1971 was a good year for Seattle. Starbucks was founded, and so was The New School of Visual Concepts, as it was called back then. Located on the corner of Mercer and Highway 99, this school for commercial arts was built on the premise that designers, illustrators and advertising students learn best from working professionals in their industries.
Fast forward to 1998, a good year for me. I walked under the 99 overpass to the School of Visual Concepts (SVC) to meet with Linda Hunt, the school’s codirector. There was no swanky South Lake Union back then, just empty warehouses, Bucca di Beppo and the old J. T. Hardeman hat factory that housed the school. I was working in labor relations, my first job out of college, but was far more passionate about typography than workplace safety.
My artsy side drew me to SVC. I researched want ads for creative directors, planning my future: build a portfolio, then go to grad school. SVC made that possible. The school offers no degrees or certificates, avoiding academic bureaucracy and keeping the barrier to entry low. At SVC you come as you are but leave as you want to be.
Today, the school’s original approach—students are taught by top industry professionals during hours that allow both to keep their day jobs—is kept alive by SVC’s codirectors, Linda Hunt and Larry Asher. Together, they’re nicer than Mother Teresa and the Pope combined.
But to tell the story of Linda and Larry means telling the story of another couple first: Dick and Cherry Brown, SVC’s founders. Cornish graduates, they were both popular illustrators, with clients including Boeing and Frederick & Nelson. Dick Brown inspired many in Seattle, including Ted Leonhardt of the design firm The Leonhardt Group. “Dick Brown drew and painted like Bernie Fuchs and Albert Dorne, masters of the magazine era,” Ted explained. “Boy, did I want to paint like him. This was just as I imagined—art that persuaded, art that was sought after in the corporate world.” Training students to create art like that was why Dick and Cherry founded SVC and why Linda and Larry passionately carry on this vision.
Linda Hunt, who studied psychology and sociology in college, met Dick and Cherry in 1982 when she moved from California to Edmonds, renting a house across the street from them; she and her husband had left behind a landscaping business to move to the Pacific Northwest. Dick had just fallen ill with a brain tumor. As Linda remembered:
"Dick was already wheelchair bound by this time, and Cherry was single-handedly running SVC. They were amazing, down-to-earth people who lived quietly and courageously with Dick’s many physical challenges. I vividly remember the first time I entered their multilevel home. It wasn’t the spectacular view of the sound that took my breath away—it was Dick’s amazing paintings."
Linda helped Cherry care for Dick, and after his death in 1985, she became Cherry’s assistant, helping run the school and eventually assuming ownership in 1994. Eighteen months prior, Cherry had fallen ill with cancer, and she died shortly after Linda took over the school with new codirector Larry Asher, a lauded copywriter and longtime SVC instructor. “When Larry and I took over SVC in 1994, we really didn’t know one another well,” Linda explained. “However, we were both committed to the Browns’ philosophy of providing customized learning taught by award-winning professionals. We were on the same page in wanting SVC to thrive.”
And thrive it has. Now, almost 45 years later, the school is in a new location on 7th Avenue, but its mission is the same: educate students via the honest, exuberant, generous transfer of knowledge from one caring person to another, just as Dick and Cherry wanted.
What has been one of your most memorable moments at SVC?
“The first time we hosted Jim Sherraden, the general manager of the historic Hatch Show Print of Nashville, Tennessee, in 2006. Jim put on a series of letterpress workshops … lugging three gigantic suitcases of vintage Hatch woodblock engrav-ings so artists here could print using these irreplaceable originals.” —Larry Asher
“When the Seattle arsonist Paul Keller threw a Molotov cocktail through a studio window on the first floor of SVC and tried to burn down the school. It caused a lot of smoke damage and freaked out the school cat, Abby. Fortunately, our old hat factory building was made of cement and cinder blocks, and we only lost a couch.” —Linda Hunt