Cut, Press, Play
South Lamar newcomer Kyle Hawley speaks on her unconventional toy store, Letterpress Play
by Lauren Jones
Photographs by Claire Schaper
From its menagerie of vintage letter presses to it s bold, architectural seating and collection of personal photography, Kyle Hawley’s Letterpress Play is not your average toy store. Yes, it’s a place to learn and explore, but it’s designed with functionality and beauty in mind as well.
“We have this notion that children don’t like beautiful and sophisticated things,” she says. “They do need to be developmentally correct, but dumbing things down and making things less beautiful is a missed opportunity for everyone.”
The seventh-generation Texan, who is an art school graduate, has always had an affinity for unique spaces and for creating from the items at hand. At age 4, her grandmother gave her her first pair of knitting needles. “Completing that first piece of handwork led me to have this big aha moment of what it felt like to have agency,” she says. While she always had quite the imagination, it really “took flight” at age 11 when she lived in an abandoned home in West Texas next to a rural K-12 school.
“My mother had me when she was a teenager, and I was very much along for the ride,” she remembers. “[In West Texas] it was about saving money so we could move onto the next place.” There, in the long-forgotten school, she was allowed to run wild, have fun and play. As she sat in that refuge, she thought about what those spaces used to be and could see their potential for rebirth. For Hawley, it was these early experiences of “saving herself through play” that led to the genesis of Letterpress Play.
Now, a mother to two young children, Guinevere, 11, and Lev, 6, her own understanding has deepened of how healing play is and how it can build community. In her store, Hawley offers 12 toys, all of which have been individually sketched out before being produced via her many in-store presses. Weighing approximately one ton each, the machines open and close much as a clam would. One side is inked up, while paper is on the other. It’s quite the old art form and one that she continues to fall deeper in love with. During her time in art school, she was first introduced to the craft through her mentor, a man who had been a printer in Australia for many years. “I remember just sitting in his garage and duking it out,” she says. “Trial by fire is the best way to learn, especially with any tactile medium.”
In addition to her array of toys, the artist sells printed posters, with proceeds going to local nonprofits, such as RAICES and OutYouth. It’s her way of solving an issue within the community and introducing her neighbors to letterpress. It’s that same creativity she developed as a child and the fascination with an item’s or a space’s potential that has also fueled her to make each of her products zero-waste. “I have this desire to reduce and reuse,” she says. “I think that throwing things out, people or places, leads to a real loss for everyone.”
With each of her creations, Hawley also hopes to inspire her community to never stop imagining, playing and seeing the beauty in all that is around us. “Play is for everybody, and hopefully we play our whole lives,” she says. “I design things for people from age 4 to 100, so if you can use scissors, come join us.”