[Alyson Kuhn] I spent a magical evening with Diane (the mother) and Madeline (the daughter) Tompkins in Kansas City last month. I had admired their work in their Felt & Wire Shop, but I wasn’t prepared for the papery pair in person. Yes, it was a bit like falling down the rabbit hole … right into a conversational tennis rally.
The duo’s one-of-a-kind works and letterpress art prints are usually based on a quotation or proverb with an engaging contemporary resonance. Diane does the silhouette art and editorial research, and Madeline does the hand lettering and provides the second set of eyes on every project. The interplay of word and image — equal parts Victorian detail and wacky whimsy — does the rest.
Tag Team Tompkins’ creations grace several scenes in “A Mad Tea Party,” a 10-page feature in the Hallowe’en issue of Better Homes and Gardens (the magazine’s biggest-selling issue of the year). Diane cut six new silhouettes and drew (yes, with Prismacolor pencils) a different men’s shirting pattern for the background of each. Madeline’s pen also labelled tea-time treats: “Eat me,” “Drink me,” and “Poison.“
Diane retired from Hallmark several years ago following three tours of creative duty: “In the mid-’60s, I was a ‘process artist,’ creating color separations for cards. In the late ’60s, I was an artist in Party and Gift Wrap — our area developed those crazy paper party dresses! My third tour lasted 26 years, in many roles — from designer, studio manager and stylist, to product design manager for gifts. I was part of Hallmark’s first creative development team to travel to Asia, where we developed gifts with various vendors in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila and Taipei.” I wanted to dub Diane the Wizard of Scissored … but she wields a knife to snip those cravats and whiskers, tassels and plumage.
Madeline Tompkins considers herself more of a lettering artist than a calligrapher. She graduated from the University of Kansas 15 years ago and has worked at Hallmark for the past 14 in several different creative areas. She currently designs greeting cards and contributes to new product concepts. (In case you are curious: Hallmark encourages outside creative pursuits, as long as resulting products do not compete with their own.)
I suspect Madeline’s paper gene is inherited on both sides. Her father, Wayne Tompkins, worked for Kansas City’s premier art materials retailer, Keith Coldsnow’s, early in his career … and delivered supplies regularly to the home of “Rita and Tom [Thomas Hart] Benton.”
The team’s Dire Warnings series is quite my cup of tea. The framed original below (currently for sale in the curated shop at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center) is cleverly trimmed in two patterns of repositionable Washi tape.
The prints are letterpress printed at Skylab Letterpress in Kansas City, primarily on Mohawk Loop Vellum Milkweed 160# Cover, which is 100% pcw. Skylab recently ran a six-color press test (below, on Mohawk Loop Feltmark Ivory 110# Cover, likewise 100% pcw) so Diane and Madeline could see the possibilities of adding color to their black-on-white look.
Diane Tompkins has also proven to be an ace correspondent. Her two-page note (below), thematically stamped with the King and Queen of Hearts, was an excellent read … and contained a wafer-thin prize (keep scrolling).
The enclosure for Alyson Wonderland: my very own hand-cut Cheshire jack o’ lantern teapot, with a betassled lid that makes it look like it’s wearing a fez. I’m mad for Jaunty Jack!
Last two photos © 2011 StudioAlex. Other images by Tag Team Tompkins.
“A Mad Tea Party” from BH&G was produced by Debbie Dusenberry, who is also the blogmistress of Curious Sofa. Her Go Ask Alice post, about getting the assignment and styling the shoot, is a hoot — and a sweet homage to obsession.