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Goodby Silverstein Loses Piece of its Creative Soul

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners suffered a blow to its creative soul with the passing of Claude Shade, who died after a short-lived battle with cancer last night at the age of 62.

Mr. Shade, who joined the agency nearly 20 years ago in 1997, was a polymathic figure whose talents couldn’t be squeezed into a traditional title. He toggled between the role of photographer, art director and daredevil — known for taking all kinds of creative risks. 

“We always had a hard time giving him a title because he was a five-tool artist,” said Goodby Silverstein Co-Founder Jeff Goodby. “He knew all about the history of art, but at same time was a self-taught digital guy, self-taught photographer and great designer and a creative spirit. I gave him a title ‘The Coyote,’ taken from the Navajo folklore. It’s a character who was always trying things and getting in trouble. That nickname was on his business card. He represented a willingness to try things and overstep his abilities and see if he could do it, learn fast and try to make it happen. He never said no to anything. When he passed, there were 11,647 jobs still open that he had been working on.”

Among his many pursuits, Mr. Shade was the shop’s resident photographer. His images over the years have adorned campaigns for Adobe, Sprint, Doritos, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. His photographs frequently graced the pages of Creativity and Ad Age, and even when he was shooting portraits of his colleagues, he was known for imparting those with a seductive, sometimes otherworldly flair, such as this 2009 Creativity cover featuring former producer Maggie O’Brien.

And, living up to his “coyote” nickname, he was no stranger to trouble, either. Most recently, he’d been known to forget locking up the agency’s media room, where all the photo equipment was stored. “The room became like a nightclub for local Bay Area burglars,” Mr. Goodby laughed.

Before joining the agency, Mr. Shade had been a creative director on Kodak at Ogilvy in Rochester, N.Y., according to the resume he had presented to Mr. Goodby and fellow founder Rich Silverstein years ago, along with a portfolio that was “unusual, breathtaking, inventive, with a use of gorgeous, sophisticated photography that was all his own. We knew it was crazy, but we just had to have him here,” recalled Mr. Goodby in a note to staff today. Before that, Mr. Shade served in the U.S. Army, after growing up on a German military base.

Barton F. Graf Founder Gerry Graf, who had been a creative director at the agency from 1997-2000, remembers Mr. Shade as “the heart of GSP. I can’t even tell you what his job was. He was a photographer, we worked as a team on Nike for a bit. He’s one of those talented guys who is never spoken about.” On Facebook he also wrote, “When I found out my good friend Claude had passed away I started to cry. But then I heard his voice yelling ‘Boom! Gerry, Boom!’ and I smiled. He used to yell that at me when I saw him … An incredible artist. I love you and will miss you buddy. Boom!”

Mad Dogs & Englishman Partner/Co-Exec Creative Director Jon Soto, who worked at the agency previously as associate creative director and senior art director, said, “Claude was a walking talking anthem for being comfortable in one’s own skin. He made everyone around him happier, smarter, more inquisitive and just better. And the best thing about it was, you didn’t even know it was happening. You were just along for this great ride and when you got off, there was always something beautiful you’d made together… just sitting there. When I don’t grow up, I want to be Claude Shade.”

Former Goodby Silverstein Partner-exec creative director Christian Haas recalled, “You could always hear when Claude was in the building. I mean, really hear it. His contagious laughter climbed all floors of GSP’s building the moment he walked through the door. It didn’t matter how focused you were, how stressed, his laughter was the yawning of happiness. He was always positive, always excited, always game, not to mention ridiculously talented. He made us better, prettier, happier and stronger. In a weird way, Claude was more GSP than Jeff, Rich and all of us combined. He’ll forever be in the building and in our hearts.”

“There are very few people, that if they were gone from the agency, I would say we lost something spiritual,” said Mr. Goodby. “With Claude, we lost something spiritual, an artistic readiness. He was always ready to try things, always ready to go. [His way] was very experimental, very much like new music, like the early days of punk. Our company is a little bit more like everybody else today.”

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