The Reed Switchboard

Wow! So many new readers and queries. Thank you and please forgive the delay in getting back to you -- I just returned from Portland. I'm plowing thorugh my in-box now. I try to keep posts relevant to calligraphy and beauty here but given how many new visitors I'm getting from students via the Reed Switchboard  (thank you for visiting!) I had to share a new totally insane idea I am part of in which 18 friends try to collectively help college graduates from my alma mater, Reed College, find work they are passionate about. Lagging economy? What lagging economy? Astronomical unemployment for young people? Never heard of it. Liberal arts school student stuck in a miserable data entry job five years after graduation? Not happening. Back at GBAC the motto of the house was "Never a dish in the sink." And the motto of this project seems to be "Never a Reedie in a miserable job, without the prospect of at least talking to someone about moving on to something they are passionate about." I know. It is the most insane thing I've ever heard of, and so far it's been amazing. If you went to Reed, or know someone who did, or know someone who loves to work with and hire Reedies, and gets what this project is about please email me or follow us on Twitter. And now, back to pen and ink!


Over the winter holidays I saw the movie "Being Elmo," and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I bawled  watching the trailer, and the film was no different (for me, my husband, and the 60somethings, 10-year-old and 14-year-old we brought along with). I won't give away the remarkable story but I will say that, for me, it underscored the power of pursuing your passions, finding a mentor and giving of yourself. Thank you, Kevin, and the makers of this film. Showtimes here!


When I leave the factory, as I can feel myself being rewritten from the inside out, the way I see everything is starting to change. I keep thinking, how often do we wish more things were handmade? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don't we? "I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch." But that's not true. There are more handmade things now than there have ever been in the history of the world.

Everything is handmade. I know. I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair. One after another after another. Everything is handmade.

It seems appropriate to post a follow up about Steve Jobs's passing with this story that aired last week from This American Life and Mike Daisey on what he saw in China while visiting the Apple factory. Everyone I know in the creative industry uses Apple products (I'm looking at five on my desk right now). For the entire hour, I was frozen to my seat. It is a masterful combination of information, storytelling, emotion and balanced reporting and left me with so much to think about as we speed through the digital age with our cornucopia of consumer electronics. Because of the quote above, I now have a very different perspective on Etsy and artisanal and hand-crafted products (like mine). We can quite easily get caught up in the preciousness and sanctimoniousness of it all, and forget about the millions of others who join us, working under completely different conditions. Thank you, TAL + Mike.

52 x 52 + being charitable in all ways

Do you know about the awesome project that the awesome Jessica Hische created called 52 x 52? The premise is that you commit to giving a certain amount to charity every week. And every week the site offers you a suggested charity. You can learn more about it here. I jused signed up. It raises the issue of creative types and charity, which I try my best to be mindful of (and very often scrutinize blogs who aren't charitably inclined). But if you are affiliated with a charitable organization out there, and can think of a way I might be of assistance other than cash donations (certificates for volunteers, auction items, place cards for an event, a pretty banner) please don't be shy about getting in touch. I always like to learn about new causes.

And while I'm in mind of Jessica, her recent post on Inspiration vs. Imitation is a MUST READ for anyone interested in design (and very much applies to does everything else she writes). Lately I've been getting links from concerned colleagues who come across work that looks eerily like mine (and what I find so interesting is how immediately I know it isn't mine, but others may not). I don't have the time or inclination to write the note of concern she suggests, but I'm so glad she brought these issues up.


{See Part I and Part II of this story}

And then last week I got this email from Catherine with the update:

Hi Mara,

All healed up, and home from a week down in New England - a memorial for my grandmother at the Bridgewater Town House in New Hampshire (a wild looking building) and the internment of her ashes on the land she saved for our family - on top of a mountain - land that's been passed down for at least five or six generations. That's where I'm standing in these photos. It felt appropriate.

We gathered at our family cabin there en masse for a time and celebrated her in a lot of little ways - the women sitting in a circle and dividing her piles of costume jewelery and scarves and dresses among us, and tracing the family lineage as far as we could.My family loved the piece and continue to get compliments on it wherever I go - and tell the story of the whole thing proudly. I get comments in the weirdest of situations - most oddly from a security guard at a casino while I threw down roulette chips.

Most importantly - I love it, and it feels almost as if it's always been a part of me.

I've set up an annual donation to the Canadian Opera Company in her memory. Her nephews opened the memorial service with a duet on trumpet and stand-up bass - a sweetly arranged aria she particularly loved.

Thank you again for contributing such a big part to the end of this story.


Let me say that when I started Neither Snow I couldn't have dreamed up that I would one day receive a photo of a beautiful woman trying on the clothes of her beloved grandmother in the New England summer air, with a relative helping her button the blouse, and with my calligraphy forever etched on this delicate arm. There are inumerable moments in my work when words fail me, and this is one of those times.


With a full heart and a check in the mail to the Canadian Opera Company in honor of Mary Heron, I am unspeakably honored to have been a part of this collaboration and grateful to Catherine Heron, her remarkable family, Tyson Ward at Passage Tattoo in Toronto, and photographers Andrew Thuss and Mawgan Lewis.


As a reminder: i give away an expression of gratitude every month. Please contact me with a candidate + story if you would like to be considered.




Back in June I received this email from Catherine Heron with the photos above (from top to bottom: Shapleigh coat of arms, Mary Heron, Mary and her son, Charles.)

Hi Mara,

My grandmother died a week ago tomorrow. She was 98 1/2 years old.

She was 1 of 12 living daughters of a Union Civil War vet. At an impatient 3 she headed downtown alone, then graciously allowed a neighbour to accompany her: the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" of the Titanic. She was in Saltzburg when the Nazis came. Her Detroit friends included Louis & Suzanne Chevrolet. She escaped a marriage of politics and convenience by fleeing alone to a Nevada "divorce ranch" in the thirties in the middle of the night. Because of her stories, I know I am connected to all of history and humanity. 

She was positively fierce, fierce in her opinions - petitioning to save greenspaces, fiercely liberal... fiercely proud of my career as an artist, fiercely independent - fiercely supportive, nay - instrumental in encouraging me to get out of relationships I was miserable about. She was University educated, keeping her mensa-member husband of 50+ years on his toes constantly - learning perpetually. Skype-ing herself in to my cousin's west coast lesbian wedding so she could share her genuine joy for both women.

A true practitioner of unconditional love, she always listened intensely, with vital interest. She taught us that grace, charm and compassion are what make a lady; to never stay in a passionless relationship; to have treats at the ready for your guests; to blaze a trail doing what is right; that love is the answer.

Through her, I was a descendant of the Shapleigh family - who arrived in Kittery, Maine in 1623 - three years after the Mayflower. The qualities and aspects of her that I've described, I have always been told, are "100% Shapleigh." In conversations with my aunt - her daughter - we've talked about the qualities of the women of this line, this "fierceness," quickness, compassion, energy, freedom. My name is Catherine Shapleigh Heron.

I had told my grandmother a year ago I had been playing with the idea of getting a scallop shell tattooed on  my wrist - the scallop being the symbol on the family Coat of Arms, the original, from Devon. She loved this idea, and on a $26 birthday check wrote "FOR A SHAPLEIGH TATTOO??!" in the memorandum line. But now that she has passed, I've thought it over and would simply like to get the Shapleigh motto (also from the coat of arms) done up the inside of my arm.

The motto is "Fideli Certa Merces," which translated, is "to the faithful, reward is certain."

I was touched by Catherine's email for many reasons: the beautiful prose, the specific memories of her grandmother, and Mary's $26 birthday check (my own grandmother sends me $25 every year). So Catherine became June's Gratitude Giveaway winner and we endeavored to create a tattoo worthy of Mary Heron. The terms: that we would each donate $26 to a charitable cause dear to Mary's heart.

And so...



One of the best parts of the work I do is falling in love with small businesses and their owners. First, perhaps, I'll fall in love with a thoughtful, well-made product or service. Then, I'll meet the owner and he/she will be awesome and wildly enthusiastic about what they do. Then, I'll find out some fascinating fact about the business's values and I'm hooked and want to shout my love from the rooftops.

Such was the case with Camden Print Works. I've known owner Adam Woods, with his charming Tennessee drawl, for a few years now as we both volunteer for Pig Iron Theatre Company and he supplies them with heaps of soft cotton goods for fundraisers, etc. But I called on Adam in a panic this week and enlisted his help with this invitation suite for the 80th birthday party of lovable Alvin Lucier. The invite was designed by Joe Czekner with creative input from daughter of the birthday boy, Amanda.

The problem came down to holy grail of printing: white ink. There is no easy way to do it. Adam had the brilliant idea to do it like any poster or t-shirt. And, barring the paper being engulfed in flames by the hot oven/conveyor belt/inferno ink sealing device, it would work. So I headed over to Camden, one of the poorest cities in the country, and handed over the goods. The Shellenberger brothers got right to work while Adam monitored the paper's temperature with a heat gun. Here's the final product. I adore them. But here's the killer part about Camden Print Works' mission:

We're excited about Camden's potential for rebirth and we want to be a part of it. So far we're trying by paying between double and triple the prevailing local wage, offering discounted health insurance to our staff, emphasizing sales on American-made and fairly-made goods, and staying on the cusp of our industry's efforts to "go green." And a portion of what you spend at Camden Printworks goes to support UrbanPromise Ministries in Camden, New Jersey.

The business is doing all it can to make Camden a better place. So please, use Camden for your printing needs. And if you'd like to work with Neither Snow, I am now elated to announce that I white ink will no longer be prohibitively expensive and impossible.



Hearts + Hands

I am so, so honored to be a part of this raffle to benefit the recovery efforts in Japan, organized by Lynn of Satsuma Press. Do check out the participating artists and small businesses -- each is so incredible. For new Neither Snow customers: if you buy five raffle tickets I will offer you a 10% discount. Just metnion JAPAN when you place your order.  If you need a reminder of this country's heartbreak, visit this New York Times slideshow.