Long Beach Makers Design New Keys to the City, Look to the Future For Inspiration

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Photos by Asia Morris. Image of Sherry Ray-Von polishing an almost-finished key inside her new studio on Pine Avenue.

Five local creatives will make history on Tuesday, December 8 when the newly-designed key to the city is bestowed upon three honorees by Mayor Robert Garcia. Former Governor George Deukmejian and his wife, philanthropist Gloria Deukmejian, and former LBUSD Board President Bobbie Smith will each hold in their hands a coveted object that accounts for nearly a year’s worth of brainstorming, collaborating, creating and refining a design that seeks to represent the present state of the city, and also where it’s headed.

DW Ferrell, who runs MADE in Long Beach and sits on the city’s Technology and Innovation Commission, was approached by the mayor in mid-January to gather a team of local artists and innovators to design the new key. Ferrell told the Post that the goal was to stray away from the typical “trophy keys made with cheap metal by low-wage workers overseas.”

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David Hedden in the Main Library’s makerspace, called The Studio, pointing out the key’s smallest details.

“With our thrust for innovation and increasing local skilled jobs, this did not represent the ethic we stand for in Long Beach,” said Ferrell. “[The mayor] wanted [to] honor local leaders and international leaders alike with a symbol that embodies Long Beach, and the city already had trophy keys from a previous administration, but they were not made in the U.S. and did not reflect our focus on local innovation.”

Two local designers were pulled onto the project. David Hedden, a 3D Printing Faculty Lecturer at CSULB who launched and currently works as a Studio Guide at the Long Beach Public Library’s MakerSpace at the Main Branch (called The Studio) and Gabriel Gaete, a freelance Graphic Designer with over ten years of experience, who also works at The Studio, designed the key from start to finish. Ferrell’s role was to offer creative direction and remind the team that the key had to be an emblem of the city’s past, present and future.


One of the many initial sketches drawn by Hedden during the brainstorming process.

“This was a high challenge and the great results of their efforts are obvious in the new Key to Long Beach,” said Ferrell.

After several rounds of rough sketching, Hedden brought Gaete onto the project because their two design aesthetics complemented each other so well and the two had already experienced working closely with each other at the library. Hedden’s drawings tended to be rougher and more gestural, while Gaete worked in a cleaner, more stylized manner. And when it came to conceptualizing and bouncing ideas off of each other, the two had a synergy you can’t always replicate. For two months, they would meet for coffee at Makai before going into work, to essentially figure out a way to incorporate the city’s entire personality into a drawing smaller than the palm of your hand.

“We wanted to make [the design] symbolic of the diversity of Long Beach, some of the things that have built us up to where we are, but then also the vision of where we might be going,” Hedden told the Post.


A section of the concept grid courtesy of Gabriel Gaete.

“One of the exercises was we [drew] a grid of concepts, so we would combine concepts together and create a pattern based on keywords that we chose,” Gaete explained. “So [words] like ‘city’ and ‘ocean.’ So what does ‘city’ and ‘ocean’ combined look like together in a symbolic form and what kind of pattern would that be?”

The concept the team arrived at was “a vision of our future opportunity, viewed through the lense of our past achievements.” The key references Long Beach’s history, major landmarks, and its vast industrial persona as a port-centric, eco and health-aware, shipping and aerospace driven city, according to Ferrell.

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Several of the 3D Printed prototypes made in the library’s The Studio.

“My first thought was that civic symbols such as flags, emblems, keys to the city, are often taken for granted,” he said. “But if they are designed with intent and skill they can become emblematic of a civic drive for good. My next thought was to highlight the mix of technology and art by 3D printing the master, then [cast] the keys in metal with traditional lost-wax casting.”

The inscription “Long Beach 1897” describes the year Long Beach was founded, while the emblem in its entirety is arranged as a “lens,” as if the holder can “see the future through the lens of our past,” said Ferrell. The sun’s nine rays represent the city’s nine districts and its push for sustainable energy, while CSULB’s iconic pyramid, a port crane, The Queen Mary and the Villa Riviera are all included. The sun is the largest element, inspired by the city’s official seal, along with the biplane which was fashioned as a jet.

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A finished and polished key resting on local artist and metalsmith Sherry Ray-Von’s work space.

Several idea-conducive exercises later, and a lot more sketching, it was time to print. You can only create so many sketches without needing to hold the work-in-progress in your hand, so it got to a point where the team decided it was appropriate to utilize The Studio’s 3D Printer. Hedden printed over eight different proposed ideas as unrefined 3D models before the final design was decided upon.

“We actually used three different CAD software[s] to make this key because SketchUp got us the concepts and then Gabe took it into 3D Studio Max to make the refined version. When we needed to work with the jeweler who would 3D print it in the castable resin we had to use a different software, so we built it three times, once [using] each software,” said Hedden.

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The key was made locally at all levels. The final model, or the “wax master,” was 3D printed by Mark Schneider Design with guidance from Steve Chandler and was sent to local artist Sherry Ray-Von of Ray-Von Designs to cast in bronze and finish at her new studio on Pine Avenue.

Ray-Von, who was personally asked by the mayor to cast the keys, told the Post that this project has meant the world to her.

“It’s a footprint, I think, and it’s a good footprint,” she said. “And for me, just landing in this space and being able to utilize it in this way, the first big project, means so much to me. Because leasing this space has meant that I’m staying. It meant that Long Beach is my home. And so I’m digging my feet in. And [casting this key] is digging my feet in, too.”

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Local artist and metalsmith Sherry Ray-Von cleans up a wax model soon to be cast in bronze.

Gaete, who assists Hedden in running the library’s community-oriented makerspace as a safe place to fail and make mistakes, so eventually you can succeed, mirrored Ray-Von’s sentiments of being able to leave a footprint, so to speak, in Long Beach’s history.

“This is going to last for a long time, in a way we’re going to be a part of the city for a while,” he said. “And even when this is on display in the future, it could be something that starts something, like an idea that sparks other cities to do the same.”

“I’m incredibly proud these keys were designed and crafted by local Long Beach artists and designers,” said Garcia, as quoted in the initial press release. “It was important to me that the keys reflect the creativity of our city and that each key was special enough to reflect the amazing people receiving them.”

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.