Letterpress Valentines by Luke Ives Pontifell
by samantha yanks
Luke Ives Pontifell sips a mint julep while crafting a handwritten note.
Nestled inside the lobby of the refined St. Regis hotel is Thornwillow, the meticulously designed artisanal library boutique of Lux. Producing hand-engraved stationery and limited-edition books with an old-world sensibility, Pontifell this month releases a new collection of note cards and hand-bound poems for the truly romantic. “We are finding that as we become more tied to technology as a society, a handwritten note becomes that much more relevant,” says Pontifell, the shop’s founder who is both printer and publisher. “An e-mail will never have the same impact as a handwritten letter.”
With the ability to mix and match note cards, Thornwillow is less prepackaged and more curatorial. Have a seat at the boutique’s Stationery Bar and you’ll see exactly how it works. In the mix this month is the newly introduced “Valentine Compendiums,” a stationery set that includes handmade letterpress note cards engraved with a gilded heart motif and a poetry set with five love poems from Shakespeare to Browning. All the paper is archival, made from wind energy using recycled fiber. Pontifell has also brought in a calligrapher to personalize the compendiums. Whether writing out a poem or simply addressing an envelope, “it creates an even more personal gift,” he says.
Beyond the plumes and the playful monkey motifs on the correspondence cards and journals are Pontifell’s handmade limited- edition engraved books, filled with the powerful words of men such as John Updike, Walter Cronkite, and Barack Obama. Many volumes of the small batch book production are now housed at the White House and in the original John Jacob Astor library at the St. Regis hotel in New York. This year Thornwillow Press will introduce a range of new titles including Abraham Lincoln: Defender of Freedom and Adam Gopnik’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, illustrated by John Hutton.
Born and raised on Horatio Street in New York, Pontifell studied the art of letterpress in Soho and as a teen learned how to properly hand-stitch and bind books, creating limited-edition books beginning in 1985 that he sold door-to-door around New York City. After years of producing custom tomes in Europe, he purchased two former abandoned Burlington Coat Factory buildings in Newburgh, New York in 2004. To date, he has acquired 30 presses in the surrounding area and provided 40 jobs in the local community. “Craftsmanship is about the people behind the work,” says Pontifell. “At Thornwillow we have created our own internal academy to teach the crafts related to the written word to our teams of binders, letterpress printers, engravers, and paper makers. We have created our own community that cares about and celebrates the written word.” Thornwillow at the St. Regis, 2 E. 55th St., 212-980-0738
photography by evan sung
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.