Arts & Culture

Jessica Spring pays homage to print art long-gone at Tacoma’s Old Post Office

Remember when milk came in bottles? And cigarettes were lit by matches out of books? And remember when we actually mailed postcards to each other?

Jessica Spring does – or at least, she collects the ephemera of that era: cards, bottle-tops and the like, with their vintage typefaces and design. And so when Spaceworks opened up the antique wood-framed cabinets in the historic Old Post Office building downtown, the Tacoma letterpress artist decided to fill them with an installation that pays tribute to the ephemera and aesthetic of those days.

"Re-collection" (read it both ways) is as much about Spring herself as her work. Half of the cabinets are neat mountings of bottle-tops, matchbook covers and postcards from the 20th century, their retro palettes of royal blue, faded red and burnt yellow combining with the design-y layout of circles, squares and rectangles to form a kind of physical Instagram, a tiled grid of pure visuals. It’s impressive enough that the artist, fresh from a recent City of Tacoma AMOCAT award, is patient enough to collect and sort these things (helped by her father, who also contributed memories).

But in the cabinets opposite, and in the entryway, Spring has created her own letterpress versions of half-a-dozen of these designs. Using lino-cut etchings and type, she enlarges the designs for buttermilk or beans by 400 percent, printing them on pure white squares (and slightly tweaking the design for the better). It gives the image a Warholian importance, tinged with a handmade quality in the lines. One complaint: It would have been nice to have all the originals displayed beneath for comparison, not just one or two.

The final case, around the corner, is more vintage, this time Tacoma-focused. Old postcards, photographs and tide tables sit well with Spring’s original work: a coaster-sized "Tacometer", set optimistically on 10; a set of three "You’ll Like Tacoma" prints with type color fading through the color wheel.

Unlike some of the art that’s been up at the Post Office since it was reopened, Spring’s "Re-collection" fits perfectly with the contained, antique feel of the building, linking modern letterpress with the older industry that inspired it.