In Memoriam: Mr. Bill

On February 6, 2017, we lost an incredible volume of living history: letterpress instructor, mentor, and friend, Bill Axenroth.

I'll never forget walking into his shop on the second floor of Lincoln Mill, before it was reduced to a basement room. Golden sunlight streamed in through the half-painted floor-to-ceiling windows and illuminated press after press in the gigantic room, like a turn-of-the-century industrial museum. The great metal machines seemed to rise out of the tide of paper scraps that covered the floor and rustled underfoot. Ink-encrusted knives balanced on open cans by several of the presses. Stacks of blank paper sat by the thousands on rolling carts, awaiting their turn to be printed, foil stamped, or die cut. He demonstrated each machine with the patient confidence that comes with a lifetime of expertise. I shared in his excitement as he exclaimed over the "gorgeous typeface!" of the intricate cursive wood type he'd from his grandfather. On one visit, he took me to a storage space on the 3rd floor; a chain link fence surrounded 100-year-old cabinets, with type cases stacked as high as I could reach, and galley trays full of metal type filling the shelves of industrial rolling carts. He let me explore and pick whatever struck my fancy--I remember exactly the elaborate borders and unusual typefaces that established our collection.

When I had first approached him after a tip from a friend and explained why I wanted to purchase one of his presses, I was a little taken aback when he dismissively told me that these weren't what I wanted; after all, they were for printing business forms, and had nothing to do with making art! My persistence paid off, and not only did I convince him to let me buy that first press (our beloved 1914 Chandler & Price) along with the equipment and supplies to outfit the entire letterpress portion of the shop, he also took me under his wing and taught me how to use every bit.

A 3rd generation letterpress printer, Bill started his own printing business, Solatec, after retiring as an engineer. He had watched the industry die over the decades, replaced by offset printing, typewriters, mimeograph, photocopy, and finally desktop printing; in his words, "The same work that was once a well-paying, highly skilled union job done by a room full of men can now be done by one girl on her laptop computer sitting at home in her pajamas." He was a wealth of knowledge, and while he continued to apply it to his daily work, I believe he felt that it had lost its value to the rest of the world. At my urging, he finally agreed to teach a class at Green Pea. I knew what he didn't yet know--that letterpress was experiencing a hot revival in the art world, and that there was a broad, interested audience who would appreciate learning about the craft.

He ended up teaching that class every other month, on average, over the past six years. The class was divided into three sessions, with an optional fourth session: a field trip to Frost Printing Co. to see a working linotype machine, followed by Mr. Bill's own shop, where he would demonstrate how he built custom dies for cutting, his large foil stamping press, and give a tour of the shop. When he was particularly fond of an attentive student, he would often give them the first letter of their name in type to take home as a memento; once, he threw in an entire empty type drawer to display it with as well.

I was only one of many lives he touched during his time (he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Huntsville Rotary Club just before passing), and I feel fortunate for the knowledge he imparted, and the memories made. However, his humor is what most endeared me to him; he had a storytelling style reminiscent of Mark Twain, and his deadpan delivery often caught me off-guard in the beginning, thinking he might just be a grumpy old man, until I caught the twinkle in his eye and out came the rascally chuckle. He will be dearly missed.

Farewell to Baxter

So I realize the blog posts have mostly been about employees, and I'll move beyond that, I promise! But for now, we just want to give them their due--most notably at this time, our first and longest-running employee, Baxter Stults.

Baxter has been such an integral part of GPP over the past two years, during the time we really got off and running. He entered quietly, as a shy undergrad from UAH wanting to intern for hands-on experience in a working printshop. Within a few weeks, we were hired by a company in New York to print t-shirts on site at the Hangout Music Fest--and we needed workers! He agreed to come with us for the weekend on his first paid gig, and spent the first night tirelessly screen printing hashtags on the back of 700 shirts until 3am with Martin. That's when we knew he was a keeper, though we'd already suspected...

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Since then, he's printed thousands of t-shirt orders--in fact, if you ordered from us in the past couple of years, he probably printed it. He is also the creator behind some of the most popular designs we carry for sale (pictured below, in a gallery capturing the true essence of Baxterness).

But he is also an artist in his own right, with an incredible body of work that has taken him to the Masters program for Printmaking at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, ranked the second best printmaking program in the nation (and he was accepted to several!). We couldn't be more proud, and look forward to seeing where he goes from here. 

Spring: Growth and Changes

I was feeling pretty guilty about not having made any blog posts since January, until I started looking at other print shop blogs and saw most hadn't posted since last fall or winter. I guess sometimes comparison isn't always the thief of joy...

We've been using the slower season to catch our collective breath, plotting--er, planning out the busy season to come with our stellar team, although we recently bid a bittersweet farewell to one...

Our store keeper/receptionist/graphic designer extraordinaire, Katie Calvert, recently passed the torch at the end of March; she and her husband, Marty, are traveling to China to adopt their long-awaited son, Silas! Katie was instrumental in developing this multi-faceted position she leaves behind, and has been an absolute delight for our staff, clients and customers to work with every step of the way. Her talent, dedication, and infinitely positive energy will be missed greatly, though we can't help but to be overwhelmed with happiness for her and her newly expanded family!

We have also welcomed two new employees: Sabrina Crarey, who is taking over Katie's position, and Phillip Bajoras, who has joined Baxter and Andrea in production screen printing.

Sabrina is a talented artist and graphic designer (check out her website) with a B.S. in Character Animation and an A.S. in Graphic Design from Southern Adventist University. She has been a perfect fit, with her outgoing personality and great sense of humor, not to mention a smile that lights up the room. She's been involved with GPP here and there over the past few years, so we were delighted she resurfaced just as Katie was wrapping things up.

Phillip is a recent graduate of Mississippi State University with a BFA in graphic design and background in printmaking; you may have seen him selling posters and prints at the Flying Monkey Artist Market on Saturdays. (Check out his website.) He's a bit more reserved, but not shy, always ready to make easy conversation. He's been doing a great job tackling the infinite task of screen printing Piper & Leaf tea bags.

We're excited to see where this year will take us, and grateful to have such an amazing crew of people helping us get there.

2015: A Year of Unprecedented Growth

In 2015, we experienced unprecedented growth of custom orders, on-site printing, and retail sales, and expanded our staff and physical space in response. It has been an exhilarating year, to say the least. Even coming down with mono in late August (from which I am still recovering) didn't slow us down, thanks to Martin's unwavering commitment to ensuring day-to-day operations run smoothly, and to our fantastic employees.

Tim (who left for grad school this summer), Baxter, Andrea and Josh worked tirelessly to ensure custom orders were printed on time, with the same high quality and attention to detail that has propelled our business almost completely by word of mouth alone. Katie has also been invaluable, acting as our receptionist, in-house graphic designer, and shop keeper at The Pea Pod. We are incredibly fortunate!

I'd like to recap highlights from the past year, so I'll save my aspirations for 2016 for another post... Don't worry, this one is mostly pics! And yet, still doesn't include the classes and workshops, field trips, custom printing projects, and so much more that we do on a daily basis...


In January, we expanded into studio 112, behind The Pea Pod. We moved our etching and relief presses and office into the new space, allowing for the full use of studio 111 (The Pea Pod) for retail space. The move gave artists a lot more room for working, and us more space for meeting with clients.

Our interview for the AL.com feature, "On the Job," was published in the Huntsville Times.

We demonstrated moveable type and letterpress printing for the "101 Inventions That Changed the World" exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

We were included in a blog post by iHeartHsv: “Top 8 Picks for Geeky Spots in Huntsville” and featured in another: “Two Peas in a Pod: My Interview with Green Pea Press Founders Martin Blanco and Rachel Lackey” 

And were also prominently featured in the article “Public Studios: Making Art Accessible,” in the Spring 2015 issue of the Artists & Makers national magazine.

In March, we hosted The Itinerant Printer, a letterpress artist who spent 2015 traveling to over 100 printshops around the US, sharing stories and creating prints with each shop's unique collection of type.

We were included in another iHeartHsv blog post: “10 Must-Have Huntsville Souvenirs”

Printed choose-your-own-adventure themed t-shirts on site for the Fine Arts Festival at local magnet school, Academy for Academics and Arts

We hosted Martin's sister, Marianna, from Uruguay, March-June during her stay in Huntsville. She was great company and a wonderful help!

In April, we were featured in another blog post by iHeartHsv: “4 AWESOME Art Class Options for Visitors in Huntsville, AL” 

We built an awesome new display booth for traveling shows out of pallet wood, designed by Martin himself

Which we set up at Panoply Arts Festival, where we sold our wares and printed the winning designs from our t-shirt contest on demand--and won a merit award!

We also printed t-shirts on site for Spring Fest, a local music festival held at Yellowhammer Brewery.

We spent the first weekend of May in Montgomery at one of our all-time favorite shows, Southern Makers, surrounded by people we admire, who are crafting some of the greatest food, art, music and goods in the South today.

We also printed t-shirts on site for the Downtown Huntsville Food Truck Rally, recognized as one of the best in the nation

In June, the incomparable Sean Starwars of Woodcut Funhouse taught a 3-day full-color woodcut workshop

We held our first free Members Night: Open Studio for GPP members to socialize while working on individual or collaborative projects

And worked with the Huntsville-Madison Co. Convention & Visitors Bureau and the American Advertising Federation of North Alabama to screen print the top 10 designs from the DesignHsv poster contest.

We screen printed t-shirts on site for Beer Quest, hosted by SciQuest Hands On Science Museum

And for the inaugural Microwave Dave Day Celebration, produced by the Microwave Dave Day Foundation, committed to promoting music education in public schools (for which we raised $800!)

In July, we printed t-shirts on site for the Alabama Tomato Festival, hosted by Stone Hollow Farmstead.

In August, we set up at Greene Street Farmer’s Market and the Downtown Art Walk

And began printing our 2016 Letterpress Fundraising Calendar.

In September, we printed t-shirts on site for Slide the City in downtown Huntsville

And Big Spring Crush wine festival, hosted by Homegrown Huntsville

Worked on our 2016 Letterpress Fundraising Calendar...

And were featured in an article about Lowe Mill in the September issue of Alabama Living magazine.

In October, we were honored to be invited to demonstrate our craft at Kentuck Festival of the Arts, one of the longest-running (and one of the best!) art and craft shows in the South

We were included in Our Valley Events' blog post: "5 Places to Get Unique Gifts in Huntsville"

And worked on our 2016 Letterpress Fundraising Calendar...

We made a huge move, adding a new 1500 sq. ft. location for screen printing, just up the street!

In November, we moved equipment and gave up studio 112 after less than a year

We were contacted by Whole Foods Market to begin selling our HOME t-shirts, letterpress wine tags, and entire line of towels and aprons in the new Huntsville store location

Screen printed t-shirts on site for the Hospitality Industry Convention hosted by the Huntsville-Madison Co. Convention & Visitors Bureau at the new Campus 805

Were included in Rocket City Mom's "2015 Hometown Holiday Gift Guide"

Worked on our 2016 Letterpress Fundraising Calendar...

Acquired Rocket City Brand and released 4 new and 4 previously released t-shirt designs at once

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And finally completed our gorgeous 2016 Letterpress Fundraising Calendar, which completely sold out before Christmas for the very first time!

In December, we were featured in an article by AL.com that was distributed to newspapers across the state, "Alabama-made gifts you can buy online for $25 or less," and as a result, experienced the largest volume of online orders we've ever received 

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We screen printed cloth grocery bags to give away at Santa's Workshop Local Vendor Fair held at the new Whole Foods Market in Huntsville

And tried our best to keep up with demand during a shopping season that was exponentially busier than any we've experienced over the past five years!

So as always, thank you for your continued support that makes it possible for us to do what we do, which is what we love. See you in 2016!

Big News: We're opening a new location!

I suppose it's appropriate that this is our first-ever blog post--here's to (more) new beginnings! 

We are THRILLED to announce our expansion into a second location, as we celebrate 5 years at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment this month. We have added studio space every year, on average: (officially) opening Studio 122 in January 2011; adding a retail shop in Studio 202 in November 2012; moving the store into The Pea Pod's current location, Studio 111, in November 2013; expanding into Studio 112 behind in January 2015; and now, November 2015, a completely new location!

The new space is located at 2720 Governors Drive, Suite B inside the long brick building with all the flags--just down the street from Lowe Mill.

Why the move? Our custom screen printing has grown exponentially, from a supplemental income to support the broader purpose of Green Pea Press as a community printmaking studio into a full-time operation in itself over the past couple of years. Moving the production into the new 1,500 sq.ft. facility will allow it to continue to grow without impeding artist members' access to studio equipment, as well as giving our employees room to work without tripping over one another and the presses! Clients will also have walk-in access during regular working hours (Monday-Friday 9-5), whereas our Lowe Mill studios are limited to set public hours for visitors (Wed-Sat 12-6pm).

Our original working studio, 122, will remain at Lowe Mill with facilities for intaglio, relief, monotype, and letterpress, as will our retail shop,The Pea Pod. All screen printing production and screen printing workshops will be held in the new location. We'll also carry a selection of retail items from The Pea Pod, in case you need to pick up a gift one morning or early in the week!

We'll have an official Grand Opening with a ribbon cutting in January as part of our 5th Anniversary festivities--TBA, so stay tuned!