Irreverent Gift Manufacturer Takes Center Stage

Edgy Design Exhibit Brings Blue Q to Campus

10/01/2012
By Dave Perry

“Calculated Chaos: The Art of Blue Q,” the first-ever retrospective of the edgy, savvy graphic design that has helped propel Blue Q to the forefront of gift manufacturers, runs through Oct. 26 at UMass Lowell’s University Gallery on South Campus. 

And Wednesday Oct. 3, beginning at 3 p.m. in O’Leary 222, Blue Q co-founder and art director, Mitch Nash, will discuss the company’s irreverence, wit and success, followed by a gallery reception until 5.

The exhibit, curated by Assoc. Prof. Karen Roehr, covers more than two decades of the Pittsfield-based company and its irreverence, which often mirrors the sensibilities of college students. Blue Q’s products include such mainstays as the Dirty Girl and Wash Away Your Sins lines of beauty products, Minty Frikkin’ Mullet lip balm and Maybe You Touched Your Genitals hand sanitizer.

“I teach graphic design, and I have always referenced Blue Q,” says Roehr. “They’re extremely innovative, work with top-notch designers and their products beyond the packaging are very high quality.”

Roehr says Calculated Chaos will also appeal to business and marketing majors, and Manning School of Business professors have been invited to Nash’s talk.

“I picked up some Wash Away Your Sins soap as a graduation gift about 10 years ago without knowing the first thing about Blue Q,” says Roehr. She has since visited the company and invited Nash and his co-owner/brother, Seth, to display their wares for the first time in a gallery setting.

She says Nash has been so enthralled with the idea that he has been helping suggest how the story is told. One wall will be dedicated to a company timeline, from its first product (1988’s Flat Cat feline cardboard stand-up) to its most recent additions. A case near the gallery will hold “misses,” or ideas that didn’t work out, says Roehr. But with more than 2,000 products on the market, the misses aren’t many.

“A lot of it is pretty provocative,” says Michele Gagnon, the gallery coordinator, pointing out the History of Toilet Paper, and Cat Butts magnet sets. “Perfect for college students and dorms. But it’s not just the design; the products are really high quality.”

One of the company’s biggest hits, its line of purses, totes and bags, has less attitude and more hip art.

But with a workforce that includes disabled folks from Pittsfield, making responsible, ethical products, “it is, in a lot of ways, an ideal company,” says Roehr.

University Gallery, in McGauvran Student Center on South Campus, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.