Kyle Durrie, found of Power & Light Press, speculates that more than a decade ago, coinciding with the inception and popularity of sites like Etsy, consumers began to react against the identical and modular, the duplicate wares churned out by corporations. “As a culture, we were losing touch with handmade things, and imperfection and charming flaws,” Durrie elaborated. “There was a return to craft … and I think things have only gotten more refined over the last decade.”
That return to craft has extended to all reaches of life and all manner of goods—think handmade soaps made from wild harvested plants, hand embroidered wearables, jewelry hammered around the block, not across the world, screenprinted towels and tees from the Grower's Market. Add to that tremendous list the charming, letterpressed bite of Power & Light's greeting cards. “Everyone's baby is ugly except for yours,” in block letter is typical of the voice you might expect from Durrie and company. Or, perhaps you might find something like the popular maxi pad cards, featuring an illustrated, yes, maxi pad, and the words, “You're super.” Maybe you've seen the three-color illustration of tube men (you know, those inflatable advertising gimmicks that car dealerships put out?) that simply offers the encouragement: “Fuck yeah.”
Before Durrie and her team of four others, headquartered in Silver City (611 N. Bullard, Unit F), with a small storefront currently in Madrid (3 Firehouse Lane) and a satellite store at Spurline Supply Co. (800 20th Street NW) found success with their quirky handmade cards, prints, totes and booze bags, Durrie was on a different path in life. She was an artist working in pen and ink when she “hit a creative wall. That world wasn't feeling right anymore.” So, she uprooted herself from Maine and moved to Oregon where she began to rethink her creative work, and took a letterpress class on a whim.
“The physical equipment really struck me,” she said describing the antique, large presses that she accessed in the class, despite the fact that they had fallen out of popular use in the `70s. “I thought they were really beautiful.” Then there was something about using a different medium—mostly words, strung into simple sentences and phrases with resonance. There was substance to working with language, the medium we all casually work in everyday. “What I had been struggling with before was my own hand as a drawer. Second-guessing the line work that I was doing. Working with type and text allowed me to totally pivot from the conceptual problems that I was having creatively. It gave me a practical challenge. String these letters into words and these words into sentences. I didn't care that I was a beginner. With drawing, I felt like I should know what I was doing at that point. With this craft, I was like, of course I don't know what I'm doing.”
It's safe to say that Durrie now has commanding knowledge of letterpress and stringing together the right words to strike shoppers looking for the right message to send to friends, lovers, acquaintances and family. Power & Light Press has grown from a one-woman operation to a team of five, and in Durrie's collection there are four presses reclaimed from disuse in sheds and barns across the country—and a fifth one on the way. While Durrie's job description positions her as the lead designer and artistic director, she described, “I work with four really smart and funny women and I want their feedback and ideas.” So, while many of these ideas spring solely from Durrie's mind, others are collaborative.
Typically, the concepts for these playful little greeting cards and assorted other goods take shape out of overheard conversations, observations, jokes exchanged between Durrie and her friends. Durrie records these things in a notebook to return to and flesh out digitally before transferring the design to a plate, and then fixing the plate to the press, where it is inked and put to paper in a style of relief process printing. In addition to Power & Light's collection of four presses, they also have a handful of typefaces in wood and lead, several clocking in at around 100 years in age. These typefaces are essentially the same concept as a stamp, and at one point in history, they were how every word was printed. Like the letterpress, these fell out of fashion in favor of more efficient technologies for mass production, but Power & Light cherishes these as the precious artifacts they are, and put them to work again to flex their perennial charm.
That's another thing that is so charming about Durrie and her team's craft—that the tools they use, whether old typefaces or a Chandler & Price cast iron press from 1923—have found new life through the revival of handmade objects. And that Power & Light can take an antiquated method and use it in service of a voice so modern, so enlightened and funny is a testament to both revitalization and progress. “It's not so niche anymore,” Durrie said, after pointing out the first press she ever owned, now on display at Spurline Supply Co. “Handmade things are not this weird, specialized side thing. They are part of the conversation of objects these days.” And not just as an aside, as a major speaking point.
Power & Light Press continues their hard work and steady, organic growth. The company has recently moved to a larger workshop in Silver City with a proper storefront (Open Thurs-Sat, 11am to 3pm). Their Madrid store will be open on weekends for the foreseeable future, and Albuquerque locals can find a huge breadth of their products at Spurline. February will see a release of new card designs for spring that get all the sentiments right. For Durrie—that's at the core of this practice, creating cards that make people remember others in their life and reach out, communicate. It took some growing up to get there, though. “I used to feel like it wasn't artistic enough—artist with a capital 'A',” she said. “Now, the day-to-day, creative side of running the business does feel like enough … to be part of those relationships between people, that feels good.”
Get in on the conversation by following Power & Light Press on Instagram @powerandlightpress, order online at powerandlightpress.com, or visit any of their stores in Silver City, Madrid or at Spurline Supply Co. in Albuquerque.