It’s a story that begins back in 1964 with a heartfelt gift from a mother to her son that introduced him to the world of hand printing.
That son is Bill Muller, for whom art, design and handmade crafts has been a part of his life ever since. And the gift was The Ideal Toy Company’s home printing press, called The Big Press, that was seen in Popular Mechanics magazine. It was a plastic toy press, approximately 11” x 19” x 10” that came with all the accessories from ink to assorted blocks of type.
“I was six at the time and remember printing a family newsletter that I would share among them, as well as making some holiday cards,” Muller said.
He took that love of the toy printing press to high school in California where he did page layout with hot type for the school’s letterpress printed newspaper. Out of college, Muller worked for the Valley Advocate in the late ’70s where he operated stat cameras and photo typesetting equipment and did oldfashioned paste up.
Life happens and for the past 36 years Muller has been owner of Guild Art Supply. The store stocks a diverse selection of oil, acrylic and watercolor paints, as well as items ranging from drafting supplies, crafting goods, printmaking materials, crafts for kids, and an array of fine and decorative papers.
“We have a well-stocked fun inventory and artists who have found us are extremely happy, and 95 percent who visit us leave with what they wanted,” Muller said. He noted that COVID-19, which has caused the shutdown of some manufacturers in the United States and abroad, has led to some shortages of art supplies.
Despite the pandemic, Muller said his sale of art supplies both online and in the store has continued.
“What we’ve found, for example, is that many folks who haven’t picked up the brush in years are now returning to painting and other forms of art such as calligraphy during the pandemic. We also saw plenty of sales to students this summer who were taking online pre-college art courses ranging from painting to architecture. And, right now we are preparing art supply packets for elementary and other students not returning to the classroom, so that they can participate in art classes remotely from home,” he said.
Muller’s own printing endeavors didn’t enter back into his life until he visited the studio of a friend and former employee, artist Ali Osborn. After watching him at work on the letterpress, Muller became obsessed with finding a letterpress and starting up his own studio which he now calls Big Wheel Press.
Today his letterpress shop using hot metal typesetting specializes in custom works and is known for its unique brand of wedding invitations, corporate materials, social stationery and a line of original greeting cards that are second to none. Staff work closely with clients to make their product stand out using custom die cutting, hot foil stamping, and deep impression printing adding a rich texture to the final product.
GLOSSARY OF PRINTING TERMS
Also referred to as relief printing, letterpress is a commercial printing process where the text or image is on a raised surface and then pressed against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. Letterpress printing dates back to Johannes Gutenberg in Maiz, Germany, around 1450 and remained popular until the development of lighography late in the 18th century and later offset lithography in the early 20th century.
Foil stamping, also known as hot stamping, is a type of relief printing involving using a heated metal plate and a thin strip of foil that is placed between the paper and the plate. The heated foil then transfers from the strip to the paper when the plate is pushed against the paper. The process can also be applied to card stock and plastics.
Used to create custom shapes and designs on a printed piece, die-cutting is a process by which a sharp steel blade is formed into a specific shape, then cut through the paper.
The artistic works of Big Wheel Press can be seen in prominent museums creating original letterpress product for their gift shops, as well as prints for their collections. Their greeting cards, pocket notebooks and gift items are in museum stores around the world including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Morgan Library and Museum, Huntington Library, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Their work can also be seen in the collections of the University of Massachusetts Contemporary Art Museum, Mead Museum at Amherst College, and Historic Northampton.
“We have also worked with Turner Classic Movies, creating very fancy invitations for their annual Academy Awards party, and with Spotify on a gift that they gave to top rap artists on their streaming network,” Muller said.
But it is their clever and inventive original design greeting cards - for all occasions from simple thank you to birthday and sympathy cards, or in the words of Hallmark, “just because” - that have been attracting a lot of attention.
“I work with four other illustrators and we combine our thoughts on honing down the sentiments, then I put the final design touch on them for their conversion to printing on the letterpress,” Muller said.
There are funny cards that say on the front “Having a great time without you,” a romantic Mr. Rogers Valentine card, a new “Black lives matter” card, straightforward and simple cards with floral designs on the front that say “Happy Birthday,” even one based on an old restaurant placemat that offers instructions on how to eat a boiled lobster, as well as political cards that Muller claims sole creativity for. There are plenty to pick from all depicted on 18 pages on their website.
“People have been writing more during the pandemic and our greeting cards and personalized stationery have been very popular. Sadly, we’ve been selling a lot more sympathy cards,” Muller said.
In March, Muller consolidated Guild Art Supply and Big Wheel Press into one location on 1 Cottage St., Building 10, in Easthampton, across from Nashawannuck Pond. Because of the limitations placed on businesses and the need to maintain social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, appointments to visit the shop are needed by calling (413) 586-6343.
“We are only allowing two to four people into the shop at a time. It’s a non-stressful environment where you can take your time for some 30 minutes picking out your art supplies and looking at our greeting cards and other products such as broadsides, post28ers, notebooks and more. You can look over your shoulder and see our letterpress operation and talk about printing with us. It’s a fun experience and you can look out our windows at the waterfall outside and the canal that flows underneath the studio, where a blue heron and even an otter can be seen at times,” Muller said.
If you purchase a card or poster while visiting the shop that you decide you just have to frame and hang in your home or gift to someone else, Muller can help. His Pierce’s Frameshop in Northampton has been a tradition for over 100 years. They specialize in conservation-grade materials and staff remains ready to meet any framing challenge from posters to fine art, children’s finger painting to family heirlooms, shadow boxes, and more.
“I purchased Pierce’s Frameshop in 1987. It is the oldest continuous business in the area since 1894 and I believe one of the finest in the Valley. Our framing experts have been continuously booked since the pandemic, which I attribute to the fact that people have been at home staring at their walls and wanting something new to look at,” Muller said.
Pierce’s Frame Shop is located on Main St. in Northampton. Because of the current demand for framing and social distancing demanded by the coronavirus, patrons must make a reservation to visit the store by calling (413) 584-1207.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW.BIGWHEELPRESS.COM OR CALL 413-203-1700 ORE EMAIL THEM AT SALES@BIGWHEELPRESS.COM