio at age five, Faulkes knew she would become a designer. When the time came, she attended the WVU College of Creative Arts. After attending graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, she decided to give back to her alma mater by teaching here.
Her goal had been to eventually head to New York and work toward fame and glory.
“Gradually I had bigger aspirations than being a big shot,” Faulkes said.
She stayed in Morgantown to raise her daughter at first, and grew so attached to the place and the natural environment that she’s here to stay. It’s a place where she has the freedom to take her students down the adventurous paths of healing political divides and transforming communities. This is where she’s supported with an endowed professorship, one of the few in the college, to do this work.
“It just gets more fulfilling and more exciting all the time,” Faulkes says. “I would think at my age I wouldn’t be interested in pulling all-nighters anymore but I still do fairly often, and it’s just because there’s not enough time to do everything that’s interesting to do.”