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Paper Muse: Karen Hernandez – MoMA

Did you know that before they were household names, Robert Indiana, Joseph Cornell, and Andy Warhol all designed holiday cards for MoMA? In fact, Robert Indiana’s LOVE graphic was first conceived as a MoMA card. Begun in 1954, MoMA’s annual line of award-winning holiday greetings has been a cherished tradition that has helped establish up-and-coming artists and designers. We’ve been so privileged to be making cards for the program for over 10 years. Fun fact: the paper engineering experiments done for MoMA over the years also came in handy in conceiving and designing Razzle-Dazzle Ruby, Masha’s first pop-up book. Today, for our second Paper Muse installment, we’re lucky to feature Karen Hernandez, current Product Development and Art Reproductions manager at MoMA; read on for an insider’s peek behind the curtain at the revered institution.o-MOMA-facebook

Tell us a bit about your journey to your current position–did you always see yourself working with MoMA?

I just celebrated my 8-year anniversary at MoMA, so this is a timely question. As a student in college my focus was Art History, but I always had a love for books and began working in Retail and Publications at the Whitney Museum of American Art here in New York, first managing the Retail department and then ultimately working as an Editorial Assistant in Publications. At that time, MoMA was the granddaddy of art museums and I would not have imagined my career ultimately leading here. As luck would have it, I applied and was offered a position buying art books for MoMA, which was a dream opportunity for me. After several position changes and a restructuring of the department, I eventually took over the custom paper business as well as aspects of our art reproduction line.
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What’s the best thing about your job?

My job has many challenges, but I love the ever-changing dynamic and the closeness I have with the artwork and programming. Developing products using our collection requires me to understand our holdings and navigate the intricacies of working with some very high-profile estates, artists, and artworks.  Above all else, I have always loved Museums and being able to create products that support our mission and give sustained life to this institution gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
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MoMA holiday cards are a 60-year tradition, can you tell us about the process of selecting just the right designs to keep the program fresh?

Yes, since the beginning of the MoMA holiday card program, MoMA has worked with young artists to create custom designs that reflect the Museum’s mission. Over the years we have worked with such artists as Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell, and Robert Indiana before they were household names.  The program is an open call, so anyone can submit designs, however, I do indeed do some outreach to designers and artists that I feel would make a nice addition to the assortment. We see ALL ranges of submissions, sometimes in the hundreds. In order to narrow this down, a card committee consisting of about a dozen Museum employees goes through a rigorous selection process that takes the better of 7 months to finalize. We look for designs that elevate the paper medium and show true innovations in paper design and engineering, feature an element of surprise and whimsy, and, most importantly, embody the Modernist aesthetic of the Museum and reflect our collection of 20th-21st century Modern Art.
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Tell us about the MoMA customer – who is it?

MoMA’s customers really fall into two main categories. Many of our customers are trained art professionals or creatives who work in the industry and look to MoMA for products that inspire and educate them. Other customers are those who love beautiful and well-designed objects that bring joy to their lives. I like to think that our card line satisfies the needs of both these customer groups – they inspire and delight.
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How involved are you with the retail side of things, from the website to the actual store displays?

I am involved in the product selection and development, however, we have individual E-commerce and store teams that work with us on the merchandising at those levels.

Do you attend trade shows? Why or why not?

Yes, we attend trade shows to keep up on what’s happening in the market and look for innovations in design.

What’s most popular in the shop right now?

As for paper, we just had a tremendously successful exhibition product assortment for the Matisse exhibition, with sales for the paper products (including two Matisse holiday cards) selling better than any other exhibition product in the history of MoMA. As for objects, there really are too many to mention, but the Lumio lamp has done extraordinarily well this season and we are having a ton of success with some art reproduction skateboards we are now selling.
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Any advice for designers who would like to submit for MoMA holiday card program and/or for those who already do? Anything they could do to make your life easier?  

With production costs growing and our assortment tightening, it’s important that our designers bring the very best in card design to us. Our cards are objects in themselves, keepsakes that prove to be treasured. My advice to designers would be to keep MoMA’s collection in the backs of their minds always, all the while thinking of ways to elevate paper and bring innovation to the line.  Having said this, the challenge really becomes how to incorporate these ideas while keeping the warmth required of a successful greeting card.

Do you have anything new and exciting coming up that you’d like to tell us about?

Yes, always! We have some incredible new designers in the card line. Most notably, David A. Carter has joined the line and we are launching some beautiful pop-ups from him this coming holiday season.

Do you have a favorite item on exhibit or in-shop at MoMA? 

Oh, I wouldn’t know where to start.
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Have you ever received or given a favorite greeting card? Who was it from/to, and why was it so memorable?

I keep ALL of the cards I receive every year – for real. I’ve done this since I was a kid. My favorites have always been the handmade ones or the ones that include really long messages, handwritten with scribbles and doodles and cross-outs. I think that’s why I love our MoMA cards so much; they are all produced from handmade originals, created by individuals who put so much heart into each card they design.

Thank you so much, Karen! For more inspiration, gorgeous art and product please visit one of our favorite places and be on a lookout for an exciting new Masha for MoMA card coming this summer!

Images courtesy MoMA.