Design Mart traces its roots back to 1920s when John Fernandez left Franco's dictatorship in Spain and arrived in Cuba. Soon after that, he took another voyage up the east coast and settled in Barre, Vermont where he worked in a growing granite industry. While in Barre John worked for Jones Brothers, and was one of the craftsmen who created the well-known work at the center of downtown Barre. It was in Barre that he met and married Julia Pena before making their way south to Elberton, Georgia.
While two of their sons went into granite manufacturing, the other, Joe, went to work as an apprentice draftsman in several of Elberton's larger manufacturing companies. After working at Coggins Granite Industries and a stint in the US Army, he went to work for Ben Smith of Premier Designs where he perfected airbrush techniques that can be seen in all of Dmart's early work. Joe opened Design Mart in 1968 in downtown Elberton and served the local industry with drafting services and realistic airbrushed renderings for manufactures' reps and retailers.
Design Mart's approach would be different from that of Premier Designs. Design firms had previously focused on individual photographically reproduced prints from a darkroom. Joe saw sales moving from a door-to-door task to one driven by targeted direct mail, and in 1968 started his own company - Design Mart. He compiled his design collections into brochures and matching sales books such as Precious Memories, A Closer Walk and Ties That Bind, which are still in demand today.
All Design Mart designs continue to carry unique identification numbers for monuments as well as components used to draw each monument. These numbers, coupled with a selection of alternate carvings in the back of each sales book made it possible for retailers and manufacturers to quickly customize monuments by number without guesswork.
The mid 1970s saw a revolution in the pre-cutting of rubber sandblast stencil for carving and lettering on monuments. Sandblast masks made of heavy rubber had long been used to sandblast lettering, panels and flowers on monuments. Rubber was glued to the face of the granite monument and an actual size drawing was traced onto the rubber. After transfer, a cutter used a knife to hand-cut over the pencil lines that were transferred to the stencil. Rubber was then removed to reveal the stone underneath, which would be sand carved.
Working with John Gaspari of Pall Limited (later PMD) and 3M, Design Mart aided in the development of a thin layer of mylar between the rubber and backing. Design Mart furnished popular component designs (flowers and panels) to be produced in plastic stencil cutting "punch plates" that acted like cookie cutters when pressed into the stencil under great pressure. The plate would press through and cut the stencil, but the mylar backing would stay in place. This made it possible for stencil to be pulled (or weeded) in the studio and then taken into the plant for application to the stone without a worker having to cut stencil by hand after it was applied to the stone. Stencil presses and plates were popular throughout the late 80s and early 90s when CAD systems were first used to cut stencil. The component identification process lent itself to an easy transition into the cut-and-paste world of digital clip art.
In the early 90s Joe's son, Mike, returned to Elberton, and purchased Design Mart. By the mid 90s he had digitized many of Design Mart's popular design components that had been used as plastic plates. Complete monument designs formatted for CAD applications followed. Popular titles such as Precious Memories were the first to be digitized and led to the digitization of more than 25 different collections.
Companies such as Master Layout, Cochrans, Premier Designs and MonuCad all had their own collections that were sold with each system. Design Mart was the first company to offer CAD files in a variety of formats such as AI, EPS and DXF that were compatible with all CAD and illustration systems. For the first time, a company could use any established monument application as well as AutoCad, Illustrator, Corel and many others to open standard Dmart designs and use them to cut sandblast stencil.
The mid 90s also led Design Mart to create many industry specific fonts in TrueType format such as Modified Roman, Condensed Roman and Vermarco. Users were no longer bound to a system with proprietary fonts such as Gerber or MonuCad.
The mid to late 90s also gave rise to email and web sites. Manufacturers and retailers alike began ordering popular Dmart CAD files by email. Design Mart created its first web site and followed it with the creation of a site commissioned by the Elberton Granite Association. Today Design Mart hosts the third generation web site for the EGA as well as hundreds of sites designed and built specifically for monument retailers.
After the year 2,000 Design Mart created the industry's first click-and-drag monument design software, which ran from a CD and featured a basic selection of monument shapes, components, panels and fonts.
This was followed in 2006 by the online version of the Monument Designer, which allowed users to create colorful images of photo realistic monuments for sales presentations. All components were standards which made it easy for studio artists to build CAD files to match the images created by retailers. An online Catalog database was included in a subscription to the online Monument Designer and allowed users to search all Dmart catalogs by monument or component number, family name or monument type and size.
In 2014 work began on Design Mart's new generation of online Monument Designer and Catalog. Several online design tools were on the market, but they all allowed the user to create an image of the monument. There was no CAD file created. Studio artists still had to create CAD files to match the monument portrayed in the image. Using Scalable Vector Graphics Design Mart created a program that would render photo-realistic monument images while, at the same time, creating CAD files that were ready for stencil cutting.
Design Mart continues to cut pre-cut sandblast stencil and create customized digital artwork for the monument industry.
As you would expect, there was much healing for our nation to do at the end of the war between the Confederate States and United States. In fact, Confederate soldiers' grave plaques were inscribed in Latin, with Deo Vindice or God Will Vindicate. Clearly, there would be deep wounds for generations to come. Design Mart's Mike Fernandez is shown here explaining one of the plaques to a recent Elberton Granite Association class.
Originally know as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the war when families gathered to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. During the first celebration of Decoration Day more than 5,000 people decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate dead at Arlington cemetery. This even, in 1868, was inspired by many local celebrations in communities during the three years following the end of the way.
After World War I our nation began to remember those who had perished in all wars. In 1966 President Johnson named Waterloo, New York, as the official birthplace of the celebration since they had made an annual event of it. In 1971 Congress declared the last Monday in May to be Memorial Day.