Your Soul is Really All You Own
I was 20 years old and rummaging through an Amsterdam flea market when I bought for a few guilders what I thought was an envelope seal. A few days later in Paris I watched in awe from a storefront as a man inside the window bound a book by hand. And while these are exotic sounding places, but what is more important is why I was there. I was beginning to cast a wider net towards the world than what my life offered in the vast Midwest.
I wandered far from home, searching for songs other than the voices of my youth, hoping to harvest life experience the hard way by living abroad on next to nothing.
I earned money working in potato and tulip and sugar beet fields in the Netherlands, traveled to big European cities between jobs and slept in fields and train stations. I was paying my dues and opening the door to my soul. You see the “envelope seal” in Amsterdam was actually a decorative remnant from an old Dutch letterpress shop. The Frenchman's book was printed from handset type and illustrated with relief prints.
In hindsight, I was intuitively drawn to that aesthetic, innocently preparing myself for a larger part, which was and is working at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee. Because I was there in Europe, I was helping to form the foundation of my work now. I believe that life experience reawakens in the soul what it already knows. Eudora Welty wrote that “the strands are all there; to the memory virtually nothing is ever lost.”
How many times have we heard someone say, “I composed that in ten minutes,” or “the words just poured out of me” or “the picture just painted itself.”? But that isn't really what happened. These accomplishments are the direct result of struggle, meeting challenge head on with hard work, and facing fear with persistence and dedication. What seems simple on the surface is instead the result of years of paying dues. This is how I choose to answer the question of how I got to wherever people think I am today. There was hard work, of course, but just as important I have learned to open the door to my soul. Plato said that learning is recollection, that the soul before entering the body has already experienced the Ideal, or Perfection. But it has forgotten it. If our existence could be likened to a black and white negative, then the soul has seen the picture in full color. By paying our dues we are remembering what the soul already knows. Even if we embrace this concept of learning, we still want to be quick with the lesson and enjoy instant results. We think we understand it all.
Then I remember what my mentor, Kenneth Hinson, told me, “I've been printing 65 years and I'm still learning.” This is simple advice that anyone can understand. He taught and re-taught me the basics of letterpress design, but he probably never called himself a designer. Thanks to what I learned from Kenneth-his skill and humility-I will always be paying my dues, sifting through the days ahead, keeping and eye out for the good stuff to be discovered like those letterpress ornaments in Amsterdam.
Manager, Hatch Show Print Nashville, TN