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Pro­fessor of Art Bryan Springer, third from left, plays banjo in Civil War reen­act­ments. | Courtesy Bryan Springer

In his sound­proofed office, on the dark wall behind Pro­fessor of Art Bryan Springer, hangs a single piece of artwork: a Civil-War-style banjo he built himself. The wood for the instrument came from walnut trees on an aban­doned farm.

Springer, who instructs Graphic Design courses, par­tic­i­pates in Civil War Reen­act­ments, a hobby that led him to dis­cover pre-Civil War secular banjo music, which was con­sidered the rock-and-roll of the time.

“It was a little polit­i­cally incorrect, but inter­esting, sort of a novelty,” Springer said, laughing.

This dis­covery led him to build the entire banjo — save the original pot. His oldest son, who now joins him occa­sionally in the cam­pouts and reen­act­ments, accom­panies Springer on the violin as he picks his walnut banjo.

Born in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, Springer, who is cur­rently working with the president’s office to create maps for Volume 20 of Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn’s Churchill biog­raphy, described his dis­covery of Hillsdale as a “twist of fate.”

“I was really inter­ested in com­mu­ni­cating visually,” Springer said. “I had a rel­ative who was a Hillsdale grad at the time, and intro­duced me to the school. And I really loved it, of course, like most people do who come to our campus, it’s really alluring and beau­tiful.”

Springer has been Hillsdale’s graphic design pro­fessor since 2008, but his con­nection with the school goes further. After grad­u­ating from Hillsdale with a bachelor’s degree in 1994, Springer pursued illus­tration with pastels at Savannah College of Art and Design, where he earned his master’s and got into graphic design.

While he didn’t intend to stay at the college for his full aca­demic career, Springer said pro­fessor of art Sam Knecht played a major role in influ­encing him to stay all four years.

“I was just amazed at his instruction and how much I didn’t know and still needed to know in terms of foun­da­tions of art,” Springer said. “At that point I realized I would go to graduate school because I wanted more schooling, but also the pos­si­bility to teach some­where down the line in my career.”

His love of history doesn’t end with Civil War Reen­acting — Springer indi­cated a lot of his design inspi­ration comes from the same angle. “I get really excited when I see beau­tiful typog­raphy, or illus­trated type. And I love his­torical typog­raphy: old things, tex­tures of old paper…examples like that,” Springer said.

Fellow art pro­fessor Barbara Bushey described Springer as the one who “always keeps every­thing together.” Springer bal­ances his time teaching with free­lance work for Hillsdale’s mar­keting department, branding the online courses as they are released, and working with External Affairs to develop slides for the Center for Con­structive Alter­na­tives.

“He’s got all kinds of interests, from Civil War reen­actment to — well, maybe they’re related — bourbon,” Bushey said. Springer con­firmed he always drinks a bourbon neat, occa­sionally with a drop of water, and though Hillsdale County doesn’t always have a huge variety available, he admits to enjoying many brands.

While history inspires his design aes­thetic, Springer’s passion is to “educate people in visual lit­eracy… There is so much [material] out there…And how do you present that infor­mation well? Good design is nec­essary in a world with so much infor­mation,” Springer said.

Springer did not come here with imme­diate family con­nec­tions, yet Hillsdale has become a sig­nif­icant part of his per­sonal history: It’s where he met his wife, a 1995 graduate, who is now pregnant with their fifth child.

Springer did move out to Cal­i­fornia briefly, but returned after about six months.

“We decided to come back because we thought that family was more important,” Springer said. They moved to Ann Arbor and have remained in the area since.

“He is a mar­velous col­league,” Bushey said, “He’s always ready to help in the department in any way, shape, or form that he can, so I cer­tainly appre­ciate it from that per­spective. In the classroom he does a really excellent job, he’s got really strong standard drawing skills. He also does lots of free­lance work on his own, so he is actively designing stuff, so he knows what he’s talking about…And of course he was a student here, so he cer­tainly under­stands the college in a way that not everybody does.”

Not all of his designing is for work — Springer also makes clever family Christmas cards, to the enjoyment of the other faculty.

“Every year he does his own Christmas card, and it’s always some­thing spec­tacular,” Bushey said. “I seem to recall one year was like, head­shots of the whole family, but indi­vid­ually fit into things… I don’t know, it was just cool.”

In a true liberal-arts spirit, Springer encourages his stu­dents to diversify their interests, too.

“I encourage my stu­dents to be able to take the drawing to learn how to see, and have that inform their digital work,” Springer said, empha­sising the impor­tance of housing the study of graphic design under the framework of the Fine Arts.

When Springer was at Hillsdale, the art courses were pre­dom­i­nately Art History, Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture.

“The main thrust,” Springer said, “was learning to see, learning how to draw from masters’ work, and also putting the history of art into per­spective in terms of the Western Her­itage, and how Nat­u­ralism, or Realism, is important in the clas­sical edu­cation of an artist.”

Though much has changed in the art since then, the focus is still the same. “I talk about as a cre­ative person, having a cup, and…you’re con­stantly pouring it out, for yourself and for other people,” Springer said. “And it’s draining, right? So we have to find that cre­ative influence or inspi­ration to fill it back up.”