by Founder & Creative Director Macon York Costlow
The Early Artist Years
Long before Cotton Blossom Press launched in 2016, I have always been an artist, designer, letterpress printer, and entrepreneur. From a young age, I loved to make things with my hands and when possible, offer them for sale. As a young teenager, I fell in love with color film photography and always had a camera in hand. Any extra birthday or babysitting money was spent on developing my film, which I kept organized in countless photo albums. During my Phish days, I sat at the family kitchen table and sewed many corduroy patchwork purses and pouches to sell before the concerts - I even made the front page of a local newspaper doing this! My first formal art training was a painting class in high school. I loved learning the different techniques and styles. For college, I attended Sewanee, The University of the South, in Tennessee. I earned a degree in Fine Art, focusing on color painting, darkroom photography, and video. My thesis project was a documentary film on local farms in the area. Aside from my personal passion for local food, I loved the sense of collaboration while interviewing and videoing the farmers, hearing their story and working one-on-one with them. Upon graduation, I was awarded the Powell Arts Scholarship, which was used to fund my living expenses while I interned in Nashville for the summer at a graphic design firm, Crookston Design (now Circa Design).
The Beginning of a Design Career in New York City
After college, I moved to New York City to pursue a career in graphic design, specifically magazine layout design. Beginning as an intern, I first worked for Domino Magazine, which is part of Condé Nast Publications. My Creative Director Stella Bugbee encouraged me to enroll in Continuing Education classes in Typography and Design at School of Visual Arts. As my design skills advanced, I was promoted to Art Assistant and Designer. Sadly, Condé Nast folded the title in January 2008 as a result of the economy crash. I was devastated to lose my job but thrilled when I was quickly hired at New York Magazine where I designed pages in the Food Section and helped with administrative work in the Art Department. After a year and a half at New York Magazine, I moved on to Martha Stewart Living as Assistant Art Director. My time at Martha Stewart was one of the most challenging but also the most creatively satisfying times of my life. I was responsible for several stories within an issue, working on several issues at a time, and developing stories from the basic concept all the way until it was ready for press. This process included brainstorming with editors to create the story concept, planning photo-shoots to determine the imagery for the story, art directing the photographers and stylists on photo-shoots, designing the story layout (in collaboration with editors), revising and tweaking the design to accommodate text or story changes until absolutely perfect and ready to ship to the printer. In the midst of this fun and busy job, I missed working quietly by myself on small projects. I was beginning to feel exhausted from the teamwork at my job.
Falling in Love With Letterpress
Around the age of 25, I had a little Quarter Life Crisis and began to think about the future. I didn't see myself living in New York, trying to raise a family around the demanding schedule of a magazine. I knew I wanted to move back to the South, slow down my pace of life, and work for myself. At the time, I had now idea how that was all going to happen. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, I decided to follow my curiosity. One Sunday afternoon, I signed up for a letterpress workshop at The Arm, a community letterpress studio in Brooklyn. As I hand-set the old wood type, hand-mixed the ink to make the color I wanted, lined up my paper, and set up the press, I knew this was it. The physical, tactile, and analog design and printing process was a welcome contrast to the digital design of the magazine industry. I began to spend my weekends at the letterpress studio creating greeting cards. As my letterpress skills blossomed, friends began to commission me to design and print custom letterpress invitations for weddings. I found that I really enjoyed working one-on-one with my clients: teaching them how to work with a designer, creating a custom design, and the process of managing and printing the order. I never truly considered a business name for myself and just went with my own name: Macon York.
Homesteading in the South of France
While I was pleased with the small success of the letterpress business and eager to continue, I had two other big dreams in my heart and I knew it was time to pursue them. First, I booked a trip to the south of France and spent three months working on small organic farms through the WWOOF program. I volunteered on different small homesteads, run by writers, artists, and innkeepers. I observed first hand how they combined their love of self-sufficiency with their professional calling, and was inspired. I solidified my commitment to a natural life full of growing things, sharing meals, reverence for the sacred, and loving, intentional relationships. My newly discovered love and penchant for the ancient art of printmaking fit into the goals for my future and the life I was living in France.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The second dream was to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. In March of 2012, I set foot once again on the legendary Appalachian Trail. Almost a decade before, as a 16-year-old camper, I completed a 50-mile section in NC and TN through Camp Kanuga, and made the commitment to hike every step of the trail by the time I turned 30. So at the age of 27, I set my sights northward from Springer Mountain, Georgia, tightened the straps of my backpack, and took my first northbound steps on the 2,184.4 mile footpath to Mount Katahdin, Maine. 100 miles into my hike, I experienced something I never considered on this athletic adventure: love at first sight in a fellow hiker who later became my husband. We hiked the remaining 2,084 together, sharing our stories and dreams as we hiked up and down countless mountains. On September 25, 2012, we climbed to the top of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus, and successfully successfully completed the entire trail Appalachian Trail.
Creating a Home & Letterpress Business in Appalachia
After completing the thru-hike, I knew I wanted to live forever in Appalachia, specifically in the town of Asheville, NC. I had grown up visiting Asheville in the summers and had always loved the eclectic, arts-focused, mountain town. Before going to France, I attended the first Ladies of Letterpress Conference held in Asheville in 2011. With the help of my family, I moved to Asheville in March of 2013. For housing, I found a funky two-story converted carriage house sitting on 44 acres of land. I moved in and began working for myself full-time under the name Macon York Letterpress & Design. I completed my orders at Asheville BookWorks studio, a wonderful community letterpress studio. In 2015, as my business continued to grow, I purchased two Vandercook #4 printing presses and moved them into the downstairs area of my home studio, where all work is now produced. Over the winter of 2015/2016, I began to really reflect on the future of my business and realized I needed some clear work/life division. Working under my own name made that tricky. In April 2016, I got married and took my husband's name. Throughout 2016, I have been working on a big re-branding and re-launching of my business as Cotton Blossom Press.
A New Beginning: Cotton Blossom Press
Why the name change?
Reason #1: I love my maiden name, Macon York, and initially figured that would be the name of my business. At first the tag line was "Letterpress Stationery" which later became "Letterpress & Design." The tagline eventually morphed into the business name, "Macon York Letterpress & Design." I started to feel confused about sharing my personal name with my business - where was the line separating Macon York the person/artist from Macon York the business/brand? Macon York the person is also a hiker and gardener, but that was not part of the Macon York brand - or was it?
Reason #2: In addition, I love social media and blogging. I have always connected to new clients from these platforms and stay connected to friends and acquaintances with whom I would otherwise lose touch. As my business grew, social media and blogging started to feel confusing. Before I had a business, I blogged on a site called Velvet Nectar. I started reading marketing articles for small business owners and began to feel like I was supposed to blog as a wedding invitation expert, though part of me just wanted to share photos of my garden. Conflicted, I slowly stopped blogging altogether. The same confusion carried over to Instagram and Facebook. After much brainstorming and reflection on the brand I wanted for the business, I created the new name: Cotton Blossom Press.
Reason #3: This has been something that I've reflected on for a while and I know it's the right path.
Why Cotton Blossom Press? What does it mean?
COTTON is a natural material that is soft, elegant, durable, natural, and accessible. I like that it has a nod to my Southern heritage. Our house-stock paper is Crane Lettra which is 100% cotton. I have found that cotton paper enhances the look and feel of letterpress.
BLOSSOM adds some charm and a touch of femininity. Blossoms are fleeting, which seems appropriate for what we do - invitations and greeting cards are beautiful and make you smile, but rarely do you keep them forever. They add wonder to the present moment and then are gone.
PRESS describes the business, as we specialize in letterpress. That being said, I like that the word “press” is open-ended and allows for growth, should we expand to offer items beyond paper products.
In January of 2015, I was invited to share my letterpress story with PechaKucha Asheville. The guidelines were to give a presentation that included 20 slides that would be 20 seconds each. Below is a video of my presentation, if you would like to see: