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Petaluma woman rediscovers lost art of printing

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In an unassuming warehouse in east Petaluma on a gloomy November morning, Beth Schaible meticulously spread a layer of vibrant green paint onto a template before hand cranking her vintage press to create an intricate design of a leaf on a heavy piece of stationery.

A longtime artist, the 33-year-old creates letterpress stationery, nature-inspired art, works of calligraphy and hand-bound leather books. A recent transplant from Asheville, North Carolina, the Petaluma resident is working to get her Quill and Arrow business back into full swing in the city.

“My job is also my hobby,” the Virginia native said. “There’s clearly something that speaks to me on an inner level that makes it more than a job.”

She’s been creating volumes since middle school when she became “obsessed” with sketchbooks. Her designs have evolved as she’s perfected the process, and she can now fashion a leather-bound book with colorful stitching in about an hour.

She also leads workshops to share her craft, and met her Petaluma-based boyfriend Forrest Middelton two years ago while teaching at the Penland School of Crafts. She moved to the city to be closer to Middleton, a ceramicist, and the two now work from their studios just a few feet away from each other and often collaborate on art pieces.

“When I teach bookbinding workshops, most students have that same affinity for paper, writing, stories and storytelling and keeping a record of important things,” she said. “I think there’s something in it for me with making the vessel that makes it even more meaningful. Mostly now, I’m making leather hard cover journals and I’m trying to make it so that no two are alike and each book has its own stories and unique feel to it.”

Her tidy workspace is filled with relics from printing presses of the past and present, including many drawers of typefaces and boxes of symbols and characters. She bought a 1952 printing press and a paper cutter from the late 1800s for her work, and she often creates script electronically or by hand-carving designs into wood or linoleum.

In the back of her studio is a chalkboard with the multiple iterations of the word “Patience” written in perfect script. It’s become a mantra of sorts as Schaible has moved across the county to practice her trade, which also requires a high level of focus and dedication.

After studying graphic design at Virginia’s Shepherd University, Schaible realized she wanted the freedom to create her own business and apply the more analog side of graphic design. She’s been running her own venture since 2009, at times working with partners to create varied forms of art.

“I think at some point, I just realized the job I wanted really didn’t seem to exist where I was living, and at the same time, people seemed to be really interested in what I was making,” she said. “It made sense for me to start doing my own thing. I didn’t have a business background and it’s taken a long time to put those pieces together … but it made sense for me to piecemeal my interests and talents together and do my own thing.”

In addition to more abstract designs, her letterpress work features a medley of poetry and snippets from literature, which are other sources of inspiration. She also appreciates nostalgia, and her businesses’ name is inspired in part by her love for calligraphy, and by a childhood of stargazing and identifying constellations with her father.

Since moving to Petaluma, she’s been drawing inspiration from the rich landscapes in Marin and Sonoma counties, and hiking Mount Tamalpais.

“It’s going to be a good fit here,” she said. “I like to make art based on a sense of place, and natural surroundings. I want to give myself some time to do some hiking and take in the landscape here. And hopefully it will inspire a new round of exciting design and art work and that sort of thing. I feel like I’m in a place to really dig in.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)