Halfway through my cross country drive, I had the great honor to spend two evenings and a full day with the very talented tough-as-nails Jen Farrell of Starshaped Press. She has built a business based on exquisite precision of handset ornamented images from metal type, constantly pushing new limits for our rigid old craft.
Fresh from letterpress sensory overload at the Platen Press Museum, I arrived in Chicago on a warm Sunday evening. Jen greeted me at the door to her home and welcomed me straight into the middle of her living room and heartbreakingly full life. We went out for cocktails and tiny bacon burgers and talked business, print, press moves, art plans, our mutual love for Gaspereau Press, and specific tactics to quit being an accommodating apologetic female in the world. Next day, we spent a long quiet Monday working and trading can-you-believe-this-shit stories in the immense red of her shop, shown off against all shades of gray type and black presses and a lot of colorful prints adorning the walls. I fonted up tiny metal ornaments one by one while Jen pulled proofs and prepped lino for an art commission. Printer’s devil Jo (Jen’s daughter) joined us in the shop after school. After a bit of eight-year-old bouncing off the walls and plying for cookies, she settled in to working on a new type form with a stark message of personal propaganda: “I support cancer research.” I slipped in and helped the bright jolly little devil stay focused while Jen wrapped up her work at hand, swearing over some adhesive-challenged linoleum.
Practical, methodical, complex and beautiful as her type forms, Jen is a stellar human who stands out amidst any sky full of letterpress heroes. And she’s damn smart, and damn funny, and says it just like it is. I’ve admired her work for years but now I’ve met the real deal, badass lady behind it all, details pale in compare and I’m in awe of her daily action and the continued quality of her making.