Salt & Cedar is owned by Megan O’Connell, an internationally-recognized artist and designer. Before making Detroit her home, O’Connell directed the Typography Lab at the University of Oregon and also taught at MECA, the University of Maine, and Skidmore College. She is a founding member of Creative Material Group, a non-proﬁt multidisciplinary arts collective, and the founder of two imprints whose works are archived in institutions including MoMA and Walker Art Center. Last year, she attended the Open Book residency as an invited designer, appeared as a panelist for Let’s Talk: Detroit with the founder of Twitter, was interviewed for several short documentary ﬁlms and national press outlets [including PBS, Condé Nast Traveler, and Time.com], and was a discussant at Fritz Haeg’s installation “At Home in the City” at Walker Art Center. O’Connell has shown artwork in group and solo exhibitions across the U.S., and has juried and curated shows for colleges, art centers, and galleries on both coasts.
Megan O’Connell’s letterpress workshop has produced posters and special editions for numerous creative partners including Alison Knowles, the Arab American National Museum, Art X, the Concord Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Sound Conservancy, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit [MOCAD], Skidmore Studio, Trinosophes, and the Urban Land Institute. Salt & Cedar has served as a venue for literary and arts organizations including The Art Book Review, Blonde Art Books, The Detroit Art Book Fair, Harlequin Creature, and MPAC. Most recently, O’Connell has collaborated on the pop-up bookstore and reading series UDP:D [Ugly Duckling Presse: Detroit] installed at Salt & Cedar [February-May, 2014], while being at a residency with her partner, Leon Johnson, at Creature in the Map, their temporary southern studio.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. As an artist/designer who translates text[s] into form, I print editions for Salt & Cedar, the letterpress workshop I started in Detroit. I also curate exhibitions and programming there. My own practice yields text-based ‘tablature’ made with handcast and carved paper & beeswax, printed multiples, and site-speciﬁc installations.
How long have you lived in Detroit and what brought you there? I moved to Detroit three years ago to establish a letterpress in the heart of Detroit’s Eastern Market that would tap into the sense of history and possibility inherent to the city and could generate fresh creative alliances.
Describe your current studio or workspace. Our building, constructed nearly a century ago, sits on the corner of a block comprised mostly of small-scale beef and poultry processing businesses, some of which are now in their third, fourth, or ﬁfth generation. Formerly a meat locker, we have rendered its 3,000 sq. feet space into a storefront gallery, pressroom, event space, and workshop.
A massive Toledo scale is the ﬁrst thing one sees upon entering the storefront gallery that prominently features posters and books. Three vintage cylinder presses, movable wood & metal type in antique oak cabinets, galley racks, a paper loft, crates, rolling carts, and an early 19th c. Parisian standing book press pull visitors into the pressroom—the center space. In the area just beyond, a long table for bookbinding and convivial gatherings is centered under two rows of reclaimed industrial lighting. The backroom features a display of printed editions, tablature, and paintings, all from our own collection and hung salon style. Bookshelves and a vitrine ﬁlled with artifacts, books, relics, and ephemera deﬁne the perimeter. For events, the table is moved out and benches are set up. At the very rear, my partner, Leon Johnson, has set up a modest kitchen that has a view out of a jail door onto a grafﬁti-laden cobblestone alley and the steeple of St. Joseph’s. The space is nearly windowless, so it is not at all surprising that, on any given day, we might put in 12+ hours of work.
How has living in Detroit affected your work? Living and working in an industrial district in an economically challenged city has stretched me in every possible way—strategically, artistically, spiritually, and politically. Working alongside my partner and two sons on this project—that in other urban settings would have been met with roadblocks and obstacles—has been revelatory: it has made me aware of our grit. Because we hold ourselves to the highest standards for everything produced, yet are open and inviting with a reputation as the studio that says ‘yes’, the beneﬁts of being available as a resource for the arts are incalculable. Not long after I started the press, I blogged about it here, as an attempt to locate it in within a larger framework. Early on, its potential as an instrument of change was touted by Handful of Salt and commented on by other researchers and journalists around the country. When I revisit these ﬁrst volleys and track what we have done in just a few years, I honestly can’t believe how little we have wavered and how much the Salt & Cedar ‘family’ and our collaborators have accomplished in Detroit during this short stint.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Just ﬁnished a Mesostic by John Cage for Alison Knowles (silkscreened with the expertise of Bill Fisher at the Gaslight Press and printed on a ‘loaner’ letterpress in Asheville, NC). Currently designing a catalogue for Steve Locke’s exhibition ‘there is no one left to blame’ at MOCAD, and designing a poster for the opening event of the Media City Film Festival, featuring the Music of Alvin Lucier with Charles Curtis & Bruce McClure. Next month, Salt & Cedar will also be releasing a boxed set of photographic prints entitled The Deposits: Vestigial Enclaves by Leon Johnson & Clay Jordan. On the horizon is a luscious printed insert (in Arabic with an English translation) for a two-record set for Issue Project Room in Brooklyn.
Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? I would be over the moon to work alongside Sophie Calle, Jenny Holzer, William Kentridge, Karel Martens, Patti Smith, and Kara Walker. I have had the good fortune to typeset and print texts from others (including William S. Burroughs, Hélène Cixous, Heidi Kaloustian, Alison Knowles, Clarice Lispector, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Joan Retallack, Michel Serres, and Virginia Woolf) and have composed posters for musicians and bands, all of which feels collaborative. Some projects appear under the Dead Skin Press imprint.
What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? Paris, hands-down, is my favorite city.
What are you reading right now? Finishing Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, after reading her four earlier novels last winter. Next up: A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector.
What are you really excited about right now? The resounding success of Ugly Duckling Presse: Detroit. A series of literary events (curated by Salt & Cedar director-in-residence Matvei Yankelevich Winter & Spring, 2014) that included a pop-up bookstore featuring titles from independent presses from coast to coast. The programming brought to the public innovative poets, printers, professors, translators, and writers who generously read and discussed their methodologies.
Any current or upcoming events that you are involved in that we should know about? “Messages of Hope for Detroit” | 12 young poets will produce handmade posters in the studio through InsideOut Literary Arts Project. 07 June.
Salt & Cedar is offering a one to three-week bookmaking intensive at Mildred’s Lane, the enclave of J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, June-July, 2014.
12 ’Zines by Leander Johnson. One new ’zine issued per month on a different aspect of Detroit. [August, 2014-August, 2015].
Making Faces a documentary on Canadian graphic artist Jim Rimmer will be screened at the back of the press. Director, Richard Kegler of P22 Type Foundry, will be present to discuss the ﬁlm. [TBA]
Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Our ﬁrst commission was to print and bind a bespoke volume of thoughts on motherhood by some of the most vivacious women in the music industry. It included a hand-written letter from Michelle Obama to mark Beyoncé’s ﬁrst Mother’s Day.
As a thank-you, Jay-Z sent an inscribed copy of his memoir, Decoded, that reads:
“To L & M—words cannot express”.