Local Artist Check-in: Emily Hancock

Posted on November 26, 2014 by


Beyond the city, off 250 West just before Three Notched Road leads you into Crozet, a large sign in the shape of a hand points you to The Barn Swallow during open hours. It was here on a recent dark winter’s night that I turned in toward the barn that has stood since the 1800s, ablaze this night with electric twinkle lights announcing a reception, and found in the back room a block print by Emily Hancock titled “Hunter’s Moon.” I was struck by the rich blue ink of the sky and the details of white representing the stars and moon. I learned that Emily owns her own letterpress printing and hand bookbinding business called St Brigid Press, which prints poetry books, broadsides, posters, block prints (like “Hunter’s Moon”), bookmarks, gift tags, and coasters. Her work is now on display and for sale at The Barn Swallow year-round.

IMG_1362Emily Hancock

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not the Charlottesville area, what brought you here?

Originally from North Carolina, I graduated from Mary Baldwin College years ago. After spending time in Atlanta for graduate school and work, I moved back to the Blue Ridge and have been happily in Afton now for about 10 years.

When and why did you start working in letterpress printing and hand bookbinding?

Four or five years ago, when I was a bookseller at Stone Soup Books in Waynesboro, I came across a handmade book of poetry ~ beautiful text beautifully printed and bound. Holding it in my hands was an epiphanal moment, an “ah-ha” moment. THIS was what I wanted to do: weave my 30-years’ passion for poetry with the art of the handmade. Work with language on an intimate level, from the first ephemeral thoughts of a poem drifting through the mind, to the physical sculpture of the letters themselves in metal and wood type ~ all collaborating to render beauty from experience to expression.IMG_0269

What artists influence(d) you most?

I’m sorry to say that I do not know who made that first book I encountered, but to whomever it was I say a continual Thank You. Since then, the exquisite work of many fine letterpress printers and binders inspire, encourage, and teach me daily. Included in this long roster are Chad Pastotnik of Deep Wood Press (Michigan), Abigail Rorer of The Lone Oak Press (Massachusetts), and Bob Baris of The Press on Scroll Road (Ohio).

What aspects of life excite you, stir your affections, fuel your passions, inspire your art?

First and foremost among my inspirations and informants is the natural world. Both my parents encouraged and educated an innate inclination towards trees, birds, oceans, mountains, rivers, and animals, and I began writing poems about such from the age of six. As Wendell Berry has said, the presence and peace of wild things has brought grace, healing, and deep connection to my life. Writing, printing, and bookbinding are ways to respond, reflect, and share that nourishing connection.

What do you want people to take away from your works?

I would be honored if those who encounter my work would feel an authenticity, an attentive aliveness, and the blessing of beauty. May the words that I print, and the forms of the paper and books themselves, speak the vitality ~ the vitalness ~ of poetry and its ability to accompany us on all our journeys.IMG_1920

Finish this sentence. Letterpress printing to me is…

Letterpress printing is a communion ~ a communion of centuries-old techniques, the sculpted metal letters themselves, and the daily bread of language ~ that become together an embodiment of beauty.

What does a day in the life of a letterpress printer/bookbinder look like from your perspective?

One of the most challenging things, as a one-woman operation at St Brigid Press, is to attend and manage all the aspects of my work on any given day: In the morning, I may be on-press, producing limited-edition prints of a wood carving. In the afternoon, while the prints are drying, I may return to sewing blank books for journals, with time out to finish designing the next commissioned poetry broadside. At some point in the day, I update the Press’ website and Twitter and Facebook pages. Oh, and corresponding with clients and colleagues. And maintaining the 100+ year old printing presses and other equipment. And cleaning. And feeding the dog.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and your art?

2015 is chock-full of fun things, beginning January 15th with the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. St Brigid Press will have a presence there, and will be unveiling the newest poetry broadside, commissioned by the Festival’s founder and director Stan Galloway. April, being National Poetry Month, always has a big docket of printed matter, including the next designs in my Post-A-Poem Poetry Postcard series. Two more books of poetry and several other commissions are in the design-stage for release later in the year, and I hope to attend a few more festivals and fine press book events. All very exciting!IMG_4888

What are you working on right now?

Two weeks ago, I finished work on the latest letterpress printed book of poetry, “Soundings,” and had a wonderful book launch at Stone Soup Books (Waynesboro). Since then, most of the work at St Brigid Press has been geared toward seasonal items. Letterpress printed holiday cards and gift tags came out last week, so there is much packaging and shipping going on! In another week, I will shift attention to poetry commissions due in January and February.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career as an artist?

Joseph Cambell says, “Follow your bliss.” I would add, Commit to your creativity. Talk to as many of your art-heroes as possible (I have found the generosity, wisdom, and support of the printing community to be astonishing and invaluable). Practice gratitude.

What makes Cville special for artists of all forms?

Charlottesville has long been invested in the arts. From the university to the downtown to all the galleries and studios tucked here and there in and around the city, C-ville has made the arts a priority. Artists here have the opportunity to learn, thrive, be supported, and be celebrated.

Favorite place in Cville to… be creative?

The wonderful Virginia Arts of the Book Center.

Favorite place in Cville to… see art?

The Barn Swallow Artisan Gallery.IMG_5974

Favorite place in Cville to… grab a bite?

Royal India Restaurant.

Favorite place in Cville to… get a drink?

Blue Mountain Brewery.

Any other Cville favorites?

The Rare Book School.

Lastly… Describe yourself in 10 words or less.

Passionate proponent of poetry through the medium of traditional printing.