Longtime Collaborators Dave and Dick On Their Most Personal Project to Date

Dave Brigolin had a little hesitation when he joined GM Design Center’s Brushes with Cancer program. 

A cancer survivor, Brigolin recognized all the good things he had during his journey and how fortunate his situation was compared to others going through their cancer experience. 

“I’m not happy about cancer – I can’t recommend it for the entertainment value – but I have family, friends and health insurance,” Brigolin said. “As much as I saw the program could help someone who felt trapped and had a need for expression, I didn’t feel much of a need for additional support. I had support.”

A colleague who understood Brigolin’s perspective still encouraged him to give Brushes with Cancer a try. Brigolin decided to apply and ended up with an opportunity to deepen his relationship with longtime collaborator – and former coworker – Dick Cruger

“With this show, our roles are reversed,” said Cruger, who is a retired GM Design Center employee. “He gave me two of his poems and I made those poems into artist books. I finally got to help take his art and turn it into something – it’s really been great. He’s helped me out so often with my projects, so this is my way to pay him back.”

For a partnership that requires a special kind of connection and vulnerability, Brigolin and Cruger ended up being a perfect match for artist and inspiration.

“I felt comfortable that he was just the right kind of nutcase that can put a spin on my story that I could recognize and appreciate,” Brigolin said.

The pairing wasn’t all by chance, however. Brigolin handpicked Cruger as his artist, even though Cruger hadn’t worked for GM Design Center in more than a decade.

“He has an interesting artist mindset,” Brigolin said. “An artist is someone who can look out at an empty space and see a void that needs to be filled. Dick can see those voids and want to create stuff. The idea of taking a minimal amount of stuff and making it visibly represent something is amazing – he’s a person who can do that.”

While Brigolin doesn’t consider himself an artist, he has a curious and creative spirit. In his free time, he writes poetry and spends time in his backyard workshop. At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak – and while he was recovering from treatment – Brigolin spent a significant amount of time in his workshop. He knew he had equipment and skills that could help, even from his own home.

“I was way too active to feel bad for myself,” he said. “I was doing stuff at work and had a 3-D printer in my workshop, so I was printing face shields. It was probably as hard as I’ve ever worked in my history with GM, but one of my highlights from my career.”

Knowing Brigolin’s unique creative drive, Cruger found a way to showcase that creativity for his Brushes with Cancer art piece. When the two connected, Brigolin shared a few of his favorite poems he had written over the years. One 30-year-old poem specifically moved Cruger.

“He has a poem called ‘Book’ about how a really old book has all the leather cracks and the paper crumbles and ink fades, so it’s almost a story about human life. It verges on the whole cancer journey – it’s very powerful.” 

Cruger’s challenge was to take Brigolin’s words and form an artist book that best represents the poem, as well as Brigolin’s cancer journey. To do so, he found the perfect object to illustrate the poem: a well-loved satchel from a Wayne State history professor.

“I think he used it his whole career. The leather is cracked, and for pages there are cardboard dividers inside the book. They’re all dog eared and torn up from a professor using it every day. I made the whole book out of that found object.”

Found objects are the center of Cruger’s artistry. Not many people can look at discarded items like tire treads and be inspired like Cruger can.

“I tend to be a bit of a hoarder in that I see junk and if it speaks to me, I bring it home and put it in a special place for the future. My wife is very kind to overlook my collecting. It’s not easy,” Cruger said.

Lucky for Cruger, that self-described ‘hoarder’ label has resulted in an infectious type of creativity and fun.

“I can’t recall the occasion, but Dick took a bunch of cardboard, pieces of paper and taped it all over himself,” Brigolin said. “He was walking all over the GM halls, flapping his cardboard arms. He’s an amazing, creative guy.”

According to both men, that kind of spirit is common at the GM Design Center. When Brigolin was out on disability leave, he reflected on his experience at GM and wrote a piece of gratitude he eventually shared with leadership, highlighting how his thread is woven within the GM community. For Brigolin, Brushes with Cancer is just one more reason to love being part of the GM Design Center. 

“I feel like part of that family,” he said. “There are great projects, tremendous opportunities and great management. I like to tell people that the only time that  I’ve had to work for a knucklehead was when I was self-employed. I can’t tell you every day is roses, but I have community and belonging on so many levels here. And I’m on the right side of the daisy roots.”

Brushes with Cancer is a program licensed by GM Design Center as an employee benefit. Twist Out Cancer is proud to partner with responsible employers to provide impactful programs. For more information about how to bring Brushes with Cancer or Twistshops to your community contact Jenna Benn Shersher.