Letterpress That Changes the World

With tidings of good cheer and peace on earth to all men in full swing, we thought it’d be fitting to celebrate the holiday season with a tribute to the remarkable letterpress pieces of truly talented & dedicated printers giving back to their communities. We gathered some of letterpress’s finest for this installment of our  roundtable series. Check out the uplifting responses this immensely talented group has to offer and find out how they’re changing the world, one card at a time. Be sure to tell us about your own charitable projects in the comments section below!

Kathryn Hunter – Blackbird Press

The notebooks: Madeline Ellis of Mimosa by m.e., a local jewelry maker, in town (Baton Rouge, LA) and I started a conversation about collaborating on a project together. So after conversations we decided to do something focusing on our US states, a handmade notebook and necklace. We started right before Hurricane Sandy, but we also knew from living in many hurricane seasons in Louisiana (and felt the impact) that the “state” sets had potential to help with relief whenever the people of a state are affected by some sort of hardship. We started with the states Louisiana and New York (because I was going to exhibit at an Indie craft market in Rochester). As soon as Hurricane Sandy made landfall we agreed to make a New Jersey set as well. At that point when the New York & New Jersey sets were ready to sell we decided to give 50% of the sales to Hurricane Sandy relief. So far we’ve donated to the Red Cross and to the Humane Society to help with recovery (we are both big animal lovers too).

The community reaction so far has been good. Most people are amazed that we are giving anything to charity which is so strange to me. But I think it makes people feel good when they spend money on things that help in some way.

We’ve also had a month long sale in the past to help Tsunami relief in Japan, where we gave 50% of sales. We’ve also given a percentage to the Natures Conservatory or other groups that help restore the Louisiana coast from the sale of our last three limited edition calendars.

Basically, it’s my intention to always give back. And letterpress is such an amazing way to do that. With the history of manifestos to Constitutions, letterpress printing has spread the word of progress and restoration. Honestly, I haven’t had the time to do more projects like this (hustling to keep this small business growing keeps me busier than ever) but we try wherever we can. I’m excited about the “state” notebook/necklace sets because I think they will be able to help when places need it.

Jennifer Parsons – Tiny Pine Press

I got involved with the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2008 when I designed their first Gala invitation. I had worked with Mariska Hargitay (founder and president) in the past on her custom stationery orders, so they reached out to me to see if I would be involved. It was a very simple invitation which was printed digitally because of the quantity and scope, but I was honored to help such an amazing group get the annual fundraising started. It was obvious from the get go that the Tiny Pine Press aesthetic really meshed perfectly with JHF. I quickly became friends with everyone who worked at the foundation. I went to the first Gala and was incredibly touched by their message and vision for helping heal, educate, and empower.

Jen Parsons Joyful Heart

Joyful Heart particularly spoke to me and my own personal healing as a survivor of abuse. One of the things that JHF focuses on in its programming is art therapy: working with your hands to express yourself. They put a lot of emphasis on the healing effects of being creative and putting things on paper. Journalling and collage help the mind relax and in a way focus on self healing. When I learned about this, I realized that printing and graphic design does this for me. Once I am focused on the press, I am able to feel free–which is the ultimate goal.

As I got more and more involved with Joyful Heart, I noticed they focused very much on gratitude. And what way to express gratitude but through the old fashioned mail. So as a gift for the 3rd annual gala, I designed the gratitude cards (it’s my handwriting!) and printed them up on my Chandler & Price 10×15 press. Loving every one. Then I glued rhinestones, as a nod to the sparkle of life in each of us and the element of fun and silliness. After the response from the gala, I decided to produce them in bulk and donate all of the proceeds to Joyful Heart. It was the least I could do after they helped me so much in my healing.

In life it is important that even though things are tough and overwhelming sometimes, we have to keep breathing. This is another message that Joyful Heart has given me that I wanted to give to everyone else. So a couple of years later, I decided to create the “inhale peace, exhale joy” cards, and we put them on Etsy with all the proceeds benefiting the foundation as well.

Overall, the response to the Joyful Heart cards has been great. Sometimes people buy them for themselves and some give them as gifts. Either way, I am happiest when lots are selling so I can keep making more. It makes me feel really great to give back in a way that comes easy to me.

Another special project that I’ve worked on was creating one-of-a-kind pieces for a Japanese letterpress project to benefit orphans of the tsunami n Japan last year called Letterpress of Pray by Bluemoon Letterpress. For this one, I was in a stamp store and so inspired by beautiful vintage Japanese postage stamps that I created a letterpress piece around that. I wrote in my handwriting my prayer for the japanese orphans, and I put a Japanese stamp and an American vintage stamp in “to:” and “from:” boxes. I made twenty of these and shipped them off to Japan with hopes that someone would value this little piece of art enough to help a worthy cause.

Maggie Cambell – Campbell Raw Press

I’ve wanted to build giving back into our business for at least the last year. When I heard Harold talk about the way Boxcar & Smock have made this into part of their business, I felt like I had found a model and wanted to do the same, sooner rather than later. I think making beautiful stationery is as noble as any other pursuit you love, but I also wanted to give something to folks who were doing the hard work in the world, making life better for whoever they could.

Maggie Campbell Autograph

There are a couple of areas that appealed to me right off the bat. I knew I wanted to do something with women and children who needed more than they had or were in bad situations. I found Safe Horizon through Charity Navigator and we support them now with 5% of the sales from our Autograph Cards. They assist victims of domestic violence and child abuse and have offices in many of the NYC courthouses, so they’re very present and accessible.

Maggie Cambell Over Through Woods
Maggie Campbell Joy

We also had a dear friend from high school, Josh Casteel, who died this past August of stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer almost certainly because of his military service in Afghanistan, tending burn pits, after he became a conscientious objector. 5% of the sales from our new holiday cards (Over the River & Joy to the World) go to Iraq Veterans Against the War in his honor.

Maggie Campbell Calendar

Finally this year, my mother in-law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, which has been a pretty terrible way to put all of our priorities front and center. $15 from the sale of each 2013 cyanotype + letterpress calendar and $5 from the sale of each Book of Days perpetual calendar go to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, which funds research to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s.

We’ve gotten incredible feedback about all of these donation initiatives. My mother in-law is extremely proud of our contribution to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and that organization actually interviewed me recently and will feature our calendars in their upcoming newsletter! Also, customers who come up to my table at craft fairs and who buy my cards online are excited to find out that they’re doing a little something extra good with their purchase. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m excited to write some substantial checks to all 3 of these organizations at the end of this year!

 Shauna Rue – Purple Ink Press

Shauna Rue Purple Ink Press

I had the Boston card available for sale in my etsy shop, so when I heard about Owen Carrignan, I knew the card was a perfect fit. Owen was a 6-year-old boy from my town who passed away from complications related to a sudden E. coli infection. The Owen E. Carrignan Sports Scholarship Fund was established to keep alive his love & spirit, and to celebrate his love of Boston sports; 100% of the proceeds from the Boston card are donated to the fund in his memory. To hear that a young boy died so suddenly was heartbreaking, but I was shocked to learn that he was actually my cousin’s wife’s nephew–although I had never met him.  Selling a card in his honor was the very least I could do.

Shauna Rue

The card has been very popular, despite only being available on Etsy.  I look forward to selling it at next year’s fundraisers, which will certainly generate more sales.

In terms of other projects: just last week I sold an assortment of letterpress cards at Kai’s Holiday Village, a fundraiser that was held in memory of a local 2-year-old boy who recently lost his battle with an inoperable brain tumor. 100% of the sales went to support Kai’s Village, a newly founded, (truly!) grassroots group that provides support to families affected by a serious illness.  Kai’s mother, Kerri, expressed an interest in creating a line of stationery that can help support some of the organizations that were invaluable to her son during his fight, so I look forward to making that a reality for her in 2013.

Additionally, I will be adding a donations section to my wedding suite offerings (sometime in early 2013): when couples give a designated amount to a registered charity, I will print coordinating reception cards, coasters, etc. for free.

I love what I do.  And when I can help others in the process, it makes my amazing job even better.  Sometimes I feel like one card sale isn’t going to help much, but then I remind myself that following is worth remembering: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margret Mead)

Tess Darrow & Kara Yanagawa – Egg Press

We have donated to organizations large and small, all to organizations that we believe in. We teach an elective class on letterpress and screen-printing to one of our local schools, the Metropolitan Learning Center. The class had fun learning about business, technique, and art while having fun with hands-on training and talks of the printing industry. Cards sold at a sale in March, 2012 went to benefit the MLC.

Egg Press Mercy Corps
We have proudly printed pieces for American Foundation for Equal Rights, Tie The Knot, Mercy Corps, Operation Hope and Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. Last December, Egg Press was able to donate their time and printing expertise while partnering with Mercy Corps on their holiday card. A piece that supported the Mercy Corps vision of worldwide education, providing communities with emergency response, conflict management, micro lending, and more.

Egg Press Breast Cancer

In addition we have donated countless gift baskets for fundraisers to benefit public schools and local organizations. Last year, Tess designed a “good luck with your boobs” card to send to friends with upcoming mammograms or those dealing with breast cancer. A percentage of each card sold is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Tia Blassingame – Primrose Press

Tia Blassingame Blues Print

I approached musician and composer Dave Eggar of Deoro, whom I had met during an artist residency at MacDowell Colony, about collaborating on a project. I really wanted to work on a piece about blues music, which I adore and constantly have playing in the studio. He was amenable to such a piece. He was on tour and I was in graduate school at the time, so we tried to conceive of a collaboration that would work despite our schedules and distance. I felt it would be interesting for people to hear a musician verbalize the significance of blues music, particularly a musician that is not specifically a blues musician.  The idea that this music would affect musicians across genre seemed intriguing to me. I particularly liked this idea of an artist expressing themselves in a manner outside their discipline. In this case, we have a musician writing a poetic piece about blues music.

From its inception, Primrose Press has had a charitable aspect to it. A portion of all sales are donated. Over the years, Primrose has donated to local organizations like the Connecticut Food Bank, as well as international charities like HelpAge. Dave and I talked about donating the sales proceeds to a music-related non-profit organization. He provided invaluable input regarding organizations that were not only reputable, but whose mission we might wish to support. The Blues Foundation with their Hart Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) just seemed like the perfect organization for the project. As a lover of blues music, it always bothered me that those talented blues men and women are too often forgotten as they age. In the scheme of things and in relation to the joy that their music has given me, it is a tiny thing to print these cards and donate the proceeds.

This piece [, the Blues Letterpress Note Card,] involved an extended print day of playing around with metal typefaces, ink, and sending probably too many photos and text messages to my collaborator. The text that Dave wrote was so beautiful. I always enjoy setting type for poetry. Usually it is my own poems that I am setting, editing, and obsessively re-editing, so it was a pleasure to pick a subtle typeface and set his writing.

I mixed up a blue ink, printed a background layer, and then realized that I wanted to build up the background with multiple colors before printing the text. Knowing that I had a limited time on the press, but not wanting to short change the piece. I figured the best way to do this without losing time cleaning the press, and re-inking was to add and mix colors on the press. Obvious for most seasoned printers, but at that time I was a bit of a purist wanting a clean press between color changes. So the piece started from one blue, and then builds into several that are all within the same family with just the addition of blues and blacks. During the print run as I was texting photos of lock-ups and pieces in the drying rack, Dave announced that he had just been nominated for the Grammy. So after my “Shut up!” text had been sent to him, I nervously locked up the final layer of the piece: his text.

People have reacted amazingly to the piece. It was a limited edition piece, and is almost sold out. I printed some additional small postcard size prints on variety of blue-colored Crane’s papers, and those are still available at the Print Center in Philadelphia.

I recently discovered Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. This is an organization run by two woman in D.C. that helps publicize the plight of missing African American children and adults. Basically, they give a voice to invisible people whose stories are not featured in the media. A percentage of purchases made during the month of December from Primrose Press’ Etsy shop is donated to Black & Missing. I look forward to offering additional collaborative limited edition prints that will benefit ailing musicians.

Tia Blassingame Al Mutanabbi

Other charitable projects: [I am a part of] the Al-Mutanabbi project. It has several parts, and the first was letterpress broadsides. The current one features artists’ books. It involves letterpress printers/bookmakers from across the globe. I created a print (handset letterpress & etching) for the broadside portion; and am finishing up my artists’ book (letterpress). The project was inspired by the bombing of the bookselling street in Baghdad. The broadsides have been exhibited internationally, and soon the artists’ books will be, too. The artists’ books will also become part of the permanent collection at the National Library of Bagdad.

Jennifer Larkin – The Paper Peony

Jen Larkin

I’ve been designing and printing wedding stationery and invitations since 2002.  In 2006 I began taking letterpress classes in the evening at Columbia College here in Chicago.  I, like many, became smitten.  I enjoyed the time intensive task of pulling each card, by color, off the Vandercook. Inspecting every lovely unique print. For over a year I rented time through the college printing custom cards and stationery. In 2007 I opened The Paper Peony on Etsy.

Excitingly in late 2007, with the help of Briar Press, I acquired a sturdy well kept Chandler & Price Pilot press from Milwaukee. For $1,000 I considered it a gift, and luckily my supportive husband Shaun agreed.  It came with ink, cotton paper, 2 drawers of metal type, tympan and more…we were able to carry the 250 pound press to the basement to the sweet little studio my husband built for me. In 2009 we began searching for a larger press. By October ‘Gretchen’ was delivered in the rain to our garage from KY at 7am.  An 1,100 pound Vandercook #4 that needed tons of care.

A few years later I released the lettersass™ card line including sassy sayings, petit cards and simplicity with rounded corners and stripes.  The cards bring some humor to life milestones like marriage, having a baby, birthdays, graduations and more.

In 2011, I found out my lovely college roommate Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no risk factors, she did everything right. Her cancer had been forming for a while, and was only going to get worse. It was an easy and an instant decision to create a lettersass card that would spotlight breast cancer.  Most importantly, because I could donate a part of the profits to help find a cure. I’ve had amazing feedback locally – especially from sisters of cancer survivors and the ones still fighting. One of the things Jenny most wants women to know is how ESSENTIAL it is to have mammograms, as SOON as possible. Her cancer would never have been felt. A mammogram is the only way she would ever have found out.

If you’ve got photos online of your letterpress work that is for a great cause and you’d like to share them, please include a link in your comment!

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