Stephanie Monahan, Empress of Ephemera

[Alyson Kuhn] Stephanie Monahan celebrated the 10th anniversary of Monahan Papers by exhibiting for a second consecutive year at the National Stationery Show in May. I loved Monahan’s booth before I even stepped in — and I was in good company. In a nutshell, Monahan’s show was stellar. Let me try to describe how she produces her papers — in Troy, Mo.

Monahan lived in the English countryside for slightly more than a year in the early ’80s. While there, she travelled around England and Wales doing genealogical research on her family. After she moved back to the States, Monahan’s father gradually entrusted to her the family documents and correspondence he’d amassed. She continues to collect family treasures from the 18th and 19th centuries — she tells me that her oldest family document is dated 1690. And she’s gone on to augment them with ephemera from all over. She scans them, manipulates them, combines them, layers them — and loves them.

An original document dated September 17, 1805, scanned and mildly modified. Monahan comments, “It was badly damaged and in need of repair. To use it as it was would not have been aesthetically pleasing, as it had burn marks and ink bleeds throughout.”

A rose by any other name … would also make a great card. Monahan debuted four designs at the show; she’s already working on two more, for a boxed set of six designs.

Bigwigs: Monahan designed periwig wrapping paper several years ago, after extensively researching the subject. She recently decided to do a series of cards. These ladies will soon be joined by four more.

When I ask Monahan if she’s comfortable telling me where she has her printing done, she laughs and says, “We print it ourselves!” I am slightly incredulous. I ask why, and she replies, “Because we need to be able to produce everything at a price point that will be affordable for resale in Europe, where we have wonderful customers. Believe me, I didn’t start out planning to do my own printing. So, yes, we print wrapping paper on 300-ft. rolls, and we print flat sheets, and we print our cards — every paper product you saw in our booth was printed by us. The only items we don’t print ourselves are the big rolls of lightweight canvas — but we do print the heavier weight ourselves. Our customers can order any of our designs printed on any size of paper or fabric that we offer.”

Alfabeti Stampatelli: Monahan’s name for this copyright-free design that she tidied up and resized. Swellatelli as wrap or wall art.

17th-century typography: Monahan is dotty for typography.

Wrapping paper on 100% recycled kraft. Each roll is 2 x 10 ft.

Edie Frere of Landis Stationery in Los Angeles has shopped the show every year since 1993. She describes herself as “stopped in my tracks by the Monahan Papers booth.” Frere loved the look, the price points, and the very long rolls of wrap. She enthuses, “I’d much rather have rolls of wrap to use in the shop. We wrap huge packages for people who bring in boxes from Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel — stores that don’t giftwrap. We have been using our store wrap, which is green or gold, because it’s the only thing we have that is long enough. Starting next month, we’ll have Monahan Papers.” Frere, a Francophile, also bought beaucoup de Monahan’s greeting cards.

Social fabric: Monahan’s designs on premium-quality cotton canvas. It’s lightweight enough for clothing, bags and upholstery.

Monahan prints on a wide variety of papers because her customers have different needs. And they are a diverse group indeed: retailers, of course, including museums and historical sites in the U.K.; a Beverly Hills event planner; an interior designer who uses Monahan’s designs as wallpaper; the publishers of the Vampire Diaries, who find Monahan’s look perfectly Goth. Monahan loves Mohawk Via — and delights in showing me why.

Photo © 2012 StudioAlex

Monahan prints her petite sheets (13 x 19 in.) on four shades of Mohawk Via — Flax, Parchment, Jute and Kraft. She says these four shades “are as close in quality and color as I can get to reproduce correspondence and documents from between 1750 and 1899. I can hold a document next to these shades and decide which one will come the closest. It has perfect flecks, and we can age it once it’s printed to get exactly what I’m looking for. We did calendars for several years and printed them on Strathmore Premium Sand Stone and Desert Haze — which are also next to each other on their chip chart in the new Color Selector!”

The wrap — which has been printed and dyed and dried and ironed — remains mysteriously supple. It folds like a dream. Photo © 2012 StudioAlex

I ask Monahan to describe the aging process, and this time I am rendered momentarily mute. The paper is aged after it’s printed by hand-feeding it through a huge dye vat. Yes, the dyes are proprietary. The sheets are racked out to dry — hold on to your periwig — in a commercial dehydrator that Monahan purchased from a beef jerky manufacturer. The temperature and the amount of time in the dryer are the secrets to the paper’s foldability. But because the sheets are a bit cockled after their bath, they need to be ironed. And the ironing of sheets has become one “Monahand’s” full-time job. Monahan’s recently come up with a way to streamline this final step.

A ribbon cabinet “treated” with Monahan Papers by Beth Merryfield of Primitiques

Beth Merryfield of Primitiques has been a creative customer for years. Merryfield sells vintage furniture and accessories; she also designs and manufactures reproductions, some of which are covered in Monahan’s fabrics. She says, “I am completely obsessed with covering things in paper. If my daughter and my dog would hold still, they would be covered too. Our whole furniture line is based on having a history behind it — I want it to look and feel as if it has been loved. Back in the ’20s, people would line their drawers with paper, and we pay homage to that. I also cover the interiors of cabinets and inlay it on doors. Stephanie’s paper looks and feels old — it’s a bit crinkly. But it’s also easy to work with.”

Merryfield continues, “I look at each design and think ‘Oh, this will be perfect on a hat box. That will be perfect on a tea tray.’ We make tea trays, and I cover the tray with Stephanie’s giftwrap that looks like an old newspaper.” She mentions that her technique keeps the furniture looking period, which piques my interest. Merryfield says, “I apply the paper to the piece with thinned wood glue. Then, I actually sand the paper a bit, and the underlayers of paint we’ve put on contribute to the aged look. We make our own beeswax, and we custom dye it. We rub it on with a rag to further age the surface.” Tea, anyone?

Stephanie Monahan

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Diane Tompkins on 07.9.12 at 11:42 am

    Alyson – As always, you’ve shared a great story of creativity and process. Stephanie Monahan’s willingness to hand-iron and custom dye her paper speaks to me!

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