The Duluth Crate Co. might not sound like much of a vessel for artistic creativity. But its founder and sole employee is quick to point out that the business’ name has less to do with the product he ships to customers than his initial source of inspiration.

Vintage fruit crates.

Jeff Ruprecht, a 39-year-old advertising artist and designer from Hermantown, has long admired many of the labels that graced the crates of yesteryear’s produce.

“Maybe it’s because they’re a throwback to simpler times,” he said.

Ruprecht noted that some of the crates feature colorful and intricate artwork, while others, such as the iconic Blue Goose fruit label, make use of a very spare but bold two-color design. He also described his affinity for the sometimes simple and sometimes highly stylized typography of yore.

“I like old advertising in general, and of course that’s the business I went to work in,” Ruprecht said.

Although his daytime job at HTK Marketing Communications in Duluth is focused mostly on the online world, “I’m still rooted in print,” he said, “and I have a deep love of that.”

Ruprecht said he began to channel the spirit of vintage fruit labels into depictions of fictional brands based on Northland landmarks about five or six years ago. His first crate-inspired drawing featured the Split Rock Lighthouse Brand and boasted of “breathtaking views.”

He received such a positive response that Ruprecht was encouraged to try his hand at other designs in a line that now has grown to 35 Duluth and North Shore attractions. He has enjoyed success showing the fictional advertisements in area galleries and selling prints of them at the Canal Park Art Fair.

Ruprecht also was commissioned to create several works featuring West Duluth for the décor of GB Schneider & Co., a restaurant on Grand Avenue.

After a family trip to South Dakota last summer, Ruprecht tried his hand at depicting some of the memorable sites he had visited.

That’s when he decided it would be fun to put together a portfolio featuring an attraction in each our nation’s 50 states.

But the cost of launching and printing such a large collection was prohibitive, so Ruprecht turned to Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform, where he’s offering supporters framed prints of his work, as well as T-shirts and mugs featuring his creations.

With 10 days left to go in his online campaign Sunday, 16 sponsors had offered to pony up a total of $783 in support Ruprecht’s venture, but he acknowledged it will take a big final push to reach his Kickstarter goal of $7,500.

During an interview Sunday, Ruprecht said:  “I realized that if I’m going to make this work, I’m going to have to get outside of my comfort zone.”

Even if he does not reach his Kickstarter goal, Ruprecht maintains he will not abandon his ambition. He has already completed works featuring attractions in 30 states and has sketches in progress for several others.

“I’m going to do this regardless,” Ruprecht said. “I just thought that Kickstarter might be able to propel me a little more quickly.”

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