In the cozy white brick studio, they print.
Wedding invitations. Business cards. Posters. They pull the copies from antique presses by hand after arranging each letter carefully.
If you’ve spent time visiting local shops or cafes in St. Petersburg, there’s a chance you’ve seen something made at Print St. Pete Community Letterpress. The most prominent is a white poster with black words: All are welcome here.
For local printers Bridget Elmer and Kaitlin Crockett, letterpress is as much about the craft as it is spreading messages like this. At their Gulfport studio, the pair are putting that power into the hands of anyone and everyone.
A bookmaker and artist, Elmer is the letterpress and book arts coordinator at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. One self-publishing class in 2002 led her to learn the craft, and she soon bought her own tabletop platten press.
For writer and librarian Crockett, letterpress was a way of connecting to her family’s past. Her grandmother was a newspaper proofreader, her grandfather a newspaper typesetter. She took a bookbinding class taught by Elmer while getting a creative writing degree at Florida State University so she could create a chapbook of her poetry.
“I always was kind of crafty. And I was always a writer," Crockett said. "So finding something that combined the two was really magical.”
Crockett went on to launch her own print business, Oma Darlin’ Press. Elmer, meanwhile, co-founded The Southern Letterpress. Both ended up in the St. Petersburg area and decided to combine resources, moving into a shared studio in 2013.
They sold their paper goods in local shops and hosted Paper + Pints events, welcoming the community in to share drinks and print messages on coasters.
Then Elmer and Crockett took their operation to local markets. They hooked a printing press up to “Fancy White,” a ‘66 flatbed GMC pick-up truck so shoppers could try making their own prints.
The more they were out in the community, the more people started to request custom print jobs.
“They’d be like, can you print this for me?'" Elmer said. "And we’re like, ‘No, but you could.’”
Print St. Pete started offering hands-on classes in 2016, some beginner and some more intensive. A four-hour letterpress workshop teaches the basics. Students return later to work on their own projects, from creating handmade business cards to designing their own wedding suites. Print St. Pete also hosts visiting and local artists in calligraphy, collage and bookbinding.
Elmer and Crockett launched the first St. Printersburg festival in March 2019 with Calusa Press, bringing together dozens of printmakers selling art and teaching hands-on demos. The free event is coming back to Calusa Commons in the Grand Central District on Sunday, March 8.
Crockett and Elmer often meet people who took letterpress as a school elective or remember grandparents owning presses. For newcomers, Elmer said, the appeal is the tactility.
“That direct engagement is something that people really seem to be feeling very satisfied by,” she said.
Letterpress, like other forms of art from the past, is having a resurgence. Similar to the slow food movement emerging as a response to fast food, there’s now a slow craft movement, too, Elmer said. It makes a lot of sense in St. Pete, a community that values all things local and self-made.
Which leads back to All Are Welcome Here, a sign you’ll see at a lot of local shops. Crockett made a stack of prints the week after Donald Trump was elected. After a polarizing election season that left many feeling uneasy, she decided to give them away.
“There was just so much hate going around and uncertainty. People didn’t feel safe," she said. “There was a need for that message."
In the four years since, she’s made hundreds more, in different colors and even now on T-shirts.
“I can never seem to print enough," Crockett said.
By putting the message out, they’ve also drawn people in, including two interns who helped make more posters.
Karli Schneider, the interdisciplinary artist who runs local zine shop Take Bread Press, is one. She started helping around the studio to learn more, and came away inspired.
“We started doing these posters because we’re in here talking and fired up about things that are happening in the country and the world,” Crockett said.
Schneider has made prints with phrases including “Migration is beautiful,” “Support the right to choose," and “We’re here we’re queer.”
“It’s speaks to what is going on right now in our political climate,” Schneider said.
The proceeds were donated to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. The pieces also act as conversation starters.
“Nine times out of ten, (customers) tell me their opinion or their experiences,” she said. “I think that it’s a way for people to appreciate it because it’s art, but then also kind of go the extra mile and have a conversation with who’s next to you who is also experiencing it.”