sprouted in about 2001, growing off a small, cluttered desk in a small cabin, next to a little cob studio, in a sizeable garden, bounded by creek, forest, and neighbors, human and wild.
The first book off the press was Build Your Own Earth Oven, a sculptor’s treatment of traditional earthen building, art, and bread. I (Kiko) had taken an earthen building workshop with Ianto Evans and the Cob Cottage Company, but at the time, I didn’t have a place to build a house. So I started building mud ovens – a simple kind of sculpture that also bore wonderful bread. When people saw pictures they wanted their own, so I taught some workshops. I wrote up notes for folks to take home, added pictures and drawings, made a pamphlet, sold 1,000, expanded text and drawings, borrowed $5k from my brother, sent the files to the printer, boom! Hand Print Press.
As I learned about working with earth, new ideas and projects took root in the mud, most of them educational or community-oriented, resulting in two more little books: Dig Your Hands in the Dirt, and Make a Simple Sundial.
All mud, art, and making go back to one idea. I first learned it (as most do) from my mother, who learned not only from her mom, but also at New York City’s famous “little red schoolhouse,” where learning by doing was the core curriculum (her teacher was “Miss Doing” – really!)
In the midst of a long career as an artist, Mom spent several years directing the Boston Childrens’ Museum visitors’ center, where she helped develop ground-breaking programs for hands-on learning. I spent many Saturdays helping her teach paper-making, weaving with straws, rope-winding, etc. Mom later turned her hand-drawn project notes into a best-selling book called Making Things, A Handbook of Creative Discovery. Nearly 30 years later, Little, Brown let it go out of print, so I picked it up for my own kids’ generation. It turned my two-book operation into a real (if small) publishing concern.
In 2010, colleagues and fellow artists Max and Eva Edleson expanded our industry from one to two cottages. Since then, Max has re-built the website, and he and Eva have written and produced Build Your Own Barrel Oven, which introduces another variety of wood-fired oven to feed what seems to be a growing hunger for simple, wood-fired, communal hearths.
Max, Eva, Hannah, and I have taught many workshops where people have come to learn by doing: making bread, building ovens and cob cottages, and regaining a tangible, physical connection to their own lives and their own well-being. And while books can’t replace experience, they seem to help. People read, and take away inspiration. We have heard from many who went from having “never built a thing in their lives” to building ovens, homes, gardens, businesses, and new kinds of lives, more free from 30 year mortgages, hateful jobs, artificial food, and toxic competition for illusionary goals.
We maintain the site as a way to share our joy in handcraft, art, food, agriculture, community, and culture; to tell stories, take photographs, write, draw, teach, learn, and dream of a world where work and art and community all combine in joy and gratitude and grace.
We work as individuals; each of us takes responsibility for what he or she publishes – but “to publish” means “to make public.” That means we’re also accountable for what we say. Formerly, when it took lots of money to print and distribute books, publishers took responsibility for the authors they published, and placed themselves squarely between reader and writer. Now, the tools for public speech are so broadly available that individuals publish as easily as posting a blog or youtube video.
Have technology and the internet create a more “free” press? Perhaps. Have technology and the internet further fragmented an already divided public? Probably. Much of what’s “published” on the web would otherwise never leave the private realm of personal and family relations. In Greek, the word for private is “idiotikos.” It seems to me that private idiocy takes over when individuals can’t successfully participate in the healthy public life of a whole community.
Can technology and the internet bring us together to make stronger communities? Or will greed and profit rule the day? We’ll see. Meanwhile, we put up our work here to cultivate common soil so all may feed and flourish.
In addition to books, we bake bread, tend the garden, watch our kids, make and build things, teach, and trade with friends and neighbors. We live well, below “the poverty line,” but reap rich rewards in time, friends, and freedom.
We hope for a craft economy – that is, a way of life by which we count what we do not in dollars but in beauty – in the goodness of work, food, fellowship, and grace, without need of global trade, global finance, or global war. Despite our participation in those things, we do our best to live by principles of equity and simplicity.
In the same way that we are more than the books we write, you the reader are more than your money. When you buy a book direct from us, you’re supporting Max and Kiko and their families, as well as the folks at Bang Printing (Kim, Perry, Phil, Chris, and Jill, who — among others — cover everything from estimating to printing to warehousing and shipping). The other books we sell either come from folks we know and work with, or are books we have learned from and used ourselves, so what we offer here we see as pieces of a larger work-in-common that aims not only to make ovens, homes, heat and food, but a culture that spawns more freedom and less anxiety. Dollars spent here don’t end up with faceless corporations, anonymous investors, uninvolved advertisers, or slick PR or marketing staff.
Chelsea Green Books, which distributes some of our titles, is owned by all their employees and works in a similar spirit.
We’re not trying to compete with Amazon and such faceless giants. We’ve set up this site mostly as a service or a signature, a kind of security for anyone who buys our books and might want to know where and who they come from. And while we’d rather not spend the time in front of a computer, we recognize that every purchase requires a real person, and since purchasing has shifted to the web, we’re participating as best we can.
The truth of economy (from the Greek word for “home”) asks us to recognize that we don’t really make our own lives but receive them as a gift from a source greater than ourselves — no matter how great our “economic growth.” The business has been a huge gift to us, from the experiences (and families) that gave us the skills and information to participate in things we love to do, to the fraternal loan that paid for the first print run of the first book. It supports us in making our own homes and shelters, growing as much of our food as we can, raising our kids, and working in our communities. Whatever gifts we offer, whether books or stories or connections, all is thanks, in recognition that the wealth we enjoy is not ours to keep, but to share.
(Web) Site Design
We tried to organize the site to be clear, transparent, and as useful as possible; sort of like a book!
We’re hoping to reach more people in more places with useful do-it-yourself and learning-by-doing information while also allowing ourselves, as much as possible, to live rurally, farm, and practice our crafts. If the site saves us and others from using petroleum resources while enriching communication with people who are interested in some of the same things we’re interested in, then we’ll have succeeded.
All feedback is appreciated.