An adventure is what otherwise be called a hardship if it were attempted in a different spirt. Turning a difficult task or a perilous journey into an adventure is largely telling yourself the right story about it.
This is a story I need to write down, maybe more for me than anyone else. It’s a story of how I got started in letterpress, how I took one step at a time on a path that seemed to materialize out of thin air as I walked.
It’s a story filled with the kindness of strangers that turned into friends—of people that believed in me more than I did. Like every good story, there are twists and turns, heartbreaks and joys. At times, I thought this story was coming to an end, and yet, sometimes despite me, it just kept unfolding.
This is the tale I’m still living, still processing, still telling. Because more than anything, I think this story speaks of a big God who cares for His children, and delights to connect them others and give them purposeful work.
This is my adventure.
Over the next five days, I’ll be sharing it. Follow along if you like.
Things got off to a rosy start.
Just weeks after graduating college, I moved across the state line from Georgia to Alabama and started a job as an intern at a cookbook company. I had majored in magazine journalism in college and was ecstatic to land a coveted position at Southern Progress in Birmingham—the premier publishing house in the so-called New York of the South. I had visions of becoming a fancy writer, of climbing the ranks of the magazine masthead.
It wasn’t long before the dream of wearing high heels and working in an exciting fast-paced publishing house was soon replaced with the humdrum, less-glamorous realities of my first 9-to-5 desk job (and the realization that my feet do not agree with tight, pointy shoes).
There were many boring hours spent in quiet isolation, deleting commas here, adding dashes there. When I wasn’t behind the computer, I was relegated to the photo closet, to organize decades worth of old photos into three-ring binders.
I knew I was paying my dues, and I wanted to like the work, but I just didn’t. I was six-months into my “career,” and I was so uninspired. Crying over the pages of my journal, one morning I I wrote these words:
I just want the story of my life to be a good read.
Of course, it was too early to be so discouraged. My adult life was just beginning. How was I to know that ten years later, I’d look back at my journey through writing jobs, kitchens, and think of it as nothing short of completely riveting?
Many chapters of life have since ended, giving way to new ones. Each has not been better than the last, but different and interesting for its own reasons. This tale contains plot twists and unique characters, gaining complexity and richness over time. These years have not been perfect, but they been filled with every bit of the heartache, joy, and adventure after which I longed as a twenty-two year-old.
Just a few months after accepting an internship extension at the publishing house, I interviewed for and landed a job as the editor of a small women’s publication. The team was small, but the opportunity to do more writing and editing was great, and I leapt at it.
As the only member of the editorial staff, I researched, interviewed, and wrote dozens of personal profile articles all over town, getting to know my new place by its people. The demands of the job pushed me in so many ways—both creatively and socially.
Over a year into the position, I found my way into the living room of an artistic couple who owned a small letterpress. I’d never heard of the art, much less seen it produced in person, and I was immediately taken with the process. Using an antique machine, the couple taught me how to turn digitally-designed artwork into a printed piece.
I loved how the old mechanics and machinery had survived decades of use (and then neglect) and was being adapted for modern purposes. Our conversation sparked my interest and I started researching the history of printing on my own. It felt like I was gaining entrance into a subterranean world that I’d never known had existed.
Before long, I became familiar the older generations of printers and learned that while new things were happening with the art, the older generation held the keys to understanding the presses and processes.
When I learned that one of the South’s biggest names in letterpress was coming through Birmingham for a lecture and in-person workshop, I signed up without hesitation. The lecture happened to fall on my birthday in 2009, and I could have never guessed that by attending, I would be giving myself a life-altering gift.
Hatch Show Print is a historic shop in Nashville that now shares space with the Grand Ole Opry. In 1879, the Hatch family printed their first piece—a handbill announcing the arrival of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe). Since then, they’ve become a local (and national) staple for producing music and entertainment show posters. Their iconic colorful wood-type printing style has announced the acts of some of the biggest names around.
At the workshop, as the owner of the shop shared its history, he started pulling out some of the very wood blocks used to produce their work, and invited participants to use them to create original prints. I was amazed. Not only was I holding and using a wood carving that had been used to produce a Johnny Cash poster, I was being taught the rudiments of the letterpress process.
This in-person portion of the weekend took place at the studio of a local letterpress printer: Patrick Masterson. I’d never met him before, but when he graciously opened up his space for the workshop, I got to see his machines up close, and was in awe to see, hear, smell a full-production shop.
As soon as I got home from the workshop, I was on fire to keep learning. Interestingly enough, just one week later, something happened that afforded me just the opportunity I needed to do so.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of the story.