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Rereading the map

50 States pictorial map illustrated and hand-lettered by Chandler O'Leary
I finished this map before the airwaves were inundated with red and blue election maps—and today it’s a good reminder that America is more than its electoral divisions. That there is good in every state, and that there is so much to love and celebrate in every nook and cranny of our nation. This is why I started the 50 States project three years ago, and I’m taking the fact that I happened to finish the series right before the most divisive election in living memory as a sign that I need to remember this fact going forward. After all, the real work of our country involves all of us.
Those of you who read my travel blog know that I express my love for every state—blue, red, purple, whatever—through my drawings. I will continue to do so, to feature the beauty and wonder and hilarity and kooky humor of every state. That is what will get me through the fear and sadness and anger I’m feeling now—and I hope it will help you in some small measure, as well. So the break I took from blogging to focus on our book is over; Drawn the Road Again starts back up again tomorrow.
In the meantime, you can celebrate all 50 States with me tonight at the Ted Sanford Gallery at Charles Wright Academy in University Place, WA, where the entire series is on display through November 29. From 5:30 to 6:30 tonight I’ll have a gallery reception and small pop-up shop. Let’s talk about the good that’s out there—from Paul Bunyan to Elvis to the World’s Largest Frying Pan, and everything in between, from sea to shining sea.
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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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Today’s the day!

Readers with "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

People everywhere can finally read our book, because today is the official release date! You can find your copy wherever books are sold—you’ll find all the major retailers on our book page.

If you’re in the Seattle-Tacoma area, just a reminder that you can pick up your copy tonight (and see Jessica and me in costume) at our official release party at King’s Books!

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!

We’d also love to see you at Tacoma’s Studio Tours, happening this Saturday and Sunday. This is our biggest event of the year, where we join more than 50 Tacoma artists for a city-wide free event. We’ll be selling (and signing) copies of our book at the event, as well our new Dead Feminists broadside and a special new mini letterpress print. We’ll also have a host of new gifts and stationery for sale, plus free hands-on activities: print your own keepsakes at Jessica’s studio, and create a die-cut greeting card at my place. Sstamp your Studio Tour Passport at at least 8 stops on the tour, you can enter a drawing for a variety of artist-made prizes. Here’s the scoop:

Tacoma Studio Tours
This Saturday & Sunday, October 15 & 16
11 am to 5 pm, free!
Chandler is stop #9; Jessica is stop #15
More info and maps here

If you’ll excuse us, we have some costumes to get into… See you tonight!

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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…


…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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Book process photos for "Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Jessica and I were so immersed in the process behind our book for so long that it still feels weird that the final product is almost here. Yet here we are, just under a month away from our release date! We have a metric ton of events planned in the next few months, with more being added all the time. And since releasing a book is a bit different than releasing a broadside, we’re already getting lots of questions about how this is all going to work. Here are the ones we’re hearing the most so far:

Where should I buy my copy? Should I wait until the release date?

You can preorder the book now from your favorite bookseller. Large or small, brick-and-mortar or virtual, indie or corporate, they can all get our book into your hands, and we have links to the book on both large and indie retailers over on our book page. Here’s the thing, though: preordering your copy really does help. Preorders can help retailers foresee how popular a book is going to be—the more preorders there are, the more they’ll stock when the book comes out. And more stock raises the book’s ranking, making the title more visible and searchable on retailer websites. It helps spread the word for us and introduces our book to a wider audience. So if you’re so inclined, preordering now will help ensure we get a good head start.

Would you rather I buy it from you and Jessica directly?

Thank you for thinking of us, and wanting to support us directly! In the end, though, we’ve decided that we will only be selling the book ourselves at certain local, in-person events. Events where we will sell the book ourselves include:

Tacoma Studio Tours, October 15-16
• Our exhibit opening at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, October 29
• Our Portland Lit Crawl event, November 3
• Our artist talk at the University of Puget Sound Library, November 8
• Our library talks in University Place (December 14) and Lacey (December 15)
• And by request/appointment for Seattle/Tacoma-area folks (you can always contact us if you want to do this)

If you want your copy shipped somewhere, your best bet is to order from your favorite bookseller. And since many of our other events are being hosted by bookstores and galleries, those folks will handle sales at those events. Here’s where you can find an up-to-date list of all our events so far.

What if I want a signed copy? If I’m not local, can I still get one?

Absolutely! Our local bookstore, King’s Books, is offering signed copies, which you can preorder on their website. They can ship anywhere in the world—all you need to do is specify that you want a signed copy in the “order comments” box when you place your order. Also, please specify if you want your book simply signed, or if you want it personalized to a specific name.

I am local, and I want to celebrate! Are you having a book release party?

You betcha! We’re having our official release party at King’s Books in Tacoma, on Tuesday, October 11 at 7 pm. And it’s a costume party! Come dressed as your favorite dead feminist and celebrate with us.

I’m a retailer, and I want to carry your book in my store. Do I purchase copies from you?

Retailers can buy wholesale copies direct from Penguin Random House, who is distributing the book. You’ll need to set up a retail account with them first, but from there bulk orders are easy. To get started, call 800.733.3000 or email csorders [AT] penguinrandomhouse [DOT] com.

Since the book is coming out, does that mean the letterpress broadside series is ending?

Not at all. Actually, our 24th and newest broadside will appear both in person and in the book concurrently. So that means we’re keeping it under wraps until the book comes out, but we’ll have some sneak peeks to show you in the next few weeks. And if you’re local, you’ll be able to see the print in person at Studio Tour on October 15-16, or at our upcoming exhibits in Seattle and Portland.


A young writer at one of 826CHI, a writing center we supported with our Warning Signs broadside. Photo courtesy of 826CHI.

And that brings us to some other great news we wanted to share with you. As you might already know, previously when we have released letterpress broadsides, we have also made donations to nonprofits that align with the issues we highlight with each print. With the book and broadside #24 about to come out, we’re starting a new chapter by inaugurating the Dead Feminists Fund.

In honor of the power of women’s work, the Dead Feminists Fund supports nonprofits that empower girls and women to create change in their own communities. Like our book, funding is organized under a series of Action Verbs (“Make,” “Grow,” “Lead,” “Tell,” etc.), which translate to micro grant categories. Each year the Fund will support nonprofits with micro grants in one of our Action categories.

The Dead Feminists Fund is a component fund of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, which manages, administers and invests in over 400 charitable funds, right from our home community of Tacoma. Being under the auspices of the GTCF allows donations made directly to the Dead Feminists Fund to be tax-deductible, and provides the proper legal framework to protect both our donors and our grant recipients.


Artists typesetting at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, an organization we supported with our Paper Chase broadside. Photo by Caitlin Harris.

We seeded the Dead Feminists Fund with a large percentage of our book advance, and we will continue to donate a portion of our future broadside proceeds to supporting the Fund. Best of all, thanks to the generosity of Sasquatch Books, a portion of the sales of our book will also be contributed to the Fund. We’re especially grateful to Sasquatch because as an indie regional publisher, they understand the importance of giving back to one’s community, and how small gifts can make a big impact. And Sasquatch also knows the importance of supporting women and girls—after all, the team of editors, designers and marketing folks who have worked with us on our book with us are all women. If that’s not girl power, I don’t know what is.

If you’d like to support the Fund directly, you can make a tax-deductible donation directly through the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation website. (At that link, scroll down to find the Dead Feminists Fund in the alphabetical list.)

As always, thank you so much for your support of our series over the last eight years—we can’t wait to share the next chapter with you.



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Jaunt + Jot

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

If you happen to be in or passing through Tacoma soon, I’ve got a new show of sketchbook drawings up right now, at the brand new Feast Arts Center on Hilltop.

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

Like the way I do it on my travel blog, the images in the exhibit are arranged thematically rather than chronologically—this made curating the show something of a challenge, since I have frillions of drawings to choose from. So I did a practice run on my living room floor, with a notebook in hand to jot everything down (seems fitting!).

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

That ended up being a really good idea, because pre-arranging everything beforehand made the installation of the show much, much easier. All I had to do was measure and level everything, rather than try to make any aesthetic decisions on the fly. Still, you can see from the above photo that hanging a show is always a big, big mess—no matter how prepared I am ahead of time. Everything is total chaos until the last possible moment!

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

The show consists of ten original sketchbooks, paired with reproduction prints hung on the walls of the gallery. Displaying original sketchbooks is always another challenge, since it’s only possible to show one page at a time, and the books are delicate enough that they can’t stand up to constant handling during the show. But the folks who run Feast, Todd Jannausch and Chandler Woodfin (yes, there are two Chandlers involved here!), had the great idea of displaying the books in unobtrusive, handmade glass tabletop cases.

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

Here’s Todd putting one of them together—

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

the end result is sleek and professional, and it made it easy for me to come in and turn the pages of each sketchbook once a week or so, to change things up during the show’s run and give folks the chance to see multiple pages over time.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

These little map cards tie everything together, providing a little context behind the drawings and explaining my rationale for the themes I chose for the prints.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

I’m so pleased with how the show came together—this has quickly become my very favorite solo show. So major thanks to Todd and Chandler for making it happen and handling the logistics!

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

As an added bonus, the folks at Artist Trust, a statewide arts organization, hosted an event to tie in with my exhibit opening. Since Artist Trust recently funded me with an artist grant to continue my sketchbook work, they asked me to speak about my process at the opening. I brought my very first travel sketchbook with me, and it was great to talk shop with the crowd that showed up that night!

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

The show closes on Sunday, June 12—here are all the details, if you’re looking to visit:

Jaunt + Jot: a solo sketchbook exhibition by Chandler O’Leary
May 19 through June 12, 2016
Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, WA
Open Saturdays 12 to 4, Sundays 9 to 1, or by appointment

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

Or if you’d like to try your hand sketching yourself, Feast, Urban Sketchers-Tacoma and I are hosting a special ad-hoc sketch outing this Sunday, June 5, as part of Feast’s Sunday Coffee series! The event is free and open to anyone who would like to try their hand at urban sketching—no prior experience is necessary, and all you need to bring are your own sketch materials (paper or sketchbook, pen or pencil, watercolors, or whatever you like to use).

Here’s how it works: Feast Arts Center will open at 9 am on Sunday, so visitors can see the exhibit. Anyone interested in sketching will gather at 10 am at Feast for a quick meet-and-greet. We will then split up and sketch around the Hilltop neighborhood; you can choose to stick around Feast, or wander farther afield and sketch whatever strikes your fancy. Some people sketch in groups, others go off by themselves. Then we’ll all meet back at Feast at 12:30 for an informal show-and-tell of our sketches. This part is completely optional (so if you’re nervous about showing your drawings, you don’t have to!), but it’s always fun to see everybody’s different styles, materials and points of view. Feast will remain open until 1 pm. Here are those details again, in digest version:

Ad-hoc Sketch Outing, sponsored by Urban Sketchers-Tacoma
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Feast Arts Center (open 9 to 1)
1402 S. 11th St. Tacoma, WA
1. Meet at Feast by 10 am
2. Sketch in and around Hilltop
3. Show & tell at Feast at 12:30

Please note that this is not a class or workshop, so neither I nor any Urban Sketchers members will be offering instruction. But this is a great opportunity to meet other sketch artists and find inspiration. People tell me all the time that they’d love to try sketching, but aren’t sure where to start. This is a great way to get your feet wet amongst friends—so don’t be shy! Grab your pencils, and we’ll see you this Sunday!

Creation of this work was made possible in part by Artist Trust Grants for Artist Projects. Special thanks to Artist Trust, Feast Arts Center, School of Visual Concepts, and Urban Sketchers-Tacoma.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Mary Holste.

Photo by Mary Holste.

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Spilling the beans

Process photo of Dead Feminists book by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

A year ago we told our families and closest friends. A few months ago we started whispering to colleagues and acquaintances. Lately we’ve been spreading the word on the down-low, at events and gatherings. And now we can finally spill the beans in public:

Jessica and I are publishing a Dead Feminists book!

We’ve been hard at work for months already, and the writing, editorial and design part of the process is entering the home stretch. But it’s still too early for us to be able to share many nitty-gritty details, but we can tell you that the book will be called Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color, and that it’s coming in October 2016 from Seattle’s very own Sasquatch Books.

There’s so much more to come, everything from photos to the cover design to sneak peeks to event details. But for now, enough things are still up in the air that we can’t show all our cards (or mix all our metaphors) at once. So to make sure you don’t miss any announcements, I suggest signing up for our mailing list.

More soon—we promise!

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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.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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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St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Tulips photo by Chandler O'Leary

Inside the house we have these this morning…

Photo by Chandler O'Leary

…but Valentine’s Day looks a little different in the yard. Spring is already on its way here, so we have to seize the moment and get going on the massive pile of landscaping projects we have planned for the year.

Photo by Chandler O'Leary

So we’re spending our romantic weekend with chainsaws and tree stumps. Hope your Valentine’s Day is a special one, too—whether you stick to tradition or not!

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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!