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Snapshots of America by Kyle Gagnon

By Angela Moor on July 29, 2019 4:33 PM | Permalink

Over the course of sorting and processing thousands of historic menus, I have come across nearly identical looking menus from completely different restaurants. These menus featured a design of visually stimulating patterns of dots that created a sort of optical illusion effect in the background of the interior, and even more interesting patterns on the back. Inside, different sections of the menu were neatly squared off and organized, with some of them accompanied by charming and detailed illustrations of food. But why were these menus practically the same, when one is from Sanford, North Carolina, and the other is from Ville Platte, Louisiana?

Cover of menu depicting green grass and tree

UNLV Libraries Collection of Menus (MS-00436)

From what I can gather from the menus themselves, the menus were designed and printed by VC Menus, a company based out of the small town of Eastland, Texas. They offered a “Monthly Menu Service,” which supplied restaurants with 40 new menus a month, each with a new “attractive” cover. “Attractive” would be a good word to use, as the covers were what initially drew me to notice these menus.

black and white geometric pattern

UNLV Libraries Collection of Menus (MS-00436)

The front of each menu featured a picture from somewhere in the United States, offering a different snapshot of American life and natural splendor. The pictures were taken from a distance, with no clear subject. Rather, they offered a view of somewhere you could feasibly go, a small window to a hidden spot you did not know existed. Each cover also had a small calendar in the lower left-hand corner, giving these menus a collectible quality to them. Sadly, the ephemeral nature of these calendar menus mean a majority of this company’s designs have probably been lost to time.

Menu image with trees, water, and mountain scenery

UNLV Libraries Collection of Menus (MS-00436)

It is hard to describe exactly why these menus appeal to me so much. It is kind of like trying to describe your favorite flavor of ice cream; for some reason, you just like it. And in that sense, I just like the simple but effective graphic design. I just like the far-out patterns that distort the eye and lead it all over the panel. And most importantly, I love the idea of sitting down in a restaurant and being offered a well-shot photo of somewhere in the country. If the goal of  a menu is to tell the customer what is available easily and in the most appealing way possible, then VC Menus exceeded that expectation.

Interior menu text with pattern behind text

UNLV Libraries Collection of Menus (MS-00436)