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Norman Orr
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Turlock, Calif.
Norman Orr was working as a commercial graphic design artist when in 1970 and 1971 he designed a dozen posters for rock concerts at the Fillmore West auditorium for concert promoter Bill Graham (1931-1991). He designed a few other posters during his career, but since 1985 he has worked primarily as a master carpenter, designing and building custom room interiors and cabinetry. Born in 1949 in Turlock, Calif., Orr grew up in Winton, Calif., in Merced County, where his step-father had an almond ranch. In an interview Orr said he learned patience while working on the ranch, doing such chores as weeding forty acres of almond trees with a hand hoe. He attended high school in nearby Atwater, where he was the president of his senior class. While in high school he designed posters for the school’s bands and other garage bands in the area. Orr attended Merced Junior College for a year after his high school graduation. He married at age 19. Orr designed a poster for the May 30, 1969 “Memorial Day Rock Festival” at the Merced County Fairgrounds, featuring Carlos Santana (b. 1947) and six other bands. The following year he sold his poster “Custer Died for Our Sins,” to The Print Mint in Berkeley. Orr and his wife moved to Mountain View, Calif., during 1970, where he got a job as a silkscreen printer for Trend Graphics. He found a way to show his portfolio of drawings, including his Santana poster, to Pat Hanks, then the Art Director for Bill Graham Productions. Hanks liked his work and asked Orr to design (for free) a poster for an upcoming Santana concert in September 1970. On seeing the resulting work, Graham commissioned Orr to complete the poster and to create another for a forthcoming Quicksilver Messenger Service dance concert. These two posters (BG-248 and 249) led to commissions for ten more, for concerts through March 1971. By this time Orr had begun working for Steven Jacobs Design in Palo Alto, Calif., as a graphic designer. He later formed his own firm, and then became a free-lance designer. He created a few other posters, including one for a play mounted by the San Francisco State College Drama Department in 1970 and another for radio station KSAN in 1971. He designed two posters for the 1979 and 1980 productions of the “Nutcracker” ballet by the San Francisco Ballet; the first won an award from the New York Illustrators Society. By 1985 Orr’s career evolved into the design and manufacture of custom interior features, a career he has pursued ever since. He returned to poster design in 1994 and 1995 when, as a favor for a friend, he created posters for five tribute concerts at the Palookaville club in Santa Cruz, Calif., honoring John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaught, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of the Grateful Dead and Patsy Cline. He designed the decoration for a snowboard for Burton Snowboards in 2012, and that year allowed one of his youthful posters for the 1960s garage band Crystal Syphon to be used for the album cover of a re-issue of songs the band recorded then. Orr continues to live and work in Palo Alto. (TNB 4/2017)