When Brian Kappel, Penn State School of Visual Arts alumnus and owner of Space Monkey Designs, scheduled a late-summer trip to University Park, his intention was to tour the visual arts facilities with his daughter who is considering attending Penn State. But after a serendipitous phone call from the Starbucks marketing team, the visit also included installation of a mural in the newly opened, first floor Paterno Library Starbucks.
The flowing and soothing design of the 40-foot long “Moby Dick”- themed mural ornaments the space with a clever interpretation of the popular coffee chain’s nod to the Herman Melville classic.
Kappel’s work depicts the iconic Starbucks siren gazing at the sea where a scene from the book unfolds on the mural. It was created with laser-cut plywood layered and colored with a print of his design. The piece is anchored with “Moby Dick” opened and surrounded by one of the book’s quotes: “What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do!”
“The timing of the call from Starbucks made it feel like it was one of those moments in life that was too good to be true,” Kappel said. “Penn State has been incredible throughout the process and this has, in an unexpected way, reconnected me with my alma matter.”
Kappel graduated in 1998 with a bachelor of arts degree. He spent almost six years of his prolific career with Nike, honing his graphic design skills while continuing to develop as an artist, but he admits that his medium is hard to define.
“I’ve always been a tinkerer. I don’t have a specific style nor do I have a preferred medium,” Kappel said. “I had my nine-to-five at Nike, but I was always trying different things later at night and that developed into conceptual designs, which is how Space Monkey was formed.”
As the business evolved, he parted ways with Nike and for the last 15 years he has focused on designing various customized spaces, including VIP event space for ESPN, set design for the Dew Tour and the College Football Playoff suites. He was even commissioned to design a carrying case for the University of Miami football team’s “turnover chain,” an ostentatious necklace awarded by the team’s defensive coordinator to a player who created a turnover during the games of the 2017 season.
Kappel is in the midst of designing a cutaway set for ESPN’s “Monday Night Countdown,” and while the high-profile exposure is welcomed, he has coveted the opportunity to come back to Penn State.
“This really was an amazing project to be involved in and I’m honored and humbled to have a piece on campus,” Kappel said. “It’s kind of surreal, actually, and it’s given me a sense of accomplishment that’s different in a personal way.”
As for Kappel’s daughter, just like her dad Penn State is at the top of her list.