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Designer Chuck Delpapa donates work to High Point University design archive

Wave lampChuck Delpapa's "wave lamp," as it originially appeared in a Cresswell Lighting catalog.
Chuck Delpapa attended his first High Point Market in 1965. His career ranges from stints at department stores that no longer exist to creating lighting designs that lined the shelves of big box stores like Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

He's designed everything from traditional chandeliers to Danish modern furniture, and has helped develop licensed lighting collections for the likes of Disney and Coca Cola.

Now retired, Delpapa is donating his work to a new generation of designers.

On Monday while in town for this week's market, Delpapa will present his collection of design sketches, trend research and other materials from throughout his decades-long career to the High Point University home furnishings and design archives.

"I had been saving virtually every drawing that I had ever done - lamp designs plus things from my department store days," Delpapa said. "We accumulated that, and all of that is being donated to High Point. I am so pleased because it's the perfect venue for the kind of thing I was doing."

The goal of the High Point University design archives is to ultimately include sketches, collages, research and other work from designers throughout the home décor industry, providing students with a visual history.

John Turpin, dean of the High Point University School of Art and Design, said Richard Bennington, the Paul Broyhill Professor of Home Furnishings, has been collecting archival work related to the High Point Market. Since the project is still in its early phase, Turpin said the school is responding to those who express an interest in donating, but will soon seek out designers' work more actively.

"It had been growing at a modest rate, and we finally decided to make a commitment that we would like to be the repository for archival work from the High Point Market, and maybe even a little bit broader to residential and interior design," Turpin said.

Delpapa began his career working for several department stores in Denver, where his responsibilities included working with buyers to select home furnishings products. He later served as director of fashion merchandising for Higbee's, a Cleveland-based department store that was bought by Dillard's in the early 1990s. There, he developed product and ensured everything in the store was on-trend.

He later left retail to become vice president of design and development at Alsy Lighting Company, a manufacturer and distributor of portable lighting. At Alsy, Delpapa prided himself on developing high-quality, on-trend lamps for an affordable price.

"The first things I did were pretty basic," Delpapa said. "One lamp I designed early in my career was the ‘wave lamp,' which was a series of three wavy bars with a very simple shade. That particular lamp had become sort of an icon of the company, and we sold not only millions of dollars' worth of that lamp, but millions of that lamp."

Delpapa was inspired to donate his archives by a friend and poet who donated his own archives to a college in California. After another friend in the industry suggested High Point University would be a good home for his work, Delpapa connected with Bennington, who put him in touch with Turpin.

Delpapa's donation provides a glimpse at design history from the 1960s through the present, including sketches of his furniture and lighting designs and trend presentations he delivered to major customers.

"Like any individual designer's work, I hope that it shows a snapshot of cultural values in what he chose to design, and what was popular for the consumer," Turpin said. "It's that kind of information that even as a personal researcher I'm always very interested in, as to how our human-made objects reflect a much larger set of cultural values."

Ultimately, Turpin said the long-term goal is to digitize the archives, making them available to anyone who wants to access them. In the meantime, Delpapa said he would encourage other designers to donate their work to the project and provide students with a valuable learning tool.

"I couldn't be happier about a place to put these archives, and I hope they'll be able to help students in the future," he said.

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