You can find the image anywhere. It’s the enormous wave suspended over two lean canoes, ready to come crashing down in a second. Many would recognize The Great Wave, done by the Japanese artist Hokusai, but few would correctly guess the medium of this legendary work. The image is one of the great icons of Japanese woodblock printing.
Woodblock printing has been a revered part of Chinese and Japanese art for centuries, but is relatively unknown outside of Asian culture.
On this side of the globe, partners Oscar Bevilaqua and Jodi Mullen are continuing the tradition with their quirky Petaluma clothing business, YeahYeah!PonyPrince. The two merged their previously independent businesses in 2009 and have been working tirelessly to provide customers with hand-made, organic-fiber clothing ever since.
Earlier this year, the business closed its San Francisco location and moved into the secluded warehouse at 275 Water Street to continue production in a more central part of the Bay Area while still enjoying a loyal fan base and clientele. Bevilacqua and Mullen’s value in community is evident in their enthusiastic support of other local businesses and non-profits. They welcome commissions and are currently in partnership with such organizations as the Marin Humane Society, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and BR Cohn Winery.
Bevilacqua has 25 years of experience hand-painting T-shirts in San Francisco while Mullen has been producing block printing clothing for almost 18 years.
“I’m from the east coast,” Mullen said. “I started my business out there, and everyone there says ‘YeahYeah!’ My business was called YeahYeah! block printed clothing and Oscar’s was Pony Prince, and when we merged we became YeahYeah!PonyPrince. It’s quirky and it’s silly and you don’t really forget it.”
Using only organic-fiber in their product has always been a primary concern of YeahYeah!PonyPrince, but providing such materials to customers hasn’t been easy. The business currently uses a recycled plastic, organic cotton and rayon blend in their clothing in an effort to be more environmentally conscious. But when Bevilacqua began his business, the quest for organic fibers was virtually nonexistent.
“People didn’t care how (the shirts) were made or where they were made,” Bevilacqua said. “That is something that recently we experienced a lot of people asking us, how do you make your shirts, where do you make your shirts, and that is very important to us.”
While in the search for organic fibers, YeahYeah!PonyPrince honors the efforts of Patagonia, a California-based clothing and gear company that has been making their fleeces out of recycled fibers since the 1970s.
“They’re definitely an inspiration to us as far as wanting to be a green company,” Mullen said. In the future the company plans on manufacturing their own clothing as well as block printing it.
Woodblock printing is a little-known art form in the United States, and, along with the fibers, it’s what sets YeahYeah!PonyPrince apart from its competitors.
“It’s a lot of work. it’s not your typical printing technique. Nobody else really does what we do in the way that we do it,” Mullen said.
An image is drawn on paper and then transferred to a carved linoleum block, where it is then painted over onto the clothing. At YeahYeah!PonyPrince, every aspect of woodblocking is done by hand, equating to roughly ten minutes of production per shirt. Often Bevilacqua and Mullen will work with artists who paint up to eight shirts at a time. A company’s order can number in the thousands, requiring hours of work in the warehouse each day.