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Jake Schraga: Behind the Design

A camera takes a photo of a sculpture featuring the words 'Sketch your Story Inked with Permanence Blots Smears and all' in various colors and fonts, against a gray background.
A behind the scenes look at the creative direction behind the 2023 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition poster. Photo: Jake Schraga.

A campus job. International inspiration. Loss. Legacy.

All of this went into an innovative, three-dimensional design for the 2023 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, led by Stamps Communications and Marketing Department student graphic designer Jake Schraga (BA 24).

Inspired by his experience in the Stamps International Program in Scandinavia and compelled by the loss of his grandfather, Poppy, Schraga details the story behind this passionate project. 

Scandinavian Influence

White flag that reads "Snask" above a tan building.
Snask Studios in Stockholm. Photo: Jake Schraga

I studied abroad Summer of 2022 in Scandinavia through the Stamps International Program, and fell in love with Snask Studios’ (Stockholm) work and artistic approach. I was inspired by their handmade, bold, and eye-catching designs, as people tend to connect with typography if it is interactive and tangible. I was also heavily influenced by the poem A Poet’s Legacy (anonymous), which beautifully expressed the permanence of legacy. I incorporated the line you are inked, proud of your blots, smears and all” into the design text, which is the essence of the artwork.

I built the piece using a laser cutter, wood, acrylic paint, and wood glue. Using the laser cutter in the Digifab Studio was a first for me, but I was determined to challenge myself and test my limits. When I completed the sign, I photographed it and incorporated it into the poster and digital media designs- similar to the work of Snask Studios.

I am grateful to the Stamps faculty and community for their support.

Jake Schraga sits at a table with wood letters while applying wood glue using a paintbrush.
Schraga built the piece using a laser cutter, wood, acrylic paint, and wood glue. Photo: Jake Schraga.

Poppy’s Legacy

On October 11, 2022, two weeks into the project commencement, I ended class on North Campus in the Stamps building at 4:00 pm. I sat on the blue bus for the long ride to South Campus, scanning around with my headphones in and playing my calm playlist, but without seeing anything at all. I surrendered to the only thirty minutes of my day where my mind drifts as it desires. My eyes returned from their daze, and the bus stop came into focus. I walked home in five minutes, ascended the shaky outdoor stairs that lead to my studio in twenty seconds, and sank into my leather desk chair in half a second. I did the first thing any twenty-year-old would do when they got home and pulled out my phone. On the home screen was a notification from the reminders app. 

Call Nan.

Oh, right.

I called my Nan, and the phone rang long enough that I didn’t expect her to pick up. The dialing cut out on the last ring, and I heard an unfamiliar man’s voice respond,

Hello, Jake?”

Yeah, hi. I was just calling to see if I could talk to Poppy.”

Hey Jake, let me pass the phone on to your mother here.”

He sounded like a doctor, for his voice had a tone of professional comfort. The kind where it’s their job to give you bad news, but naturally soothe their voice to comfort the blow. I like to think of it as the doctor’s customer service voice. 

I heard sniffling and crying, which I immediately recognized as my mom’s. She tried to catch her breath. 

He’s gone…I’m sorry, buddy. He’s gone.”

Eleven family members, including Jake Schraga and his Poppy, pose together in a church.
Photo: Jake Schraga.

My heart dropped. I thought I had more time. I was going to call earlier in the day, but I had class. I believed I could wait until I got home. It was heartbreaking to know if I called earlier, called instead of doing what seemed so important before but is incredibly insignificant now, that I could have talked to him one last time. 

After I hung up, it took ten minutes to settle in, and then I cried. It was the first time I cried in almost five years.

Young Jake Schraga poses with his Poppy, wearing a suit and tie.
Jake Schraga and his grandfather, Poppy.” Photo: Jake Schraga.

My grandfather- Poppy, beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, Vietnam War Naval Air Force veteran, proud Boston College alumni, charity business owner, Silicon Valley pioneer, and so much more- was my first close loss. Death was always a distant experience in my life, and this marked the first of what I knew will not be the last.

I flew back to the Bay Area, CA, and stayed a week for the funeral. I cried again.

I returned to Ann Arbor thinking a lot about how the most giving, kindest, and, simply put, the best man I have ever known was gone. It seemed unjust for such a good person to get stage four lung cancer; then again, since when was life fair? For some reason, I believed I had to make it just. I wanted to do something that sent a big middle finger to the world and, somehow, that would make everything right.

That is what it felt like, but that really isn’t what it was. I found that this overwhelming feeling was that my Poppy’s death compelled me to carry on his legacy. The word legacy” sometimes has an elitist or material connotation, which I often hear thrown around with legacy students.” I wanted to tell Poppy’s story and continue his influence in the ways I best know. When I tell people his story, I carry on his legacy, life, and what he has done for everyone. He empowers me to do better, for him, for myself, and for others. How can I, like my Poppy, carry that influence onto others? So when I came back to the studio, I wanted to make something that held this sentiment.

I wanted to tell Poppy’s story and continue his influence in the ways I best know.

For many undergraduate students, the question of what will we do with our lives?” consistently lingers in the back of our minds. What is our purpose? How do I want to be remembered? What can I contribute to this world?” They are imposing questions that seem to beg for a monumental answer, like I am going to solve the world’s biggest problems” or I want to go down in history as one of the greats.” I have no doubt that some of you may achieve those accomplishments, but I challenge you to consider that being part of a legacy means that people tell your story. You can be kind, start the next art movement, care like no other, design the next great invention, or touch hearts. It doesn’t matter what you do or how quirky, messy, and fucked up you are but do what you can to make people tell your story with pride. You will then continue the legacy built by those before you and pass it along for others to make their own. 

- Jake Schraga BA 24

Learn more about the 2023 Undergraduate Exhibition, on view at Stamps Gallery from February 10 to March 42023.