Packs with Pride: The Story Behind AFAR's Amazing Artwork

The proud owner of this hydration pack has earned patches at all four project sites.

The proud owner of this hydration pack has earned patches at all four project sites.

It’s no secret that kids love to collect things.  Coins, rocks, stickers on lap tops…  The hundreds of students who spend their summers digging in the dirt in Belize, Spain, Portugal and Greece are no different.  You can spot AFAR gear on t-shirts, hats and stickers, given to each student before setting out on their projects.  It’s visible and promotional for AFAR, but Executive Director, Mat Saunders, had something new in mind to add to the mix.  Something a little more meaningful.

“I like having something exciting for the kids on the projects,” said Saunders.  “I like to give them hats and stickers and all the stuff that kids love, but I also wanted to give them something they would keep that recognizes their hard work.” 

Reminiscent of a Boy Scout patch, Saunders set out to design a “recognition patch” significant for each site including, Belize, Spain, Greece and Portugal.  People may not know that he is an art and design enthusiast – a fan, but not a creator, and a connector of artists and projects.  In his search to find an artist with the flair he envisioned, Mat found Danny Schlitz, art director at Schlitz Art, known for his unique use of color and shapes.  “I found Danny’s work online and loved his style, so I reached out to see if he’d be interested in creating a design for the patches I’d envisioned.  When I saw that his clients include Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and Nike, I wasn’t so sure he’d be interested.”

It turned out that he was thrilled by the challenge and loves learning about new topics, like archaeology.  “When somebody is passionate about their work, it’s contagious,” says Schlitz.  “The art that I produced for each project is simple and colorful – and to know that kids collect and covet these patches is so gratifying.”

Patches are a way to show off the dedication, hard work and accomplishment that goes with each project.  As they move through the projects (students are eligible in 8th grade and can jump to new projects as they get older) they achieve new patches.  They are sewn on each student’s hydration pack, which is essential in the summer heat, and visible on-site and throughout the student’s global travels.

“The cool thing is, they have to be on the project and earn it to wear it,” says Mat.

New Skull Art

Students doing field work this summer will have new skull swag this year — donning shirts, stickers and more. It was the perfect project for Artist, Trent Shad. He’s has been assisting Danny at Schlitz Art and couldn’t wait to dig in to the assignment. 

Each skull, or “skelly” as they are affectionately tagged on the graphic files, represent each project site, pulling in visual references to Belize, Spain, Portugal and Greece.  Shad took the work from concept to completion.  While his first passion is drawing and painting, history is a close second. 

“There's not much I can think of that is better than doing work for archaeological projects,” said Shad.  “It most definitely helped having a background in history when it came to understand the designs and motifs that should be portrayed in the various cultures/time eras.”

Sherri Johnson