A first proof of a project on the Poco No. 0 press rescued from the trash.

I can get lost in the type. Surrounded by drawers and drawers of letterpress type, metal, wood, very large to very small. It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends. And I get to spend some time nearly every day just hanging out with my type friends getting to know them better.

It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends.

My thoughts wander as I look at the individual letters that once made up a story. It’s like they’re destined to be reborn, found again to make a new story. But for now, the pile of type is pied, jumbled. And I wonder about that word – pied. Did that mean that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was “jumbled” too? Turns out “no,” not exactly.

In the story, however, the Pied Piper wore a very colorful costume and pied was referring to the multiple colors. But I like the idea that perhaps he was a bit “colorful” in his thinking, too. As in the stories lost in the pile of pied, aka jumbled, type. And here I was, playing the role of the Printer’s Devil, sorting through the pile of tiny pieces of type, first by size, and then by typefaces, with some of the metal type tossed into the hell box for melting if too rough a condition to use. Once the second round of sorting is done, then finding a home for the more complete sets of type will be necessary. And that job usually comes with having to clean and probably restore the warped bottom of one of the last drawers still available to fill.

Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity?

What some may see as tedium, I find meditative. As each tiny letter appears before me, I admire the details, the design decisions made in their creation, the changes from one letter to the next in different typefaces, even among the same size. This afternoon it was 6 point to 18 point type. The majority was at the smallest size and fascinated me with the differing heights and widths of the capital letters from different typefaces even as they measured the same physical size.

I wondered… what could have been written with these tiny letters? Was it the fine print of a contract? Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity? These thoughts wander through my mind like wisps of smoke as I pick up small handfuls of the pied type, blowing off the dusty fragments of nesting material from mice who’d made their way into the typecases in an abandoned printshop long before the cases made their way here, to my little corner of letterpress heaven.

A small batch of pied type ready to be sorted. Previously, I had sorted through bags of new type that had fallen from their original boxes.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away. The seller was an old professor of hers in Ann Arbor and we’d settled on a price. But then a few days later he came back asking for more, apparently having gotten a higher offer. It was a poor business practice but I wanted her to have the press that would allow her to do what she’d been thriving with in college, and in her work for mentor Endi Paskovic, with woodcut printing.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away.

When we finally settled on a price and went to pick it up, with Steve’s help and that of several of my daughter’s friends, I stood with the seller and was chatting about printing and letterpress since we had printed my older daughter’s wedding invitations on our own little Kelsey 6×10. He pointed out the pieces to a printing press scattered across his garage floor, a very large 12×18 Chandler & Price platen press that he had brought from California long ago and now was doing a full restoration after his divorce. Do you want it? he asked. For free… since you were buying the other press, he said.

The 2500 lb. press made its way home, with lots of help and an extra trip to Ann Arbor since the combined weight with the Charles Brand would have been too much for the box trailer we were using. That was nearly 8 years ago. The C&P is still here… and so is my now husband, Steve who is more determined then ever to finish assembling the press, especially now that it has an honored place in the newly reorganized studio. Once the Charles Brand was set to sell, and my daughter’s flat files removed from precious floor space in the studio, things changed quickly.

A Vandercook #4 proofing press was in an estate sale south of us, an unusual opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. But a weekend before the sale started I called the estate sale manager to ask questions. After a little back and forth, he asked me to come down to look over the printing stuff to give him some advice since his own knowledge of it was far more limited than even my own.

We drove down in the pouring rain in the Tesla on Monday, driving dirt roads when I’d mistakenly thought it would be safer to stay off the highways. By the time we got there, nearly 2 hours later, we spent time going through everything, putting items that belonged together, describing the purpose of some of the items, and generally noting the condition of many of the pieces. I asked about the Vandercook’s sale price, and he said he’d asked an expert to provide an valuation. He said he was told it would be worth around $9-12,000. I laughed nervously saying that was too rich for my blood. But I left him with a lower offer I thought I could manage. Still he said no, that he was going to auction it off. We drove back in the rain, this time taking the highways and got home in less than an hour.

The next morning, after all the rain, Steve discovered quite a mess in the basement of the Gallery House, a building we renovated next door to use as an extra studio/gallery space. The sump pump had failed and there was now at least two inches of water throughout the basement. It was quite a chore to get a pump running in order to drain as much water as possible. Mopping up the mess that was left took care of most of the rest of the water.

After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

Then there was the chore of emptying as much of the soaking wet boxes that had not been set up off the floor. There was also the stack of uprights for the custom cherry library from Dad’s office in Florida that my late husband Keith had made. In a rush to get them out of the garage, they had been put directly in the plastic that covered the pea rock of the Michigan basement. That meant the first three or four pieces – 12-15” wide by as much as 10’ high – were soaked, warped and water stained. As I looked around the mess, not knowing if it would dry out before getting moldy, I began to think I was going to have to spend a lot of money to hire someone to unload the mess from the basement. We were finding it too painful for two old people with bad backs working in the 4’10” Michigan basement. After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

The following Sunday was the last day of the estate sale so I weakened and called to see what was left. The Vandercook was still there. But so was an 8×12 Chandler & Price platen press, almost identical to another one we had bought very cheap at an auction a couple years before. The one we had, however, was missing a gear and Steve was willing to make one. But here was a press we could strip for parts since we believed it was no good as a press, having become rusty from sitting under a leak in the basement under the front porch of the house.

Thinking we were going for parts, we headed down there with some tools to buy the press and take the gear with us, and perhaps buy a few other goodies that we might be able to use that were now selling cheap on the last day. Having failed at selling the Vandercook, the estate sale manager asked me if I was still interested and I explained that things had changed at home due to the basement flood and I could no longer afford my original offer. While we were disassembling the C&P, I overheard him talking to the family representative on the phone, telling her that “she wasn’t interested in the press anymore” which I took to believe that he had been depending on selling it to me to make up for the lack of a higher priced sale.

We headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

As it turned out, Steve had forgotten to bring a Johnson pry bar to get apart the last pieces of the C&P. And the C&P itself turned out to be in much better condition than we’d thought, the rust turning out to be only superficial.

We were still there after 3 pm when the sale was supposed to end but weren’t able to get it apart. So I asked the estate sale manager if we could come back the following weekend to get it. “No problem. They’re not selling this place anytime soon.” And the Vandercook, along with everything that was still left, would be sold at auction using an app for the estate sales. So we headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

A couple days later I got a text: “When you’re ready to pick up the rest of the press, text Janet” along with her number. I thought maybe Janet was his employee, but soon learned that she was the family member, and that she’d fired the estate sales guy. I called her the next day and also learned that he’d never told her we had already bought and paid for the C&P. She had started getting estimates for getting it removed (the platen alone weighed over 400 lbs.) by a guy who was going to torch it to cut it apart! In a room dripping with leaked oil and solvents!

Janet also told me that the Vandercook was still available and I could have it for a price that was far less than my original offer to the estate sales guy! Another Vandercook #4 had been in an online auction I was following that same week and my mind was blown as the price of that one soared to a final price of over $15,000.

Even so, I told her my concerns about having to pay a fortune for movers get it out of the basement. I knew, at over 1140 lbs, this was something far too big for the two of us to do on our own. We set a date to come back for the C&P and I said I’d let her know then. We went yet again, this time bringing the truck to pick up what was left of the C&P.

Our trip yielded many more items, and a new negotiation for the Vandercook, finally settling for a total price of under $1000 that included a bunch of other items big and small. Once again, we made plans for a return trip, this time with my favorite mover.

In the end, we brought home far more than I’d ever guessed. But the one thing was certain: Norman – the original owner of the press and builder of that home where it lived in its basement – wanted the press to go home with us. It cost me $1500 including a generous tip for the movers for the day. But they carried up the those basement stairs a lot more than that press, including the 400 lb. platen and frame for the C&P, a Hammond Glider Saw, another letterpress-specialty saw, a giant composing cabinet that had to be disassembled, several hundred pounds of metal “furniture” and leads, and miscellaneous stuff too numerous to remember.

It needs rollers and a bit more cleaning and adjusting, but the Vandercook No. 4 is settling into its new home very nicely.

I reflect upon these events as I sort through the bags of pied type, the case of dusty mouse-ridden type from earlier acquisitions, and the newly rearranged shop around me, light streaming in as the presses stand like soldiers waiting for orders.

  • The original restored Kelsey 6×10 – purchased by Keith to print wedding invitations for our oldest daughter. This one started it all.
  • The 12×18 C&P that was given to us when buying the etching press.
  • The Potter proofing press I bought at auction.
  • The Poco proofing press Steve found on FaceBook Marketplace that someone was going to throw away… picked up at the end of the driveway.
  • The 5×7 Kelsey that Steve bought me from a local auction as a present.
  • The 8×12 Oldstyle C&P that we bought at a small town auction which also came with a second much larger 12×18 C&P that we’ve since decided sell for parts.
  • The Vandercook #0 that was buried among piles of other stuff the guy with the two C&Ps was trying to sell.
  • The 8×12 New style C&P we bought at the May sale for $50 just to get the gear we needed.
  • The Vandercook #4 that I’d walked away from, at least twice. And yet it still managed to find its way to our home.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

I think that maybe we’re a bit of a pied bunch ourselves: me, Steve and the presses. A bit mixed up. We’re all a bit colorful in our own histories. Whatever it turns out to be, I understand now that all of these presses have found their way home to the pied piper of printing. And together we’ll see what colorful stories we’ll print in the future.

Woman in Mexican dress with hat sits in the shade of the carved pillars of the Pyramid of the Moon

Visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. ©2018 Mara Jevera Fulmer

I was feeling nostalgic, and even a bit unsettled. In early 2012, just as I was preparing to go on a Fulbright scholarship trip to Russia, and was making the circuit of presentations for my doctoral work, Apple computer was making a serious update to their MobileMe platform. They were going to be shifting to iCloud and eliminating the iWeb software that had made it so easy to produce websites and blogs.

In the midsts of the swirl of activities in the late Winter/early Spring, I managed to have the presence of mind to archive five years of blog posts and podcasts to a corner of my computer for future attention. Unfortunately, events in life took a serious twist. In summary: I went to Russia, returned early due to my husband’s preliminary Stage IV cancer diagnosis, he died on 9/1/12 and I found myself redefined as a young(ish) widow at the age of 51, I finished my doctorate (10/2014), remarried in to my second husband (12/2014), welcomed a new grandson (12/2015), and built a new home (2015-present).

Needless to say, life has not stood still.

But for some reason, a trigger happened. I felt the need to reread these old posts, pull them over my head like a warm, cozy and familiar blanket. To close my eyes and step back a bit, remind myself where I was back then. The posts generally run from early 2006 to 2011 and cover the gamut, from art exhibitions and creative musings, to reflections on travel, being present, and just some funny thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the time spent rereading and listening to these. They simultaneously gave me a sense of wunderlust and a firm grounding, a sense of being…where I am supposed to be.

Feel free to enjoy them at your leisure. – Old Blogs & Podcasts Revisited

I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.


Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.


Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.



Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf



In the blog entry “My Mother Wasn’t Trash,” writer Joshua Wilkey shares his mother’s important and sensitive story about her life in poverty in Appalachia. It’s worth a read.

When people are eaten up mentally and physically by a lifetime of compounded shitty choices, they reach a point where they can’t even decide what is best anymore, because they realize that no matter what they do – no matter how hard they try – they are cogs in a broken machine and nobody cares about them anyway. Poor Appalachian people are broken, but not nearly as broken as the systems that keep them poor. 

Thank you, Joshua Wilkey, for bringing a voice forward to be heard.

Detail from an artist’s book created for a presentation on my growth through my doctoral studies.


Well… That’s done! Phew! I have successfully defended my dissertation and can now officially be called Doctor Fulmer. It’s been a long and winding road and I can unequivocally say I am not who I was when I began.

And this is not where I thought I would be when I finished. But here, indeed, is where I am…

Tomorrow will bring a new challenge, something to change the course of my life… Sometimes it’s just a small thing… Or just a word or two. “Do you want to move in with me?”

You never know, really, how your life will shift ever so imperceptibly in a different direction. Not every change is brought on by the seismic shift of death. Sometimes… just sometimes…it is just one small thing you never really believed you would hear or say.

And then it’s over. And you’re sitting there thinking: “hmmm. That’s it. What next?”

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Well, it’s not like I don’t have other things to do… Or want to do. Make art. Write more. Build a house. Move up in my career so I can put my skills to the test.

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Let me explain. For the reader who is unfamiliar with my story, I offer a brief synopsis. Life was good. Really good. Daughter #1 had just gotten married to a wonderful man. Daughter #2 was graduating from university and had two jobs already lined up. I had finished my first year in a doctoral program while working full-time in a job I love. I had been awarded a short-term Fulbright to Russia. My husband of nearly 30 years and I had purchased our dream property where he could have his workshop, family art studios, gallery, and even a future new home. Life was good.

And then it wasn’t. (Read more about it In earlier posts going back to September 2012.) He had lost weight, been fighting a “cold” and feeling weaker. A month of tests led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, unknown primary (likely pancreatic), prognosis extremely poor. From diagnosis to death – less than 3 months. He made it just past his 54th birthday and our 30th anniversary. My life felt like it had completely crumbled.

Promises were made, though. He made me promise: Don’t sell the property, but finish it for the family to use for their studios as planned, and for my own uses. Finish the doctorate. He really wanted me to do that. He was upset that I had dropped out that summer to care for him. But, really, who can concentrate on Quantitative Research Methods while managing the care and emotional roller coaster of dealing with your dying spouse? But…then he was gone and I had to deal with the emotional crater that is grief.

First, I finished the renovations on the gallery house which contained daughter #1’s photo studio upstairs. Then a new fence, and retaining wall went in. The farmhouse is slowly being dismantled and parts saved for salvage. Steven, my companion in all of this, has tirelessly put his heart and soul into the work, along with any college students I can hire to assist.

Most recently, the large 4000 sq. ft. workshop space has been slated for renovations. Stacks of the 71 new windows fill the crowded shop in anticipation of being installed late fall, along with new insulation, siding, and steel roof. The emerging economy has slowed progress as the contractor I have worked with, an old friend of my late husband’s, is backed up from other work. But progress inches along and I have no doubt that it will all be done before Spring.

While all this was happening, I caught up. I finished all of my coursework, including the Quantitative Research course which I did by independent study with the original and very understanding instructor. I did all of this with a 4.0 GPA. At the commencement and hooding ceremony held last May, I was awarded the Faculty’s Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award for my thoughtful approach to the various studies, sometimes challenging my classmates to look at things from a different perspective.

And then, only five months after commencement, I have completed the dissertation defense, receiving high praise for intellectual standards for my work.

The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner.

I tell you all this not out of boastfulness. I tell you this because it was done in order to honor my promise. For if I had not made that promise, there were many times when it would have been easier to just walk away from it all. The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner. My new companion, however, was not going to let me give up on those promises.

And so how does one do it? It began with a simple gesture of sharing… Opening up one’s vulnerabilities and accepting that you might get hurt… But that you’d already felt the worst of pain. So what could it hurt if you shared a little of yourself with someone new who seemed to care and shared some vulnerabilities of his own?

It’s been a year and a half since I met Steven and he’s been the kindest and gentlest person that the spirits could have sent across my path at a time when his kind of personality was just what I needed. And since then, I have grown to respect and admire this self-described hillbilly for his creativity, innovation, and practical smarts. He is a good balance to my over-intellectualism. He wears his heart on his sleeve which reminds me to recognize my own capability to love someone again. And frankly, he’s always there with a good hug…just when I need it.

So I come back to where I began this brief story. I finished my doctoral studies. I am now Dr. Fulmer. I began as the wife of a loving husband of 30 years. I survived through my studies as a widow. I am now looking forward to building a new life with a new partner in a new home on the dream property from before.

The shape of the dream has shifted…just a little… I face a new challenge shared by many in the “sandwich generation” who are looking at caring for aging parents…mine who will join me in this new home I’ve designed. And I feel confident that, with Steven as my companion on this new journey, we will be able to meet whatever life’s challenges lay ahead. But I’m not naive. I know that, without warning, the road can shift beneath your feet. And life will never be the same again. You can’t live your life looking only in the rear view mirror as you try and move forward. And you can’t live your life paralyzed by the fear of a shifting road.

All you can do is take this long and winding path of life one step at a time. Look ahead to the dreams you continue to create. Scan side to side to see who is coming with you. And occasionally glance back to remind you how far you’ve come. Only in this way can you live your life moving forward.

Besides, I’m all good with the ghosts of those who still travel these roads with me around here.


A good omen. Swans are visible through the branches along the pond’s edge as the sun sets behind my property where I’ll be building a new home.

Next Page »