The Man Behind The Wings
Author: Sarah Sherman
Published Date: 03/23/2022
In February of 1942, under the shadow of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which called for those of Japanese descent to be unconstitutionally incarcerated in internment camps across the Western United States. Over 120,000 people—about two-thirds of whom were documented American citizens—were put into such camps, including one just outside of Salt Lake City. The Central Utah Relocation Center, also known as Topaz, operated and incarcerated Japanese Americans for three and a half years.
Ted Nagata was 7, just old enough to remember everything, when his family was taken from their home in Berkeley, California, forced to sell all of their belongings within a week (of course it was impossible—they lost their home and business) and relocated to Topaz. Fortunately, his story did not end there. Now 86 years old, the long-time Salt Lake City resident has lived many lives: architectural designer, artist, historian, graphic designer, prisoner, proud grandfather, dad and husband. His extraordinary childhood was not the end of his story, but instead just the beginning.
Released from Topaz when he was 10, Nagata cultivated a passion for the arts as a child and eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Commercial Art—the early version of a degree in graphic design—from the University of Utah. From there, Nagata celebrated a successful career working with Salt Lake-based firm Bailey & Montague before launching his own business in 1962. It was then that Ray Kingston, Jack Smith and James Christopher—members of the architecture firm who drew the original plans for Snowbird—put him in touch with Ted Johnson and Nagata received his new company’s first client: Snowbird.
Nagata was given a simple but daunting task when Johnson asked him to create a logo for a new ski resort being built in Little Cottonwood Canyon. “The ‘bird’ idea could not be overlooked,” Nagata shares, discussing his inspiration for the ageless logo. “And somehow, transforming the wings of a bird into a dynamic shape seemed [to be] in the right direction. And, continuing the year-round theme of blue for winter and green for summer, appeared as a given.”
And thus, the Snowbird logo was born, making its way to appear on hats, stickers, signs, the Tram and even the manhole covers at the resort (look for them next time you’re walking the grounds). A symbol of comradery for those who call the mountain home and a badge of honor for those who have made the pilgrimage from afar—5 decades old, Snowbird’s logo is considered to be one of the most recognizable in the state. Now, over 50 years since it was first doodled by Nagata at his breakfast table with paper and pencil, it has remained largely unchanged.
Yet, Nagata’s vision for Snowbird didn’t end there. “I designed pretty much everything for Snowbird: the logo, ski folder, lift tickets, a giant poster of skiing at Snowbird, letterhead, lift signs, trail signs, logos for other stores, graphics for the interior of the building and the original graphics for the Tram,” Nagata remembers. “I am pleased that many of them are still being used today.”
It’s been 50 years since Snowbird first opened its doors and Nagata’s work can still be found across the mountain. It’s rare these days for a company to forego rebranding or an updated logo. But Nagata’s work, similar to the resort it was created for, has withstood time—remaining modern and relevant in a rapidly changing world.
As simple and timeless as the Snowbird logo is, the man behind it remains multifaceted. His resume boasts work for companies like Ken Garff, Alta, Salt Lake County and many more, yet his pride now lies in his work as a historian and community builder within the local Asian-American community. He paints incredible watercolors and volunteers with the Topaz Museum, a place built to educate and preserve the history of what was done there.
About The Author:
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Sarah Sherman has spent the last 7 years working across the ski industry to combine her passion for the outdoors, snow sports and storytelling. She currently works and skis at Snowbird as its Communications Manager.