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Leading the way

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

When we were coming up with the action-word titles for each chapter in our book, some words came to mind easily, while others were a challenge. Since we had to include three different feminists under each umbrella term, we had to think outside the box of each word’s literal meaning. “Lead,” though, was a no-brainer, and one of the first words that sprung to mind.

Dead Feminists broadsides by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The women we featured in that chapter were all natural leaders, both literally and figuratively. Harriet Tubman, of course, literally led people to freedom in the North. The four members of the Washington suffrage movement led the way to gaining women in their state the vote. And Shirley Chisholm was elected to lead her constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives—then led the way as the first woman candidate on a major-party Presidential ticket.

Women's suffrage picket line, c. 1912

So since today is Election Day in the U.S., Jessica and I have our minds occupied with the women who came before us, who forged the path that led us to where we are today. And we’ll be focusing on this topic in our talk today at the University of Puget Sound:

Pressing Matters: Election Day
Artist talk, book signing and pop-up shop
Today, November 8, at 4 pm, in room 020
Collins Memorial Library
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

1913 women's suffrage campaign program cover

First came the seemingly endless fight to win women the vote—

Women's suffrage illustration in 1909 Seattle Times newspaper

—not just nationally but also within their individual states. The amount of campaigning, organizing, writing, publishing, and picketing done by Emma Smith DeVoe and her colleagues was staggering, but their cumulative efforts built momentum that turned the campaign into an unstoppable train of force.

Historic political cartoon about western states leading the way for women's suffrage

Since women in Washington gained the vote in 1910, a full decade before women could vote in national elections, the suffrage movement saw our region as progressive leaders, trailblazing the path to political equality.

Shirley Chisholm election ephemera

More than sixty years later, Shirley Chisholm took the lead by running for President, which made her, in her own words, “literally and figuratively the dark horse.” Though she lost the 1972 Democratic primaries in the end, she fought hard to make the path a little easier for any women who came after her.

Women's suffrage campaigner in 1920

Today we stand on another historic threshold, where at long last, American women have the chance to vote for the first woman President—not just in the primaries, but in the main event. When we cast our ballots today, we’ll feel the presence of all the women who led the way.

Vintage women's suffrage and voting campaign buttons

A century’s worth of campaign buttons has got it right: your vote counts, especially if you are a woman. Please get out and vote today, and help us make history, not just write about it.

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Tell-tale feminists

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color has been out in the world for a few weeks, and most folks have been excited (beyond our immediate families). A common response has been one of surprise: “it’s a real book!” Dashing expectations of a coffee table book, Dead Feminists is more than 180 pages of the women, history and social issues entangled in our series of broadsides. Questions about the writing process have come up, from assumptions that we worked with a “real” writer, or that Jessica did the writing while I illustrated. While we definitely worked with talented editors at Sasquatch Books who steered the book towards “real” bookness, both of us did the research, writing and photo research over nearly two years. We also both contributed imagery in the form of illustrations—hand-lettered images from me and beautifully-printed vintage cuts and patterns from Jessica.

The Woman's Bible, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Many of our dearest Dead Feminists are writers, artists, or both– evidence that we all find a way to tell our stories. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who launched our series, wrote most of the speeches delivered by Susan B. Anthony. Some writers and their books are well known, like Gwendolyn Brooks and Rachel Carson—who both confronted ongoing challenging social and environmental issues—and their voices can guide us still. We have mere fragments of poetry from Sappho and carefully handwritten letters from Jane Mecom to her brother—they give us insights into their lives and eras when words from women weren’t often valued or recorded. In the chapter entitled Tell, we focused especially on women who had stories to share, like Virginia Woolf, who carefully crafted and composed both the pages and handset type for printing. Knowing the time and care involved, there is little doubt in my mind that the act of being writer and printer sharpens both crafts.

Historic image of woman printing, from the Library of Congress

Without the discovery of Rywka Lipszyc’s diary found in the ashes of a Auschwitz crematorium she would have disappeared from history. Sarojini Naidu dreamed of independence for India through her poetry (“Waken, O slumber Mother and be crowned”) and was revered as a nightingale, filling the night air with song. We hope you’ll explore these stories more in depth through the book—and for local folks we have some opportunities in the next few weeks to join us in person.

Dead Feminists event at Ada's Technical books, part of Lit Crawl Seattle

Here’s what’s coming up this week and next, when you’ll find us invading first Seattle, then Portland. You can find future events and more info on our events page.

LIT CRAWL Seattle: Book signing and artist talk
Thursday, October 27, 2016, 8 pm
Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe
425 15th Ave. E, Seattle, WA

BROADS AND BROADSIDES
A retrospective  exhibition featuring our series through broadsides and steamroller prints
Reception, book signing & costume party
Come dressed as your favorite historical feminist!

Saturday, October 29, 4 to 7 pm (the show continues through December 16th)
October 29 through December 16, 2016
School of Visual Concepts
2300 7th Ave., Seattle,WA

DEAD FEMINISTS and RAD WOMEN: joint author event
with Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, authors of Rad Women Worldwide
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 7:30 pm
Powell’s Books on Hawthorne
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR

LIT CRAWL Portland: Book signing and artist talk
Friday, November 4, 2016, 8 pm
The Big Legrowlski
812 NW Couch St., Portland, OR

WORDSTOCK: Portland’s Book Festival
Chandler & Jessica appearing on an author panel
with Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First
and Laurie Notaro, author of Crossing the Horizon
moderated by Elly Blue of Microcosm Press
Book signing to follow
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 1:30 pm
The Old Church
1422 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, OR

BEACH BROADS(ides)
book signing and artist talk on the gorgeous Oregon coast!
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 6:30 pm
Beach Books
616 Broadway, Seaside, OR

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Song of Aloha

"Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

When we wrote and illustrated our new book, Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color, it was important both to us and the publisher that we fill the pages with new content, rather than simply rehash the story of our previous broadsides. So it came to us that one great way to do that would be to have a new broadside appear in the book and in the world simultaneously. One of the biggest challenges of doing this (other than having to print the broadside ahead of publication and then keep the secret for months) was choosing who to feature, considering the fact that we’d be introducing the broadside to a brand new and much larger audience. We wanted to feature a woman who touched the world, and who reflected the world we had become.

We live in a global society, with different cultures mingling—and at times clashing—with a regularity we now take for granted. It is easy to forget the imperialist origins of globalization, where Western cultures sought to dominate and even extinguish the societies they encountered. Colonization of the Indigenous world has had far-reaching effects on both people and the environment, the consequences of which we are only beginning to understand. And who better to understand the ripple effects of colonialism than the queen of a colonized nation?

“E onipai’a . . . i ka ‘imi na’auao.” (“Be steadfast in the seeking of knowledge.”)
— Queen Lili’uokalani

Queen Lili’uokalani was the last monarch—and only queen regnant—of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Raised by traditional Hawaiian custom and a resident of a post-colonial country, she was fluent in the ways of both Hawaiian and Western cultures. Her reign was sadly brief—thanks to powerful foreign interests who refused to share the nation they had claimed for their own. Yet she devoted much of her life to preserving traditional art forms and recording them for others to study. Hers was the middle road—the road of survival.

For Indigenous women like Queen Lili’uokalani, there is no going back to life before Euro-American contact. Yet Lili’uokalani led a life that included and celebrated both the culture of her birth and the one imposed upon her later in life. Her example of sharing both traditions with future generations helps us all create a path forward. We are especially thankful to Alison Milham, a Hawaiian book artist who has extensively researched the Queen and who helped us fine tune our message.

Process photo of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Jessica and I have our own paths to walk when it comes to creating each new broadside in our series. In my case, I’m always eager to explore different historical eras and design styles. And Jessica is constantly looking to push the envelope of what’s possible with letterpress printing—she loves to experiment with different techniques, like the split-fountain inking on our Nightsong broadside, or the crazy metallics of Focal Point, or the large floods and knocked-out shapes of Title Nine Iron. This time we wanted to create a tropical rainbow, but rather than printing every letter in ROYGBIV separately, we puzzled out how to create an illusion of a full-color design with translucent, overlapping colors, which Jessica would print in just four passes on press.

Process photo of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Jessica’s job was extra tricky, since the different plates had to line up perfectly to make the illusion work. But my end of the process was confusing, too: since I do the original drawing in black and separate the colors by hand, I had to keep checking and re-checking to make sure I didn’t assign some blob of color on the design to the wrong plate.

Process photo of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Generally speaking, we usually print our colors from lightest to darkest. So this time we started with a deep saffron yellow—the color of royalty in the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and one symbolic of Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign.

Process photo of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Then we overlaid a hot-hot pink on top of the yellow, one that stood in both for tropical flowers and the blazing color of the sun setting on Hawai’i’s Indigenous rulers. Wherever the pink overlapped the gold, the ink mixed to create a fiery orange.

Process photo of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Next came a pass of cerulean blue. This part might seem confusing, because you can’t actually see any blue in the finished piece (though you can see it on press on the photo of Jessica above), but it’s an essential ingredient of our color scheme. Wherever the blue overlaid yellow, we got green. Where it hit that hot pink, a royal purple resulted. And where it touched any orange areas that resulted from the previous pass, a russet brown appeared.

Finally, we were ready for our last color, a rich black (actually, Jessica ran that last pass twice—the double hit of black made the ink nice and opaque) that brought everything together into harmony:

Detail of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Our 24th broadside, Song of Aloha, depicts the lush flora and unique fauna of Hawai’i.  Plumeria and hibiscus bloom, while leaves and fronds stand in silhouette in homage to traditional Hawaiian quilt motifs. At the center of the design is Queen Lili’uokalani herself, wearing a sash in royal colors, her signature brooch, a necklace of shells (from the extinct species Carelia dolei) and a Kamehameha butterfly in her hair. As a symbol of the vanished Hawaiian monarchy, every bird pictured is an extinct Hawaiian species—including the greater koa finch, the Hawai’i mamo, the Lana’i hookbill, the Hawaiian crow, and several species of endemic honeycreeper that now only exist as museum specimens.

Detail of "Song of Aloha" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Oh, and hidden in the design are ‘Iolani Palace and a line of music from Lili’uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe.”

This piece marks the inauguration of the Dead Feminists Fund, to which a portion of our proceeds (and those of our new book!) will be donated. In honor of the power of women’s work, the Fund supports nonprofits that empower girls and women to create change in their own communities.

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Song of Aloha: No. 24 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 192 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Lili’uokalani (1838 – 1917) was the last monarch and only queen regnant of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Born into the royal family, she ascended the throne in 1891 via traditional election after the death of her brother. She reigned for less than two years, until Sanford B. Dole—backed by American business interests and the Marines—deposed her and dismantled the monarchy. Dole placed Lili’uokalani under house arrest and despite her formal letters of protest, Hawai’i was annexed by the United States in 1898 without due constitutional process.

Queen Lili’uokalani lived with one foot planted in each culture, embracing Victorian dress and Western mannerisms while working tirelessly to preserve traditional Hawaiian art forms. A prolific singer, musician and composer, her best known song was “Aloha ‘Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”), written in both Hawaiian and English.

Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, knowing that the spirit of aloha can honor what we’ve lost and save what remains.

Now available in the shop! Or for local folks, you’ll find it at Studio Tour this weekend!

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From print to page

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Earlier we shared some sneak peeks of the chapter spreads, but now that our book is out we can tell you a bit more about how the book is structured.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Of course, we go into detail about the process and stories behind each of our broadsides, including a “director’s cut” of each print.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The great thing about the book format, though, is the ability to expand beyond the short colophons we include on each broadside. So each chapter goes in-depth about the women we featured and the social issues we highlighted with each broadside. Each story is anchored with archival photos and vintage ephemera to paint a more complete picture of these 27 women and their lives.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

To tie everything together and reinforce our letterpress roots, the pages are peppered with vintage hand-set metal and wood cuts from Jessica’s incredible collection. Each one appears like an easter egg, linking our content to our process and bringing the past to life in the present.

Major thanks to our amazing editorial and marketing team at Sasquatch Books—every member of which is a fellow woman—for getting us to this point, and for continuing to support the Dead Feminists Fund through a portion of every book sale. And last but not least, thank you for supporting our series and our book. We hope that reading the book will be as rewarding for you as it was for us to write it.

See you tomorrow with more information about our 24th broadside!

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Get gussied up

Tuesday is the day! Our book will be released worldwide on October 11, and we’re celebrating with a costume party! This is where you can be the first to get your hands on the book—and extra worth the effort if you want to see Jessica and me wearing ridiculous wigs. We don’t want to be the only ones celebrating Halloween early, so come on down and join the party. We’ll have prizes for the best outfits, Dead Feminists cake and punch, and a printing press ready to make your own keepsake. We’d love to sign a book for you, too. If you’re looking for costume ideas, you might dress up as one of the ladies in our book…

dead_feminists_color_photos

…or you might choose another favorite historical heroine, or a beloved fictional character, or even an historic feminist dude! Anything goes, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with. Here’s the skinny on the event:

Official Book Release Costume Party
Tuesday, October 11, 7 pm
Hosted by King’s Books
218 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, WA
Event is free, all ages welcome; more info here
Come in costume, dressed as your favorite historical feminist!

Installing the Dead Feminists exhibition at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

In addition to finally sharing the book with you next week, we also wanted the chance to share some of our original artwork. So for the past two years we’ve been planning a big retrospective exhibit with the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR. Laura Russell, the owner and curator of the gallery, has been a major supporter of our series since the beginning—and this week it was no different, as she jumped right in and helped us install our artwork in her space!

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

The show features 10 original letterpress broadsides from our series, two mini-broadsides, original process materials, plus vintage ephemera from our book. This is the first time we’ve done a show like this, and 23Sandy is the only place you’ll still find some of our older, out-of-print broadsides available for sale.

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

The exhibit also includes our 24th and newest broadside, but since she comes out on October 11, alongside the book, we have her hidden under a black veil for now. But you can see her—and all the other artwork—unveiled at our reception and book signing later this month. Here are the details:

Make-Ready: Dead Feminists from Print to Page
A Dead Feminists retrospective exhibit
on display through October 29

Reception & book signing Saturday, October 22
4 to 6 pm, free!
23Sandy Gallery
623 NE 23rd Ave, Portland, OR

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

If you can’t make it to Portland, you can also learn more about the exhibit and view an online catalog on the 23Sandy website.

Make-Ready is just one of many different exhibits in the works this fall—we’ve got the Dead Feminists coming to galleries around the country for both solo and group shows. We’ll be sharing more info here on the blog soon, but as always, you can find all our events, shows, book signings and talks listed on the events page.

See you Tuesday—in costume!

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In living color

Process photos of new Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Our book is not the only thing coming out on October 11—we’ll also be releasing our 24th broadside. We can’t spill the coffee beans yet, but here’s a step-by-step glimpse of the process. As you can see, there were a lot of steps involved, from detailed illustration to some tricky acrobatics on press. We think the finished product will be well worth the wait!

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Time and type wait for no one

Jessica Spring setting type at the Thorniley Collection. Photo by Chandler O'Leary.

I shot this photo of Jessica typesetting at the Thorniley Collection of Type last year, where she and I were asked to help inventory and appraise the collection (a dream-job moment that I promise to tell you about sometime!).

And then today I came across this short documentary, about the very last edition of the New York Times that was printed from linotype. The year was 1978, and the newspaper was mothballing all its hot-type equipment in order to adopt the brand new, cutting-edge, cold-type technology of phototypesetting. (Phototypesetting was in turn mothballed about 15 years later, when desktop publishing—design software, computer fonts, etc.—hit the mainstream.) If you’re at all interested in printing and have a half hour, I highly recommend the film, as it’s fascinating.

I loved seeing my professional ancestors at work in the film, but I had to laugh, because it struck me that my own career has been a bit, well, backwards.

I got my BFA in the early aughts; much of my design coursework focused on current print technology: design software, digital typography, etc. (Though of course, I was ornery and insisted on including hand-lettering, which was deeply unpopular at the time, in almost everything I did.)

My first industry job, however, was a throwback: I was a production designer doing paste-up at an offset printer that still did phototypesetting. This wasn’t all that long ago: by then that technology was a total dinosaur. At the time they were one of the last presses in the whole country still relying on those processes. The video above demonstrates the paste-up process, but basically the job description is what it sounds like. We took little bits of printed text and photos and, using razor blades and hot wax, pasted them onto a collaged layout that was then photographed and turned into a printing plate. I got to spend my days in a quiet room lit only by light tables, with three other girls who were as introverted as I. I can still smell the wax whenever I think of it—I loved that job, and I loved that smell.

A year or so later I got a job as a graphic designer at a firm, so I guess in that sense I went “forward” in time. But that same month I also got into letterpress printing—proof that my personal tastes were still decidedly cattywampus. I basically did what the printers at the New York Times did in reverse order, trading my cold-type skills in for hand-set hot metal.

And now, while I still keep a finger in both the letterpress (thanks to my collaboration with Jessica) and digital pies, overall I’ve kind of moved backwards in time again. Now I mostly spend my days with the really old-school equipment of paintbrushes and pencils.

And that’s just fine with me. Who says progress has to go only in one direction?

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Age Before Beauty

"Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

When it came time for us to find our next Dead Feminist, our thoughts turned to our own mirrors. Like every woman in our pop-culture-driven world, Jessica and I are bombarded with imagery and messages that urge us to scrutinize and criticize our own appearance. Unsurprisingly, we are taught to find ourselves lacking in one way or many, and to compare ourselves with an impossible ideal.

We were a little surprised to find courage and consolation in Ancient Greece, where they were all about the impossible ideal. Yet if you sift through the lofty architectural theory, stylized scenes and tales of the immortals, you’ll find a honey-tongued poet who speaks the plain truth: Sappho.

To be human is to grow old.

Detail of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Our 23rd broadside, Age Before Beauty, reaches further back in time than we ever have before—to the 6th century BCE. As you can clearly see, the illustration is styled after the designs and motifs of ancient Greek pottery, right down to the amphora handles.

Detail of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Yet even though she lived and worked thousands of years ago, Sappho’s words ring true as if they were written yesterday. We especially loved her self-reflection in the poem we chose, and the way she managed to view her aging body with kindness. It brought to mind, for me, an image of dual goddesses who are really two faces of the same woman—like the Maiden and Crone archetypes so common in other pre-Christian cultures.

Like the art of ancient Greece, the illustration is chock full of allegorical imagery. For instance, young Sappho carries Aphrodite’s mirror, while Athena’s wise owl looks over her aged self. Both figures play a seven-stringed lyre: Sappho was a lyrical poet, which means her poetry was designed to be performed to music. (Incidentally, some scholars also credit Sappho with the invention of the plectrum, a tool similar to a guitar pick that was used to pluck the lyre’s strings.) Finally, the band of dancing deer at the base references Josephine Balmer’s recent translation of Sappho’s Old Age Poem.

Process photo of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Compared to our previous broadsides, the composition and color scheme of this piece are fairly simple. The printing, on the other hand, was not. All those curves made it hard to line up the plates, and we had huge floods of color paired with delicate lines and text. To help her with the ink coverage and add just a tiny bit more pop to the color, Jessica ran the vase shape in a run of subtle cream first.

Process photo of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The cream pass helped with the super-tricky registration of the black and terracotta, as well.

All that fiddly and difficult technical stuff made the finished product that much sweeter. We’re pleased as punch about the results—we hope you will be, too.

Detail of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

To help all women and girls see themselves in a more positive light, we are donating a portion of our proceeds to About Face. Founded in 1995, About Face works to improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and body image by helping them understand and resist harmful media messages.

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Age Before Beauty: No. 23 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 158 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Sappho (c. 630 – 570 BCE) is the only woman counted among the Nine Lyric Poets revered in ancient Greek culture. Plato called her “the tenth muse,” but all that remains of her work is a handful of fragments. This quote is an excerpt from Fragment 58, a mysterious Old Age Poem that can be read either as a lament or a celebration of mortality. Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, in hopes that all women might see themselves both with Aphrodite’s gaze and Athena’s wisdom.

Now available in our Dead Feminists web shop!

Detail of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

 

 

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Through the looking glass

Process photo of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

It’s that time again—we’re inking and printing up a storm right now, because we’re just about ready to introduce you to our newest Dead Feminist!

Process photo of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

We hope you’ll like her as much as we do—after getting to know her history, we feel like she’s become something of a deer friend.

(Sorry, I can never resist a terrible pun.)

Process photo of "Age Before Beauty" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

She’s already made her first (and second, and third) impression with us, and oh so soon she’ll do the same for you. Stay tuned!

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Monkey business

Monkeyshines medallions illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

Well, now that it’s been a whole year since I first showed you these, and the secret no longer needs keeping, I can tell you about what I did today. Today is the start of the lunar new year, and here in Tacoma we have a tradition that proves how wonderful this town is, year after year. The tradition is called “Monkeyshines,” a public treasure hunt through the city that falls on (or around) the first day of Chinese new year each year. The name comes from the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese zodiac cycle, exactly twelve years ago, when an anonymous artist going by the name “Ms. Monkey” created a few hundred colorful hand-blown glass floats, each one stamped with a monkey design, and hid them all over the city. Anyone who found one could take it home with them, and since only Ms. Monkey’s inner circle knew about it, it came as a complete surprise to those lucky few who found treasure that year. Over the years the tradition has grown and the secret has spread like wildfire, with more and more beautiful pieces of glass art being hidden around Tacoma with each cycle of the zodiac. Since the only rule is “take only one,” many people have taken to rehiding the ones they find, or contributing their own handmade treasures to the hunt. Not that it’s easy to find multiple Monkeyshines—or even one! Even now that there are thousands of treasures hidden each year, it’s still like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I’d never been lucky myself, coming up empty-handed year after year.

2015, the Year of the Ram, completed the 12-year zodiac cycle that started with that first treasure hunt. Ms. Monkey approached me (no, I won’t tell you who she is!) and asked if I would contribute some “Monkeyshines” of my own to the cause. I jumped at the chance: even though I’d never found a glass float myself, I loved the hunt, and by then I’d amassed a mental database of potential hidey-holes. By then I was more excited about the prospect of hiding treasure than of finding it. Besides, even though my work has been moving away from letterpress printing in recent years, it was fun to do a printing project again.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

So I whipped up a little medallion design, and hand-carved it in linoleum.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

Then I threw it onto my tiny tabletop press, and set to work.

Monkeyshines medallions illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

I printed close to 500 medallions (until I ran out of paper and the block started to break down!), and then hand-assembled them in the style of my other letterpress ornaments.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

And then came the fun part: hiding them all over Tacoma.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

Since there were so many medallions, and I had to go out of town over Chinese new year, I enlisted friends to help, and staggered my own distribution over several weeks. Together we managed to canvass almost the entire city map, hitting both well-traveled areas and less-visited neighborhoods.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

The hiding was, indeed, the best part. I loved walking inconspicuously at weird hours, my hands stuffed in my pockets and posing as a searcher, waiting until the coast was clear to pop another medallion into one of Tacoma’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes I’d hang around and wait nearby until someone came by and discovered what I’d left behind. It was a thrill every time.

Monkeyshines medallion illustrated and printed by Chandler O'Leary

I saved this pictured for last because it echoes this year’s odyssey, when my chance finally came. Fast forward to this morning, and it’s the Year of the Monkey all over again. Since it’s now become a tradition as ingrained as Christmas, there was no question that I’d resume the hunt. A friend came to pick me up at 4:30 am, and after a quick swig of coffee, we set out.

Monkeyshines photo by Chandler O'Leary

And in less than an hour, in my eighth year of searching, I finally found my first glass Monkeyshine! Just like the previous picture, it was in the mouth of a fish sculpture—this one in the middle of a fountain downtown. Luckily for me, there was only about an inch of water in the fountain, so all I had to do was climb in and step right up. And yes, if the fountain had been full of water, I would have gone in anyway, 35-degree weather be darned. I wouldn’t have been the only one—tales of people braving murky koi ponds and polar-plunging into the Bay have become the stuff of legend around here. For some things it’s worth getting soaked and dirty!

My friend is still searching for his Monkeyshine—we spent the rest of the morning hunting on his behalf, but even if he doesn’t find one this year, we made sure to pay it forward by hiding a few small monkey-themed treasures ourselves.

Monkeyshines photo by Chandler O'Leary

So now I’m back home, refreshed after a nap and a hot cuppa tea, admiring the Monkeyshine that’s serendipitously in my favorite color. SO many thanks to Ms. Monkey, all her fellow ‘Shiners, all the friends and friendly strangers I hunted with this morning, and my art-loving city. Thank you for making this happen year after year, for making my year so far, and for bringing us all together for a chance to play explorer in our own hometown. Gung hay fat choy!