An Ode To The Trailing Edge

Made in Sonoma. Slow and meticulous. We set out to create the 2018 Rivertown Revival poster. Using our hands and tools from the past – wood, iron and imagination. What we found reinvigorated our design chops.

That being said, there’s something about the love of letterpress printing that’s indestructible. That it’s survived and returned to schools and studios around the world speaks to that. What is it? The clinking and soft whir of a Chandler and Price press that drowns out the humming and droning beeps of the technology that surrounds us? The feeling you get when you see a beautifully carved foot-wide wooden letter “G”? Hands are drawn to the power of meaningful words on paper so deeply impressed that you have to run your fingers over their surface. Perhaps it’s the way a delicate dingbat sits raised .981” on a chunk of lead. It’s consuming.

Letterpress printing has not just survived, it’s thriving; and with passion, some humor, and style.

Moon and Thistle press in Santa Rosa is a haven for this trailing edge of technology. We brought with us a small collection of wooden letters and an idea for Petaluma’s Rivertown Revival poster. Co-Proprietor, Katie Nealon led us on a printing journey with her Vandercook 219AB press that prints a maximum sheet of 19×26”. Translation: Built in 1949, this 10ft long, 2500lb machine with power driven ink distribution and two swing-out paper shelves under the feed board can crank out oversized posters you’d want to envelope yourself in – they are so full of depth and the smell of history. Katie’s Vandercook proudly sits central in her shop surrounded by over 200 drawers of type – living in California Cases. Her shelves are loaded with leading, spacers, Kelsey presses, a plethora of tools and gobs of wood furniture used to lock up the type on the press.

We arrived with a box of wood type and an idea and clearly left that afternoon with more than a printed poster. We are now infused with a deeper appreciation for an era passed. Thanks to Katie and her will to care and preserve. She’s an artist, a poet and her studio is a quiet nod that letterpress is here. Alive.

Give me the HeeBee's

As you stroll historic downtown Petaluma and come upon HeeBe JeeBe on Kentucky Street, “Champion” will be there to greet you. Champion is a circa 1940s-50s coin operated horse. He sits just outside the door, saddled and bridled in real leather, as “the most beloved thing in Petaluma for the under four crowd,” says HeeBe JeeBe owner Drew Washer. “My husband drove back to Bisbee, Arizona in the middle of summer heat with no air conditioning and brought him back here,” elaborates Drew. Halfway into our interview a little girl walks towards the cashier with pep talk from her mom, and shyly requests a quarter for one ride.

hee be jee be_champion

Drew Washer opened HeeBe JeeBe General Store in the 1980s when she moved to Petaluma to start a family. As a creative professional and mother her goal was to create a place of value. She conceived of the store, initially named Boomerang, while freelancing for catalogue companies. “I was doing design boards. So I opened it from a very visual artistic direction, as opposed to facts and figures.” A requisite sense of adventure to acquire decorations such as Champion, and thoughtful accommodations for the “under four years old” crowd, reflect Drew’s unique sensibility.


Coupling family and business acumen, Drew often picks up heirlooms on short family road trips through California towns or to desert landscapes. Objects like taxidermies of buffalo and goat heads are mounted high on the walls. But don’t mistake the decor for tinsel. From beasts to Dia De Los Muertos skeletons and a chandelier of hanging fishes crafted by members of Washer’s family, there are poetic stories behind everything. Patrons are also encouraged to follow their own storylines with merchandise, shares staff. Whether on your way to a pink elephant party, contemplating a birthday gift, or looking for a special card, your situation and taste are likely accounted for by a range of merchandise “from young to old.”

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At the far corner of the store is The Back House Gallery. It isn’t a standard art gallery, with four snug corners lit by one magical skylight. On the other hand its measure follows a different ruler. “Both my kids in their artistic and creative years had their own little house they lived in. And we always called it ‘the back house.’ My son and daughter did their first shows out there,” explains Drew. “From ideas that inspire me and whatever is happening in the community,” The Back House Gallery creates nine shows per year that are community driven. March 27th featured “Home Work,” an exhibit of work by three local art teachers, a glimpse of “how they keep their own art practices alive.” The end of June will present “Go Slow,” a sloth-themed fundraiser to help build an aviary in a local classroom. In July stay tuned for the artist open call for self-portraits.

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Envisioned by Drew Washer over sixteen years ago as a “challenge of pulling something together, whatever it is,” HeeBe JeeBe General Store is a place you cannot replicate. As a small business owner Washer infuses the 19th century “general store” model with quirky alterations just for Petaluma. General stores were small town stores all about providing variety and meeting the needs of nearby inhabitants. Holding to values of community and family values, Drew’s vision as a business owner/curator has created a rare alloy. Part general store, part novelty shop, and community gathering post, the store caters to the local parent, quirk, retro snob, artsy cultural connoisseur or nerd, thoughtful gift giver, resident and of course visitors passing through. It seems best to meet a friend there, take one’s time browsing, and of course, chat with other folks.