Mary Mashburn ’83 and her husband, Steve St. Angelo, operate a two-person letterpress paper goods shop in Baltimore, Md. They launched their shop four years ago after they purchased their first press. “Steve and I had taken a letterpress printing class at the Center for Book Arts in New York, and after that I really wanted my own press,” Mary says. “My press obsession got a little out of hand.” They now have four Vandercook presses (made by a company that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), two hand-fed platen (flat surface) presses, an automated platen press, an automated cylinder press and a number of table-top presses, including two tiny ones from the turn of the 19th century.
Q. How and why did you choose the letterpress business?
A. It’s funny how several threads of my various careers are really woven together with this venture. I’m a sucker for things printed on paper — my first career and first love was journalism, and part of its allure was the excitement of holding what you’d created in your hands. And I’ve always been intrigued by the history of printing, probably because my journalism career started just as the old-school printers and compositors were being forced out by computers. After I left journalism, I worked as a graphic designer, and that meant more time spent with printers, around presses, and a continuing love affair with words on paper. So this business lets me bring together my appreciation of history and craft with a love of words and design in a very physical way.
Q. What’s a typical day for you at work?
A. Part of what I love about this work is the diversity of the day. I might be designing a project on the computer, or hand-feeding a print job, or mixing ink, or sitting down with a client to select paper, or setting up wood type for a poster. It’s not routine, because the projects we work on are diverse, from printing menus and cards for a locavore restaurant whose chef loves letterpress to designing a “zombie woodland” wedding invitation. If it’s the weekend, I’m working with Steve, who holds down a full-time job in D.C. as an editor at U.S. News & World Report, to finish any projects that just have to be completed before a new week starts. And if it’s a Wednesday, I’m teaching a letterpress class at the Maryland Institute College of Art, because after all the advice and help I’ve been given by old-school printers, I feel like I should do my part to keep the craft alive in years to come.
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Q. What are the ingredients needed for success in business?
A. Of course, it helps to be deeply intrigued by what you do — even the parts that will inevitably make you want to scream. Printing is not an easy craft to learn to do well, so it helps to love the whole process, and to use that interest to keep improving. Beyond that, I think the key is to not lose sight of what matters — the people you work with and the work you produce. And it helps to thrive on deadlines and long hours.
Q. How did your experience at CC influence the path you’ve taken?
A. My introduction to letterpress came from [late CC Art Professor] Jim Trissel. I wrote a story about the CC letterpress. It was one of those fascinating interviews that just stuck in my head. He was so passionate about what he was doing, and the presses were exotic and lovely, and the work was gorgeous. But the lasting gifts I took away from CC were critical thinking skills, a strong need to learn new things, and an obsessive interest in understanding “why.” CC Professors Ruth and Tom K. Barton, Tim Fuller, Bob Loevy, Mike Bird, Andy Dunham, and Mark Stavig remain some of the most inspiring people I’ve known, because they imparted a deep joy of learning and a wealth of knowledge. They infused even the most esoteric subjects with a rich connection to how we live and think every day.
Q. If you hadn’t gone to CC, do you think you would have taken the same path?
A. My career choice was set the moment I opened my first copy of “Harriet the Spy” in sixth grade. I decided I was going to be a journalist and write about people. CC gave me the skills to excel on that path, but it also gave me the confidence and curiosity to try new paths and the flexibility to turn obstacles into the kernel of a new pursuit.
Learn more about Mary’s studio, Typecast Press.