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Tournament of Roses logo's controversy

Art Center alumnus David Bartholomew says he created the stylized rose while a student in 1977, but he's not the credited designer. His legal appeals have failed.

December 29, 2011|By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times
  • Detail of Dave Bartholomew's 1977 original rose drawing that he drew for the Art Center College of Design homework assignment.
Detail of Dave Bartholomew's 1977 original rose drawing that he drew… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Competition is at the heart of the annual Tournament of Roses, with millions tuned in to see which parade floats will be judged the best, and which team will win the Rose Bowl.

Unknown to the viewing public, a strange competition took place behind the scenes from 2007 until mid-October, over who designed the Tournament logo that has been in use for 29 years to symbolize, promote and adorn the parade and the football game.

Emblazoned as a trademark on all manner of merchandise, the stylized rose helps the nonprofit tournament earn more than $1 million a year in licensing fees. With federal courts in Santa Ana and San Francisco as a battleground, David Bartholomew tried to prove that he deserved payment as the logo's true designer, claiming he drew it in 1977 for a class assignment at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design.

Bartholomew contended that Susan Karasic, the officially acknowledged designer credited with having created the logo at the same school in 1981, must have taken it from drawings that he and a now-dead professor turned over to tournament officials during the spring of his senior year. But he never got to submit a single piece of evidence. Trying to represent himself because he couldn't afford a lawyer, the career advertising designer and stained-glass artist attempted two suits in U.S. District Court, only to have both dismissed on procedural grounds. His two appeals likewise failed.

By the time Bartholomew brought his initial case in 2007, his career, which had included high-profile stained-glass projects at the Disney resort in Orlando, Fla., and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, had been on the shoals for years after a late-1990s divorce.

Had it gone forward to a trial, Bartholomew and Karasic, a Los Angeles-based freelance Web designer, both could have mustered trenchant evidence. Hers would have been much more plentiful.

Karasic's former professor and a platoon of Art Center alumni from her senior design class would have testified about a required project the students undertook in the fall term of 1981: vying against one another in a competition to create a logo for the Tournament of Roses. The process took several weeks, with students examining and critiquing one anothers' efforts along the way.

"She developed the whole thing right in front of us," said classmate Vince Peterson, who is echoed by several other former students interviewed by The Times. "I saw the evolution, putting it together and fine-tuning it. Susie is a very strong designer. There's no reason in the world why she would need to plagiarize. I think [Bartholomew] is confused."

Bill Flinn, interim executive director of the Tournament of Roses, said he was part of the logo selection team and "went back and forth with Susie" early in 1982 as she made requested adjustments to the preliminary design that had won the competition.

Karasic, who voices her outrage over Bartholomew's accusation quietly but firmly, could have shown jurors her large, black, cardboard-bound project portfolio, which documents how her winning concept evolved over dozens of sketches — from a realistic drawing of a long-stemmed rose, to the stylized image that became the logo. The breakthrough, she said, was deciding to enfold most of the flower in a circle, enabling it to work well on official stationery, on tiny souvenir lapel pins, or 10 yards wide on the Rose Bowl football field. Her prize was a pair of tickets to the 1983 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl. She took her mom.

But Bartholomew would have gone to court with serious ammunition of his own. His key eyewitness is Steve Lomas, with whom he shared a one-bedroom apartment in Glendale in 1977-78. Lomas says they used to do their Art Center course work in the living room they'd converted into a studio with back-to-back drafting tables.

"I definitely saw him working on that rose. I know for a fact that he designed that logo," said Lomas, a former Art Center film instructor who now does digital media design in Nashville. Lomas says he'd been out of touch with Bartholomew for at least 10 years until late 2009 or early 2010, when his old friend sent him an email. It contained about a dozen different, unidentified rose images that over the years had been connected with the tournament. Bartholomew asked Lomas whether any of them looked familiar.

"I said, 'No, just the one you did,' and I pointed it out," Lomas said. Another friend and Bartholomew's ex-wife said they remember him working on the rose design, but couldn't recall how it looked.

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