(To read part one of the origin story, click here.)
It was a hot July day when I got the news that the magazine I was working for was folding. It was 2009, you see, and the tidal waves of a recession were sending ripples through every corner of the job market.
I was in shock, but as I packed my belongings into my car and drove out of the parking lot of my office building, my lips uttered a confident prayer.
I don’t know what you’re doing, Lord, but I trust you. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m convinced that you do.
Within a couple of weeks, I got a job as a barista and baker at my favorite local coffee shop. Though thankful for the paycheck, this was not necessarily the career move I had anticipated. While I may have spent my first couple of post-grad years climbing a ladder of sorts, now I sought solace behind espresso-dusted counters serving my previously-fellow young professionals their morning jolts.
This title downgrade was humbling in many ways, but, in hindsight, this season was one of the sweetest I can remember. Now among the ‘creative class’ that I had written about, I slowly embraced a new lifestyle with gusto.
I loved waking up early, working until early afternoon, and then spending the rest of my days either with friends or pursuing my curiosities. I also loved interacting with the various creative people that I served each day, one of whom was Patrick Masterson, whose letterpress studio was just around the corner.
One afternoon, I worked up the courage to ask him if he’d be open to me apprenticing in his shop. Heck, I told him, I’d even sweep the floors if he’d let me spend some time watching and learning. For obvious reason, he was skeptical. Why, he asked, would he want to allow a potential competitor to learn his trade secrets?
I assured him that I would be of no threat to him, and over time, he softened to my request, and started to let me spend some time in the studio.
I was a sponge. He taught me how to mix inks, use a guillotine paper cutter, register polymer plates on the press, even troubleshoot basic mechanical issues with the machines. I have no doubt I was always more of a distraction than a help to him, but I’m forever indebted to him for his generosity to me in those early days.
One day, I remember asking him if I was serious about learning more, if he thought I should pursue equipment or education. I’d found a letterpress program at Penland School of Craft just outside of Asheville, North Carolina that looked interesting to me, and I showed it to him. He’d heard of the school and encouraged me to go.
And so without much pause, I did.
While the coffee shop held my job and my roommates kept my room open, I left for two months to go and learn letterpress at a traditional craft school in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
I didn’t know a soul there, and hardly knew much about the school. I spent a hefty portion of my savings to go, even after being awarded the chance to earn my room and board as a work-study student.
I took a risk, but throughout the uncertainty, I was strangely confident. I will forever thank God for orchestrating my way to Penland. The experience of learning from a seasoned printer and having two uninterrupted months of open studio time was an abundant gift.