This last weekend, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama featured something like two or three hundred artists, as well as a couple dozen musicians, bands, readers and storytellers. Among all those folks, with their colorful and sometimes bizarre wares spread out among the tall pines, I’m insatiably drawn to the printers: letterpress, screen printing, block cuts, I don’t care. Quirky little print shops seem to be popping up like mushrooms around the South – or maybe I’m just noticing more of them – but no matter how many I see, I still have to stop and gawk. Scott Peek at Standard Deluxe, Jessica Peterson’s The Southern Letterpress, and the University of Alabama Book Arts folks are three of my favorites who display at the festival, but this year, I might have found a new favorite or two.
I had walked about halfway around the festival’s outer loop, when I stopped at Debra Riffe‘s booth. The endearing simplicity of her work caught my eye; her curt though unique socially conscious adages are stated in bold blocky letters, some with images iconically African American. As I was browsing the broadsides, I overheard her explaining to another customer that all of her work is made from block cuts, even the lettering, which was surprising. We started talking, after that customer had gone, about our common interest in literacy and food equity, and about letterpress printer Amos Kennedy when I told her that her work reminded me a little of his. Debra Riffe is another printer to keep an eye on; originally from Tupelo, Mississippi and now living in Birmingham, she will next be displaying at the Yellowhammer Fair on November 8.
Then I found another new printer that I really liked right near the main gate, after I had basically gone full circle. Green Pea Press had their screen printing equipment set up right in front of their little booth, and the smiling folks manning the booth had the standard fare: t-shirts, broadsides, postcards. Where the seriousness of Debra Riffe’s work had drawn me in, the opposite was true of Green Pea Press. As I looked over a t-shirt that read “Support LocAL,” emphasizing the state’s name in the final letters, I looked up at an apron, hanging on the wall, which featured a line drawing of a Weber kettle and the words: Why you all up in my grill? I laughed out loud! I couldn’t help it. I won’t spoil the witty, comical surprises in the rest of their work, but I’d say to go take a look. Based in Huntsville, Green Pea Press calls itself a “printmaking collective” and is part of Dustin Timbrook’s Lowe Mill project.
Now, if I just had a couple thousand-hundred-million dollars to buy all the stuff that I liked . . .