Calendars and posters mark more than the changing seasons
It’s all hands on deck—quite literally—when it comes to generating the Dolphin Studios annual calendar, a venture begun in 1972 by John and Primm ffrench from their Stockbridge home on Main Street. The family business sprang to life as a means of financing family travel and college tuition for their three daughters and has grown to include three generations. The 2018 calendar marks its 47th edition.
At Dolphin Studios, the process of both printing and culling artwork for their yearly calendar has evolved over the four decades. Since their parents’ death, sisters and business partners Crispina ffrench and Sofia Hughes have been at the helm and currently oversee all aspects of the limited-edition calendar. This year 2,100 calendars have been printed, and the result is packed with history. The 2018 calendar features the artwork of three generations, namely the ffrench siblings, along with their five collective children, as well as their parents—thanks to vintage silkscreens resurrected for the sake of posterity. The rectangular pages don the walls of their printing studio—in the basement of Pittsfield’s Shire City Sanctuary—and create a visual cacophony not unlike the disparate individuals who make up the family.
Each of the calendar’s 13 pages has two colors per page, resulting in 26 screens to bring this ambitious project to fruition. The number increases to a whopping 52 since ffrench makes doubles of each screen. The operation uses water-based inks on recycled paper stock. And the moniker? “It comes from Dad’s family crest,” Crispina ffrench explains of her father who hailed from Ireland, pausing to point out a diminutive insignia ring on her pinky finger.
Screen printing on a different scale is underway farther down south county. After committing to DIVE into summer and CLIMB into fall, Molly and Aurélien de St André of Berkshire Four Poster have plans to SLIDE or SLIP into winter—either on a sled or a pair of skis. They are not quite sure which. This husband-wife team, who make their limited-edition print posters from their home on “The Hill” in Great Barrington, have established a captive audience in the Berkshires and beyond. Halfway through their third seasonal series, the release of each poster remains “a special discovery,” says Molly.
“We are about the least look-ahead people out there,” says Molly, who, juggling multiple businesses (MOHO Designs, Petit Pilou and Berkshire Four Poster), tends to focus on the task at hand before looking to the next project. “We really do want to evoke the feeling of the season. And to make that truly authentic, we have to feel it, too,” she adds, explaining why the winter poster won’t arrive until, well, winter—which begins December 21.
For artist Melanie Mowinski, marking time is a regular part of her daily practice, one she has been documenting on her blog since 1995. As winter nears, Mowinski is full of anticipation. “I am drawn to the idea of welcoming the light,” the north county artist explains. And, for the four weeks of Advent—the first season of the Christian church year that includes the four Sundays before Christmas—she anticipates the coming of the season through collage. Mowinski’s daily collage practice brings what she calls, “a piece of anticipatory goodness, [and] peace,” to a season often filled with conspicuous consumption. If one looks closely, the artist’s use of bird imagery evokes both nesting and rebirth, further evidence of the cathartic process.
“I loved Advent calendars growing up,” Mowinski recalls, describing a handmade felt calendar in her childhood home. The workspace in her expansive Cheshire studio is littered with scraps of paper—new, old, handmade, altered, and found—all in preparation for the 5x5-inch collages she will begin crafting this year on December 3. This practice allows her to honor the change of the season while bringing meaning to a time of year many are often too busy to enjoy.
Mowinski, who holds a degree in Religion and Visual Arts from Yale, spends an hour to 90 minutes each morning in December being “present.” She makes her collages first thing in the morning, in a bright, cheery yellow studio that invites work in winter.
The waxing of winter and the waning of 2017 presents an auspicious moment to contemplate transition—an inevitable process that, when given the necessary attention, is full of promise. Sofia Hughes says the process of visibly marking time has been a part of her family’s life for as long as she can recall. “It is all about change,” the designer, collaborator and production member at Dolphin Studios explains. “The revealing of the new month, twelve times a year, are the days I look forward to throughout year.”