Since March is Women’s History Month, I felt compelled to feature a couple of local lady artists whose body of work aims to highlight the significant role that female icons have played in our rich and diverse history. Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring have been collaborating for eight years now, creating broadsides—handprinted works of art and text on single sheets.
Though the intention did not begin as a desire to create a series, “Dead Feminists” was born all the same. For those unfamiliar with the title, “Dead Feminists” was launched in October of 2016. The content is letterpress inspired and includes stunning visuals placing an artistic spotlight on inspiring women through the ages and their struggles and victories.
O’Leary and Spring tell me it all began during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. “Jessica wanted to create a broadside to respond to the brutal and often sexist election commentary that seemed to bombard the media. She dug up a quote by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton that—despite being written more than a century earlier—summed it all up: ‘Come, come my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles and see the world is moving.’ She asked Chandler to draw a pair of spectacles to go with the quote—glasses that would reference Sarah Palin’s infamous eyewear and give us both a way to throw our support behind Barack Obama. We had a surprising and strong reaction to the piece, and sold out of the entire edition very quickly. We decided to repeat the process with another quote by a historical woman, and the series was born. At the time of our book’s publication, we had released 24 broadsides with number 25 having made its debut on March 13, and we are planning to continue the series indefinitely.”
They go on to say, “We’ve been overwhelmed by how well the book has been received, and how widely it’s been read. It’s helped that the book came out just before the election last year, and got swept up in the momentum of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and, later, the Women’s March and other events. Our book also came out alongside a cadre of other feminist titles and books written by and about women, so it feels a bit like being part of a groundswell of cultural change—it’s validating to feel really relevant right now and cathartic to have so much support, especially considering the outcome of the election and what’s happening in America right now.”
Not only is the book a stunning and inspiring collection, a portion of proceeds from each sale benefit nonprofits that align with the issues and causes the artists highlight with their broadsides through the Dead Feminists Fund.
Spring says, “To celebrate the publication of our book, we inaugurated the Dead Feminists Fund under the auspices of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, to allow us to give back on a higher level. Thanks to the generous support of Sasquatch Books, a portion of book sales are also contributed.” And in honor of the power of women’s work, the fund focuses on those nonprofits that empower girls and women to create change in their own communities. Like their book, funding is organized under a series of action verbs (“Make,” “Grow,” “Lead,” “Tell,” etc.), which translate to micro grant categories that they will use to support nonprofits.
Upcoming projects they will do together include an exhibit of nautical work up through this month of March at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, featuring their newest Dead Feminist broadside and some collaborative installation work. They will also be at the Tacoma Wayzgoose, a huge printing and book arts festival that Spring founded that’s hosted by King’s Books on April 29 and 30. And on Mother’s Day you can find them on Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Books for a signing and talk about the series.
Separately Chandler is currently working on her second book, an illustrated travel book to be published in spring of 2019. And Spring is unpacking a huge donation of printing equipment at Pacific Lutheran University where she teaches, as well as planning the 2017 Tacoma Wayzgoose.
When asked if they had a personal favorite and inspiring Dead Feminist they say, “Jessica is pretty partial to Virginia Woolf, since she was a fellow printer and typesetter. There’s something fundamental about learning to edit your writing through the act of physically setting metal type.”
While Chandler’s favorite “might be Shirley Chisholm, who was a total badass in her lifetime, and whose presidential campaign is particularly relevant right now.”
You can find your own copy of “Dead Feminists” at local bookish hub, King’s Books Store and learn more about the project online.