Q& A: Ivan Chermayeff, Designer of the Kennedy Center Honors Medal

(By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, December 7, 2008

This weekend, six more living arts legends have been draped in the unforgettable Kennedy Center Honors medal, a mosaic of rainbow ribbon, delicately clipped together with three small gold-toned bars. It is only one of many recognizable works by artist, designer and illustrator Ivan Chermayeff, 76, and his New York-based company -- think the Library of Congress's book/flag logo. Chermayeff is happy to explain why it makes for a great memento no matter how unwieldy it appears around a lady's neck.

-- Jennifer Frey

You created this award 31 years ago, but now the concept of the rainbow ribbon is significantly identified with gay pride and gay rights. How do you react to that?

It's a bit like complaining about the sun and the moon. . . . It's inevitable that the spectrum is taken up in other things because it's pretty powerful and that's the reason. And one can't lay a claim and patent the spectrum and the sun and the moon. So, sure, some may mind, but I don't! The only thing that one would ask is that they do it well.

What was the visual statement you were trying to make?

That spectrum was what I had in mind in the first place, in that it's a spectrum of many skills within the performing arts. Singing, dancing, and so on.

They also dwarf most awards of this kind.

They are a sizable thing, instead of a coin that sits on a desk. So they have a presence for the people who receive them.

The medal is very distinctive on a tux, but a woman is so careful about her accessories. Did it surprise you to hear that some of the ladies honored -- Dolly Parton, for example -- had their dresses designed to suit the award?

I didn't envision that. Making a selection about what you're going to wear is challenging and difficult enough. And to have an Oscar de la Renta design it? That's something. And it's expensive! But Dolly Parton can afford it. [Laughs.] Seriously, it's clearly that the identity of it works and it means something.


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