Stanley Hainsworth: A letterpress sensibility

[Emily Potts] Tether founder and Creative Director Stanley Hainsworth has come a long way from his small-town Kentucky roots, where he worked the tomato and tobacco fields, to now leading branding projects for behemoth companies like Gatorade and Pepsi. But he still loves to get his hands dirty now and then.

On occasion — when inspiration strikes and time allows — he and his design team create hand-lettered goodies on the Vandercook SP15 letterpress he acquired a couple of years ago. Hainsworth was immediately drawn to letterpress while getting a personal tour of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tenn., by owner Jim Sherraden. “Letterpress is a great icon of craftsmanship, and I’ve always been drawn to that,” Hainsworth says. “Jim was showing me all this gorgeous work at Hatch, and I was so inspired by it. When I returned from Nashville, I asked one of my designers to find us a letterpress.”

That designer, Daniel Petrzelka — who also happens to have behind his family’s machine shop five letterpresses in an old van, which he calls “a letterpress studio on wheels” — did an extensive internet search and found a letterpress at the oldest Chinese print shop in Vancouver, B.C. “They used to make Chinese menus so you could see all the characters on it,” Hainsworth notes.

In order to get everyone up to speed on using the Vandercook, Petrzelka, along with Joseph Kohlhas, another letterpress fanatic and Tetherite, trained the designers in after-hours workshops. “All the designers would come in at night and use the machine. We provided beautiful paper and lots of ink to play with,” Hainsworth says.

Last September he spoke to students at Columbia College in Chicago about the 10 things he’s learned in 20-plus years in the design business. Tether designer Donica Ida designed the limited-edition poster (below) for that event. The posters were given away to a few lucky students after Hainsworth’s presentation. The impressions in the poster — see the detail image atop this article — represent companies he’s worked for: an athletic shoe for Nike, a Lego brick, a coffee cup for Starbucks and lastly, the Tether logo.

Another letterpress project was promotional and retail posters for a Tether gallery opening and music performance last October. “We produced invitations for the show as well as mini posters that were also included in musician Damien Jurado’s vinyl album sleeve,” Hainsworth says.

For the holidays, the Tether team created a set of holiday cards. Each designer, including Hainsworth, designed a card. The design team selected five designs to include in a set they sent out as gifts to clients and friends.

Hainsworth appreciates the tactility of homemade gifts and the personal connection that comes with the artifact. He carries that handcrafted, personal sensibility into the way he runs his studio, too. “I feel like an old-time grocery store owner. I come in early and get things done and tidy up the shop. I love the stillness, and I’m able to think about the things I need to do to make this a better place to work,” he says.

He may work for huge corporations, but at the end of the day, the real work is about relationships and personal connections — and occasionally getting his hands dirty. “I love getting ink under my fingernails. Letterpress is not fast and it’s not easy — there’s no instant gratification. Apply the ink and crank, ink and crank,” he says. “But you have this lasting artifact and the satisfaction of knowing the work that went into it.” Maybe he hasn’t strayed so far from his roots after all.

Emily Potts is the acquisitions editor at Rockport Publishers.
Stanley Hainsworth is the author of
Idea-ology, The Designer’s Journey: Turning Ideas into Inspired Designs, from Rockport.

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Comments (2)

  1. Posted by LEE MOODY on 03.3.11 at 9:25 am

    Letterpress is better than chocolate chip ice cream ! Love this article & seeing some of the work in action ….In CT we are going to start to offer some workshops ~ so after reading this I am super charged / also Stanley & Emily are so COOL !!!

  2. Posted by Amy Graver on 03.5.11 at 12:44 pm

    Great article. We share the same philosophy to never stop doing, exploring and learning.

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