Norton Co. Commissions Abrasive Work of Art to Celebrate Opening

When the Coated Abrasives division of Norton Co. opened a new facility in Santa Fe Springs last month, it wanted something more than the usual ribbon-cutting to mark the event. So like many a monarch and pope before it, Norton went out and commissioned a work of art.

The division manufactures products made of sandpaper, which is the old name for coated abrasives. The abrasives have broad applications in electronics, wood- and metal-working and other industries. So to illustrate Norton abrasives on the job the company sought an artist to paint a mural in a daring new medium: acrylics on sandpaper.

"We wanted something for the lobby that would be artistic, yet unique, and that would say something about our products," said Robert M. Kucharavy, a spokesman for Worcester, Mass.-based Norton. The Santa Fe Springs plant, which is primarily a sales and distribution center, also manufactures wide sandpaper belts. It has about 50 employees.

Kucharavy said the company had purchased art in the past for display at its various plants and offices nationwide. This was the first time, however, that it decided to commission a piece with a specific theme.

The next thing was to find an artist willing to take on 32 square feet of sandpaper. "We interviewed artists until we found one who was comfortable with it," he said. "It's hard to find an artist willing to paint on something as different as sandpaper. It's fairly difficult, and most we talked to didn't want to attempt it."

Out of five candidates for the job, Norton picked Terry Reed Donelson, an Orange County commercial artist and former Disneyland caricaturist.

"I'll try anything once," Donelson said with a chuckle. "It may be the last time."

The Norton job was . . . well, a grind. "It was a real stinker," Donelson said. "I ground down a whole pencil just lightly copying the design onto the (sandpaper) surface. The surface was so abrasive that it grinds your brushes to bits. I went to an airbrush and sponge roller and used brushes only sparingly. They're too expensive."

Money was another rub. Creamer Dickson Basford, a Providence, R.I., public relations firm representing Norton, originally offered him $3,000 for the work and then backed out "because they (Norton) thought they were dumping too much money into promotion," Donelson said. He said he managed to convince them of the publicity value of the project, and they agreed on a $500 payment--"the deal of the century," Donelson said.

Lois Kelly of Creamer Dickson agreed that Norton "got to the point where they wanted to do it but couldn't spend that much money." Bargain or not, Norton is very pleased with the results, she added. "It's difficult for an outsider to quickly understand their industrial products, but Terry Donelson grasped it very quickly," she said.

Sandpaper, unlike canvas, leaves no room for error and is fraught with potential danger. For one thing, Donelson feared for his fingers. "Did you ever try to wipe paint off sandpaper?" he asked. "Bleeding fingers. The painting turns red."

Donelson, fingers intact, completed the painting for the Jan. 30 unveiling--which also featured the ceremonial cutting of a sandpaper belt. He says he's now forming an organization--called T. Reed Strategraphics--to get individuals, groups and companies to use more promotional art. He sees his role as spotting "unique needs and fulfilling them."

Norton Co., having fulfilled its own unique needs, has put the mural on permanent display at the Borate Street facility.

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