Husband-and-wife team prints the old-fashioned way
One is asked either to accept with pleasure or decline with regret, but “the favour of a reply is requested by the first of October.” The politeness, spelling and elegant appearance of the pristinely inked, letterpressed wedding RSVP card—partially written in the ornate Spencerian script popular in the United States from the mid-1800s to early 1900s—harks back to an earlier time.
Wild Ink Press, the 2-year-old artisan letterpress shop run by Rebekah and Matt Tennis out of a studio in the converted garage of their home in northwest Chico, is responsible for the crisply beautiful card—part of its “Pinstripe” suite of wedding stationery printed on heavy, pre-consumer waste cotton and paper stock.
The husband-and-wife team turns out scores of strikingly attractive, custom wedding and party invitations, personal stationery, business cards, greeting cards and drink coasters for clients across the United States and beyond on a restored 1908 Chandler & Price Old Style letterpress they acquired a couple of years ago on eBay. They create each piece one at a time by hand with custom-mixed ink and exacting attention to detail.
The other three impressive machines lined up along the acid-green walls of the Tennises’ studio are a Golding Jobber No. 7 letterpress made in 1912, a recently acquired 1967 Heidelberg Windmill press, and a century-old Chandler & Price paper cutter that they fondly call “the guillotine.”
During a recent interview, Rebekah kept 2-year-old son Cameron—a petite, busy boy whom the couple adopted from Pakistan as an infant—occupied by drawing pictures of tractors while she and Matt chatted about their lives and their love of the nearly lost (but reviving) art of letterpress.
Thirty-year-old Rebekah was raised in the Philippines until age 16 by her missionary parents. She and Matt moved to Chico in 2008 from Sacramento, where she worked as a graphic designer. Sacramento is also where the couple met; they married in 2002.
Matt, a laid-back 37-year-old with intense blue eyes, worked both as a writer during the 1990s for Gov. Pete Wilson and as a lobbyist for more than a decade at the State Capitol, representing farmers and contractors.
“The reason we moved back is because we were getting back into the family farm,” offered Rebekah of why they moved to Matt’s hometown of Chico, where he has settled in as a third-generation rice farmer.
Rebekah conceived of the idea of running a letterpress studio because she wanted to be less busy than she had been with her demanding freelance design business, to have more time with Cameron. Also, she wanted to focus “specifically on one element of design,” rather than spreading herself thin on numerous types of projects, such as web design and business logos.
“It was boring for her to design junk mail and web pages,” offered Matt.
“One of the things I love about letterpress is you print … and you have a masterpiece,” said Rebekah.
After chatting at length in the specialized vocabulary of letterpress—“composing stick,” “imposing stone,” “reglets,” “quoins” and “furniture” (nothing to do with tables and chairs)—Matt stepped over to the Chandler & Price press to demonstrate.
After carefully positioning a blank note card, he rolled the machine’s rollers over its “rails,” producing an impression from the inked plate pressed into it. Matt then examined the finished card closely with a magnifying device called a loupe for “halos” (ink bleed) and “artifacts” (microscopic bits of fuzz that might stick to the paper).
Ninety percent of any job, Rebekah said, is “make-ready”—getting each particular print job set up just right, without halos or artifacts.
“You know, Martha Stewart, bless her heart, she is largely responsible for the resurgence of letterpress wedding invitations,” said Rebekah. “You’d be surprised at the number of brides who come to us—they are really attuned to ‘We want a letterpress invitation.’ ”