January 5, 2012 • Sarah Schwartz
Amy Graham Stigler
Like many working mothers, Amy Graham Stigler, Smock’s creative director and designer, has devised her own method to juggle a fruitful career with family. Unlike many working mothers, her method involves an interesting form of telecommuting – she designs for Smock, based in Syracuse, N.Y., from her native Wisconsin. Her studio is housed in the back of her boutique, monograham, which purveys a carefully curated selection of paper and gifts.
These objects and designs inspire her letterpressed work – as does family history. This is, after all, an individual whose wedding took place in the same spot, and evening as that of her parents 40 years before.
Repeating history doesn’t mean she didn’t carve out a unique career path. Before relocating back home, Stigler studied art history while working at the Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Art before co-founding Snow & Graham. Stationery Trends interviewed Stigler to learn more about her life and muses.
ST: Your love of family has colored your own milestones and events. Much of the very nature of stationery revolves around close connections. Is that why you gravitated to this industry?
AGS: I have a very close family – four siblings and a huge mix of cousins, aunts and uncles – and we are very much a part of each other’s lives. My mom is amazing at gathering and connecting people; for example, she hosts a weekly “cousins day” where we drop off our children at her house. Really she is a camp counselor, creating themes, for example, a specific country, and focuses activities and food around that. The kids love it and it fosters such a special bond between the cousins. And, of course, it’s a huge help to my siblings and me.
Regarding stationery, I have always loved to write. And I have always considered letters received (as) little gifts worthy of keeping. When my grandmother passed away at 100 I received a tidy, pretty box filled with letters I had written her over the years. It was so incredible to be able to see myself through my own lens from age 9 on.
ST: Many of your inspirations revolve around antiques and antiquities. When did your passion for these objects begin?
AGS: As a child I adored looking at old things – seeing how they were made, the motifs, colors and patina. My grandparents had an exquisite collection of antiques so I spent lots of time exploring their house. And my father is a craftsman, creating elaborate historically accurate furniture pieces, which certainly taught me to appreciate how things were made.
I’ve always loved books. I spent a lot of time as a child reading (and) poring over the coffee table books in our house. Mostly they were art books, which went on to inspire my interest in letterpress.
ST: You’ve said your children draw your attention to beautiful things you wouldn’t otherwise notice. Can you name some recent stand-outs?
AGS: This happens daily. For example, my daughter Miette is practicing her “writing” and will draw a single shape repeatedly to create these lovely little patterns. She calls them “homework” but to me they are beautiful little abstract compositions.
My boys Graham and Forester are very curious and inquisitive. They have quite expansive “natural curiosities” collections – rocks, sticks, “lake glass,” etc. Just last night my son Graham picked up an old beer bottle at the beach and said we needed to keep it because it had “good form!”
Function & Form
ST: How has your aesthetic evolved?
AGS: It’s gone through many iterations. I have always tried to maintain a balance – a fresh, modern take on a classic or referential aesthetic. And I always try to maintain a bit of playfulness and unexpectedness. I would say that over the years I have cultivated a more layered look, lots of pattern and ‘all-over’ design. And my color choices have become bolder.
ST: Describe your studio space.
AGS: My studio is an expansive space at the back of my store in a classically inspired building with loads of natural light and a beautiful front porch. It’s on the main street in the heart of the historic downtown Delafield, a lake community about half way between Madison and Milwaukee. People often comment that it must be so nice to work in such a “bright, fresh space filled with lovely things,” and I have to say, I feel very fortunate.
ST: How do you determine your color pairings?
AGS: This is one of my favorite tasks. I gather odds and ends (fabric swatches, ribbons, ephemera), juxtapose them and sit with them for some time. I wait to see if a specific color combination evolves into a collection or lends itself to a certain design direction I am exploring.
ST: You recently helped out for a charity event for I Back Jack, an organization pursuing a cure for neuroblastoma, an infant and childhood cancer. Its namesake is an 8-year-old who has been battling the disease since 2005. You helped with décor and donated a big box of Smock paper goods for fundraising. Do you contribute to any other charities?
AGS: Jack is a close friend of my son, (so) I Back Jack has become near and dear to our hearts. There doesn’t seem to be anything more worthy of our attention than funding research that will help (and save) children battling cancer. Recently we hosted an event at the store, and I will continue to support the organization.
Smock is extremely committed to environmental causes, donating 1 percent of all sales to the Pesticide Action Network and the Amazon Conservation Association, amongst other acts of generosity.
Nuts & Bolts
ST: What’s your favorite custom project?
AGS: The latest (one) is always my favorite. I love the first meeting where I get to hear a person’s dream of their event. Then I love translating that dream to paper. I just worked on a project where when I asked my client to tell me how she envisioned her wedding and she sent a beautiful description of her relationship with her fiancé and some snapshots. The event was to be defined by intangibles, their connection, love and commitment.
ST: Do you collect anything?
AGS: OH NO. Where do I begin? I am a collector at heart. I consider my collections to be necessary luxuries, since I usually collect things that serve a purpose. For instance, (my) etched glassware (is so) expansive (that) I’m able to host 100 guests at my home and serve them each a cocktail in a unique piece. And I probably have a lovely little dessert plate for each of them as well.
ST: Do you have a current design obsession?
AGS: I have always adored metallics, sometimes shiny metallics, sometimes matte metallics, but I have been smitten with gold, silver, copper and brass for as long as I can remember. And I love texture, which is one reason I use pattern so much in letterpress.
ST: What other stationery designers do you admire?
AGS: There is so much great design out there (and) it’s so different than it was 15 years ago. I appreciate the work of companies that have been around for the long haul, like Egg Press. I love Tara (Hogan) of Ink & Wit, so organic and modern, and Rifle. Anna (Bond) is such a lovely illustrator. And I love Mr. Boddingtons which does “pomp and circumstance” is such a witty, design-savvy way.
ST: What advice would you give to new invitation designers?
AGS: Find a mentor in the field. Work in a stationery store. Learn etiquette and Adobe Illustrator. Look at art. Look at fashion. Look at nature. Be resourceful. Oh and it helps to be business and number savvy!
Amy at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?
A. There are so many places and periods I would love to explore. One spot I would love to visit is Paris, 27 Rue de Fleurus in the early 20th century for one of Leo & Gertrude Stein’s famous salons. To be in a room filled with the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Marie Laurencin … and ALL that art and intellect would just be a thrill.
Q. How would you define your signature style?
A. Classic and referential with a modern, playful edge.
Q. What’s new for 2012?
A. We had a huge release in 2011 so we’re hoping to stay the course for 2012 and focus on existing products with really inspired, fresh designs. That said, for our custom album, we are coming out with four new wedding suites; two new custom calligraphy fonts in collaboration with Sarah Hanna and Kelle McCarter, two of our favorite calligraphers; and some very cool embellishments!
Q. What one design or product from your 2012 releases do you think is going to be hot and why?
A. I think our new custom calligraphy fonts that will be featured on our new wedding invitations will be big. Smock custom will now have six signature calligraphy fonts. Lettering is an essential part of a wedding invitation, and it’s difficult to find beautiful script fonts that aren’t everywhere within months. So we started developing custom fonts, based on real calligraphy, right when we launched Smock, and it’s been such a hit. Creating a font is a labor of love, a rewarding and fascinating process to go through.
Q. Which pieces do you feel reflects the direction of your line?
A. Our new wedding line really stands out to me because it exemplifies how expansive Smock’s custom line is. The new library showcases the myriad ways you can customize our designs: die-cuts, hand painted borders, edging, liners, folios and more! I love that each client can use our elements to create a bespoke design that perfectly reflects their event and intention.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite?
A. I adore our wedding invitation Odin. I love the layering of pattern, the mix of lettering styles, the repeating organic yet stylized motif, and the colors are just yummy.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. My intention was to become a museum curator. I was en route to get my Ph.D in Art History when I sidestepped, somewhat haphazardly, into stationery design and started Snow & Graham. Owning a store is my surrogate as I get to curate a lovely collection of objects – slightly less lofty but fulfilling nonetheless.