By Jordyn Haime
Next time you’re strolling down the storied hallways of Mill No. 5, you might catch Kerri Velazquez operating a machine reflective of Lowell’s golden age of manufacturing.
The Chandler & Price Letterpress dates back to the year 1906, and Velazquez, who co-owns Sweet Pig Press with her husband, Sergio Velazquez, moved the 1,500-pound machine to their 4th floor retail boutique at 250 Jackson St. in June.
“We got this in Kansas City, Mo. where someone restored it. You can find them around here but it’s hard to find one that’s restored like this,” says Velazquez, noting the machine’s flawless condition despite its age. “So we flew out there and then we just drove it back in a UHAUL.”
Modern-day printing combines practices old and new. Printers like Velazquez can use a machine from a hundred years ago to put a digital or hand-drawn design on a card with that signature impression only an old-fashioned letterpress can create.
“You could make something on the computer, type something in, or if you drew something, you could just scan it in and fix it up in Illustrator a little bit and then make these plastic plates out of it,” Velazquez says.
Once Velazquez’s illustration or type is scanned into the computer, she sends it to a company in New York that turns her vision into a reality. It’s sent back on a plastic plate that is attached to the letterpress and soon transformed into a work of art. The possibilities are endless.
While most printers today primarily utilize the “new” way of printing, the Velazquezes still like to embrace the traditional—letter-by-letter woodblocks. While there are only a handful of type foundries left today that make woodblock letters, the fun part is collecting them from antique stores and retirees.
A deep-sea diver. A retro telephone. A monkey. The small, vintage wooden treasures are scattered about the studio in various drawers and along countertops, waiting to personalize missives and make a unique keepsake.
“I don’t even have to have all these wooden letters, but you kind of get addicted to it and all of a sudden you have a bunch of stuff and you’re like, ‘where did I get all this?’” she says.
Along with their own cards and prints, the Velazquezes sell cards and specialty prints from seven other artists at Sweet Pig Press, including five from Massachusetts. Some of the artists use a similar press to Sweet Pig’s, but not all presses produce the same kind of product. Some artists use flatbed presses, which, Valezquez explains, are better for creating fine art prints.
“You could make a really nice fine art print that’s 11 by 17 (inches) and has a ton of detail,” she says. “From (our) type of press you might not get that fine, fine detail.”
Firing up the Chandler & Price, Velazquez makes crafting cards on a 111-year-old machine look easy. She lines up paper with the proper measurements and begins to spin the wheel. The Chandler & Price does its thing; paper meets custom-designed plastic plates and suddenly, Sweet Pig Press’ logo beside a border of stars is perfectly imprinted on a card.
“You definitely couldn’t do that on a regular printer,” she says.
This fall, Sweet Pig Press will expand their business to offer custom invitations and will begin hosting workshops on the art of letterpress. For more information, visit Sweet Pig Press in Mill No. 5, at 250 Jackson Street on the fourth floor. Hours are Thurs.-Fri. 5 to 8 p.m., Sat. 10-8 p.m., and Sun. 11-5 p.m.