Boston Graphic Designer Is an Unexpected Grammy Hopeful

Fritz Klaetke Woodie Guthrie at 100

Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection. Left: This rare photo was found by Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora. Right: The Smithsonian has been accumulating Guthrie’s art since his death in 1967. (Art by Fritz Klaetke)

This weekend, an unlikely Boston artist will be competing for a Grammy against the likes of Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. Graphic designer Fritz Klaetke of Visual Dialogue is a nominee in the category for “Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” for his work on the Smithsonian Institution’s Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection. The special edition set was released July 2012 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth and has a treasure trove of Guthrie’s personal notes, letters, and artwork.

“The Smithsonian has been accumulating this archive of material,” Klaetke said in a recent phone conversation. “It’s not only Woodie’s music, but his artwork, the original lyrics he wrote and typed out, and all kinds of photos. So they’ve been looking forward to this as a way to get this out to the world and show more aspects of Woody Guthrie.”

Klaetke spent two years working on the design of the final product, but three intense months were dedicated just to sifting through the wealth of material with archivist Jeff Place. Eventually he found the right mix of Guthrie’s effects for the 150-page book, including a never-before-seen, passport-size photo for the cover.

Fritz Klaetke Woodie Guthrie at 100

Pages from Woody at 100.

“I really wanted to use a photo where he was staring right out at you,” says Klaetke. “I thought that made a nice connection to the direct quality of his music. It’s very much like him singing to you. The trick was finding a photo that wasn’t used to death. Nora Guthrie had actually found this photo in a closet somewhere and it had never been seen outside the family. Once we found that, we thought, ‘this is it!’”

Besides numerous other projects for the Smithsonian, Klaetke has also made a name for himself here in Boston with clients ranging from MIT to Harvard, and almost all of the restaurants in the Barbara Lynch Gruppo.

Fritz Klaetke Barbara Lynch Gruppo

Four of Klaitke’s logo designs.

Klaetke’s design aesthetic is unmistakable and he has a gift for incorporating intimate details in his work, like in the logo for Belly Wine Bar that has a geometrical pattern from the same Italian tile company used for Belly’s floor.

Music award shows are foreign territory for Klaetke, but he looks forward to enjoying his time as an accidental insider. That means firmly grasping the moment and embarrassing himself like any other starstruck fan.

“One person I’m planning to kind of stalk is Jack White,” he said. “We went to the same high school in Detroit: Cass Tech. We’re both nominated and I think it’s a funny little connection.”