Music Maker Relief Foundation: Tintype Meets Letterpress

Last year, Parklife Press was approached by Music Maker Relief Foundation to design, print and produce picture frames, customized to hold tintype images. You have questions! We know! Let's get into it.

First, a bit about Music Maker. The foundation, founded in 1994 by Tim and Denise Duffy and based in Hillsborough, NC, "was founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time." Music Maker not only helps support Southern roots artists who have fallen on hard times (an excellent goal in and of itself), but also helps provide resources to get them performing and recording again, providing invaluable cultural documentation of Southern musical traditions. Per their website, since their founding, "we have assisted and partnered with over 300 artists, issued over 150 CDs and reached over a million people with live performance in over 40 states and 17 countries around the globe." It's a great organization, so be sure to check out their website and read more about it.

So ... tintypes? Tim Duffy, it turns out, is not only a music historian and philanthropist, but he's also a photographer. And what does a photographer do, when spending time his musical heroes, recording these living legends? He records their images, as well. And what better way to preserve the unique history of these artists, than with an old form of photography that produces one-of-a-kind images that will last hundreds of years? He honored the past, and learned to make tintypes — a photographic process more than a century and a half old. Together with colleague Aaron Greenhood (Music Maker's Artist Services Coordinator and tintype chemist) he produces these portraits, which are given to artists, used as donor gifts, and sold on their website to foundation supporters and music fans. (To learn more about the project, visit Music Maker's tintype page.)

Music Maker wanted a nice way to present these art objects, which are, essentially, 4.5"x 6.5" pieces of sharp-edged metal. Parklife Press designed, printed and assembled the frames, which incorporate Music Maker's logo. The black museum board and black/bronze-y ink are reminiscent of sepia tones, and the hand-crafted nature of letterpress printing itself pairs perfectly with the old-fashioned tin type process. The frame folds out to standing position, and holds the metal sheet securely in place — protected and perfectly positioned.

Each tintype is labeled with a "Music Maker Tin Type" label — which lists the subject, print number, date, photographer and chemist — and is then finished with an official, bright red "Music Maker Tin Type - Hillsborough N.C." stamp. Parklife Press designed both the label and stamp.

Tim, Denise, Aaron and the folks at Music Maker were nice enough to have us out to Hillsborough during one of their tin type shooting days, so we could get a sense of the process and see first-hand what our frames were framing. Below are some photos from that beautiful fall day. Most people have never seen a large-format camera like Tim's — at least in person — and many photographers these days haven't seen darkroom equipment in ages, if ever. (Hence the nostalgic photos of darkroom timers and developer pans!) You guys were so generous; it was a blast. Thanks for letting us be a part of this project.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

Formal, with Flourishes

Alexandra and Michael were planning a black-tie, traditional Catholic wedding, and wanted their invitation to reflect that style. Alex was drawn to the Fountain design — seeing how the layout's simplicity put the elaborate font on display, she was, as she put it, "hooked."

Deceptively simple in design, the typeface features intricate and playful ligatures and flourishes. The extra thick invitation cards were edged in gold, and that subtle sparkle was echoed by the envelopes' antique gold liners.

Alex found Parklife Press on the Martha Stewart Weddings website. As with any wedding, there were many decisions to be made — but when it came to the invitations, whether to use letterpress was never really a question. "My Mom is a calligrapher and has instilled a reverence to paper products in me that I was sure to embrace in our wedding planning process." The effect was everything she and Michael were looking for: formal and traditional, with impact.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

Old World Charm in New York City

The beauty of a classic, calligraphic invitation puts the emphasis on the writing. Here, in a invitation based on Quill, with custom calligraphy by Monica Rachel Lima, the swirls and flourishes of the text sets the tone for an elegant and festive occasion. The black ink on thick, pearl white paper stock is set off by a metallic silver envelope liner.

The simplicity of the dingbat rule pairs well with dramatic flair of the calligraphic flourishes, and all the rounded corners of all the pieces ties the set together.

Accompanying reception and RSVP cards are done in a understated serif font with a vintage feel. The two styles coordinate to set the tone for a formal wedding in New York City.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

Twist of Lime

Meghan and John knew they wanted letterpress invitations for their wedding, and had even seen Parklife's work before — a friend of theirs worked with Travis and used a similar invitation design. So when it came time to plan their wedding, they were a step ahead. Based on Whirl, the design features a conventional text layout with an off-center design bleeding off the corner. The motif is also repeated on the main envelope flap, as well as the RSVP and events schedule cards.

The swirly motif, when printed in pale lime ink, becomes springy and botanical, perfect for a late-spring wedding.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

Timeless Black on White

Michelle and Stephen weren't familiar with letterpress when they began planning their black tie wedding, but a love of elegant invitations had been instilled in Michelle an early age. Her grandmother used to frame beautiful invitations she received, and Michelle had always admired those with simple black calligraphy on a white note card. Parklife's Vignette fit that vision perfectly: striking black ink against bright white paper, set off and framed with a blind deboss border.

The script font had a few flourishes, with one particularly unusual and interesting one: the ligtature connecting the cursive capital "S" and "p" in Stephen's name. A classic dingbat was used to add some visual interest and to separate blocks of information. It also tied all the pieces together — it was used on the invitation, the main envelope's return address, the RSVP card, and the accommodation information card.

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

A New Year's Swirl of Silver and Gold

Katie and Seth were getting married on the eve of New Year's Eve, in Portland, Maine. They wanted a simple, elegant look — and getting married so close to holidays, they knew they wanted invitations that looked wintery without looking Christmas-y. They found the Whirl design and knew it would work well with their wedding colors of ivory, gold and silver. Katie was pleased with how, in her words, "Travis took the brief information I gave him about our 'vision' and turned that into our wedding invitations."

They used black text with gold artwork and gold typographic accents on the main invitations and the RSVP card. The wedding party was similarly attired in black tuxedos and floor-length metallic gowns. The set was printed on soft white Somerset paper and paired with oversized Arturo envelopes.

The corresponding invitation for the rehearsal dinner was done in all black. It was simple and a bit more more casual — with a graphic nod to the nautical setting — but the look was tied to the overall design by the type layout and paper stock. Rounding out the long holiday weekend of celebration, another card invited guests to a New Year's Eve party. That piece featured swirls and typographic accents printed in silver.

Katie's mother, who lives in Oklahoma, found Parklife Press through a Google search. Katie and Seth were happy she did; they live in Durham and were happy to support a local business. Katie's reaction when she first saw their invitations: "When I picked them up and saw them, I literally was obsessed with them. They could not have been more perfect!"

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson

Durham, Via ...

Megan and Ted had a bold, simple look in mind for their invitations. Both loved the clean look of the Futura typeface, which captured the wedding's modern and traditional blend of styles. They first grabbed their guests' attention with a save the date card, featuring a custom illustration by Travis, which traced the couple's route to the altar. Working from a concept Ted sketched on a napkin, the finished artwork diagrams their two paths becoming one shared journey: beginning in L.A. and New Orleans, meeting in N.Y., moving together to Virginia and ultimately, to Durham, North Carolina.

Ted also contributed the "concert poster" concept for the save the date's text layout. They were both very involved in the design process and enjoyed the collaboration, saying that Parklife "did a fantastic job in translating the concept into something that turned out beautifully on letterpress." The invitation itself was focused on clean lines, which were further highlighted by generous white space. Interestingly, the Black and Fire Truck red inks were not their wedding colors — they just really loved how those colors, especially on the bright white paper, made the design pop.

The couple had been big fans of letterpress printing before their wedding planning began — they appreciated, in Megan's words, "the tactile experience of opening up an envelope and experiencing an invitation that not only looked beautiful but FELT beautiful, too." And they valued what she described as "the permanence that letterpress represents. Even if the ink fades, the invite is still permanently there. It's a neat metaphor to accompany a wedding invite."

Photos by Sarah McCarty Arneson