Tom Eblen: Tempur-Pedic taps inspiration from local artists

Herald-Leader columnistFebruary 11, 2013 

Many artists dream of landing a big commission. For photographer Don Ament, it came from Tempur-Pedic, the Lexington-based mattress company.

Representatives from Tempur-Pedic met Ament last March at Kentucky Crafted: The Market. Then they saw an image on his website of dogwood blossoms in sunlight. The website has images Ament made all over the world, but this one was shot in his yard in Lexington.

The company was furnishing its new headquarters building near Coldstream Park, and executives thought Ament's photo would be perfect for a folding wall that separates the employee café from a meeting room.

This commission was challenging because it literally was big. The image, taken on a 2.25-inch square piece of film, needed to be enlarged and printed 11 feet tall by 42 feet wide.

Ament scanned the film to create a high-resolution digital file, then, with help from friend and fellow photographer Frank Döring, manipulated the image to sharpen edges and preserve color vibrancy. A company in Maine printed the photo in sections, and last week it was installed like wallpaper. The result is stunning.

"They could go anywhere for art," Ament said of Tempur-Pedic. "But they seem really dedicated to local."

Indeed, as Tempur-Pedic settles into its new 128,000-square-foot space, much more local art will be purchased, said Patrice Varni, a senior vice president.

The only other pieces now are two Italian glass and stone mosaics designed by Guy Kemper, a Woodford County glass artist who has done installations all over the world, some as big as airport terminal walls.

Kemper's mosaics for Tempur-Pedic are abstract evocations, roughly 10 feet square, for the fourth-floor executive area.

One is called After the Storm. "It recalls the feeling of a Kentucky forest after a summer storm, when a steamy sun comes out and everything is dripping wet," Kemper said.

The other mosaic, called Daybreak, is "a shot of color to energize the work environment and promote creativity," he said. "A reference that you've had a good night's sleep." (On a Tempur-Pedic mattress, no doubt.)

Kemper said Tempur-Pedic executives and their interior designer, Gary Volz of Champlin Architecture in Cincinnati, approached him after seeing two mosaics he did for elevator lobbies at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center.

"We couldn't be more thrilled with the pieces by Don and Guy," Varni said. "I've really been struck by the positive response from employees.

"There was a steady stream of people stopping by to watch the installations."

Tempur-Pedic built its new headquarters, which has large windows and expansive views of the Bluegrass landscape, to replace a former warehouse that had evolved into offices and become overcrowded as the company grew.

"This building was designed with a particular focus on collaboration and integrating the various work groups, and engendering creativity and innovative thinking," Varni said. "Art is a big part of that, that is meant to showcase and inspire creativity and innovation."

Varni said the company has budgeted purchases of more art during the next few years, as its 360 employees settle into the building, figure out what would complement the space and learn more about the work of local artists.

"We feel very much a part of the community, because the company was founded here," Varni said. "In our support for the arts, we felt first and foremost we should support local artists."

Varni said the Kentucky Arts Council has suggested several local artists whose work might be a good fit.

"Art is such a subjective, personal taste kind of thing," she said. "We like things that have some sense of nature and that run the range from more literal to more abstract. And we're interested in a different range of mediums."

As part of its mission to help Kentucky artists be able to earn a living from their art, the council sponsors Kentucky Crafted: The Market, which returns to Lexington Center from March 1 through 3.

Kemper and Ament hope more Kentucky companies will follow Tempur-Pedic's example because the arts flourishes only in places where artists find good patrons. Plus, when that investment is made in the community, it help's Kentucky's economy.

"You don't have to run to New York or Chicago to look for something great," Ament said. "There's more good work being done here all the time."

Tom Eblen: (859) 231-1415. Email: teblen@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @tomeblen. Blog: tomeblen.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service