“Oh my, what a lotta letters!”

Jack Spring, father of artist Jessica Spring, pores over his amazing matchbook collection.
John Spring, father of artist Jessica Spring, sorts through his amazing matchbook collection collected over decades. Photo: Jessica Spring

By Lisa Kinoshita

Noted letterpress artist Jessica Spring has curated her private family collection of paper artifacts in a stunning exhibition at the Tacoma Post Office Building: reCollection, An Ephemeral Exhibition of Exquisite & Eclectic Ephemera through December 10, 2014. “When used by collectors, the term ‘ephemera’ describes materials, often paper, that have little value beyond their intended use,” says Spring. Matchbooks, postcards and milk bottle caps are examples. “These objects serve to light a cigarette, send a message, or protect a bottle of milk, but they also provide a glimpse of another place and time.”

Jessica Spring hand set the type for the exhibition poster. Photo courtesy of the artist

The century-old-yet-newly-hip Tacoma Post Office Building is the ideal venue for this exhibition. The show is hung in the grand, high-ceilinged lobby inside wall-mounted wooden display cases that allow visitors to get up close and read the ephemera’s fine print. The hundreds of advertising packaging and display items displayed in reCollection were collected over decades, and run the gamut “from gorgeous chromolithography to poorly registered letterpress printing.” Cleverly juxtaposed with the vintage objects are examples of Spring’s own fine craft, including the hilariously verbose exhibition poster (“Oh my, what a lotta letters!” she observes); and enlarged prints of winsome antique matchbook and bottle cap designs (e.g., Rival Dog Food and Pure Milk), that she has reinterpreted with elements of linoleum carving and hand-set type.

Limited-edition prints are available for purchase from Jessica Spring.
Limited-edition print available for purchase from Jessica Spring. Courtesy photo
Old-fashioned milk bottle caps – a taste of the past.

This exhibit also showcases the beautifully preserved collections of her father, John Spring. “I knew right away that my dad’s ephemera would be perfect to show” at the downtown post office, says Spring. “He lives in Portland but comes to visit, so he was involved from the start.”

reCollection gracefully narrates the aesthetic choices of both Springs, in the guise of supposed consumer preferences; it’s an intergenerational legacy entwined, however unlikely, with evolutions in modern advertising. “My father spent several days helping sort objects displayed in reCollection and shared stories he remembered, often triggered by the objects. He was an avid collector, confessing that ‘pretty much anything’ kept his interest. The milkman would bring him along as a helper then give him bottle caps as a reward, including some very large ones from restaurant customers. Relatives traveling around the country brought back matchbooks, rarely used, because like Dad, they never smoked.” The elder Spring’s ephemera was compiled from the 1940s to 1960s, “a time of hand lettering, bombastic copywriting” and a retro palette that would find fans today, notes Spring.

Playing with words: the Springs at an art event in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of the artist

“The most amazing day was bringing him to see the show, and he just parked himself in front of the cases to look and look.”

Spring, the recipient of the prestigious 2014 AMOCAT Award, hopes visitors to reCollection will “experience nostalgia, question the desire to collect and display, or consider the repurposing of ephemera enlarged beyond familiar scale. ” A recent talk she gave about ephemera at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, in Wisconsin, was enthusiastically received, she says. Her next project? “Right now I’m working on more ephemera—Tacoma ‘Seals of Approval’ that are printed with vintage cuts on gummed paper and will be perforated. Hopefully I’ll have some at Tacoma is for Lovers at King’s Books this weekend.”

Step right up and see “reCollection, An Ephemeral Exhibition of Exquisite & Eclectic Ephemera” at the Tacoma Post Office Building (Main Hall), 1102 A Street, through Dec. 10, 2014.