As does any enterprise, FromABirdie, has had a number of pivotal before-and-after moments. For a few years after launching our letter-writing platform, we kept our service in the purely digital realm. Our system compiled all the letters coming in into electronic albums and sent them to their recipients via email on their special day. Then came one special occasion that made us take it one step further, closer to our original mission.
The year was 2012, and President Obama had just been re-elected. A friend of ours, a computer scientist working for the OFA (Obama For America) presidential campaign, told us about the very emotional visit that the newly re-elected President paid to the campaign offices in Chicago. Obama had walked around the vast office, stopping at each desk and thanking the campaign staffers personally. The feeling was that of elation. After the visit, many people felt they had much more to say than the brief encounter allowed them. The staff had poured their hearts and souls into the work, and each had their own reasons for the work and time they committed to the campaign. Each wanted to tell their part of the story and to thank the President personally for the opportunity they’d had working for him.
That’s how the idea for the FromABirdie book for OFA was born.
The campaigners set up a private page on our website, and as soon as we made it live, personal letters to the President started pouring in. In the course of the following few weeks we received over 600. Our goal was to put them all together, bind them into a book, and pass it along to the President as a surprise gift from the staffers. Easier said than done. While our web-based platform is designed to handle any number of letters of any length, making a physical book is another story. And this one was going to be big!
Together with graphic designer Candace Bradbury-Carlin, we started out by designing a special layout for all the text and photographs. Once we had the layout, we went to our local print shop to print our first trial copy. We explained that it had to be one book. We wanted the book’s size alone to speak for the power of the words inside. Once it was printed, its formidable size took even the printers by surprise. You can’t have a book with so many pages, they told us! We knew we needed help from a book wizard…. So we headed to the Easthampton (Massachusetts) studio of famed bookbinder Daniel Kelm. Kelm has made one-of-a-kind books for MOMA, Tauba Auerbach, Tom Phillips, Marilyn Goodrich and others, so we knew we were in good hands. After pondering our dilemma, Daniel told us that the only way we could make such a book and keep it to one volume was to use an age-old bookbinding method rarely practiced today: oversewn binding.
Meet Massachusetts-based Bridgeport National Bindery. These guys will print pretty much anything in any technique, but for very special and rare book projects they use their one and only oversewn binding machine, a 100-year-old marvel of engineering—a patinated and worn-out beauty that still binds paper treasures and precious restoration projects without a hiccup. They not only took on our behemoth of a book but gave us a tour of their impressive facilities. Kent Larson, VP of the Print-on-Demand Division, personally stayed involved throughout the process. A few days later, just as one of the big Northeastern snow storms was moving in and all the businesses were shutting down, he handed me the glowing 14-pound snow-white monument of more than 600 perfectly bound letters.
At 14 pounds and over 1,200 pages, meet the biggest book of letters we have made to date!
With trembling hands, I took it back to my studio. Once everyone dug out from the deep snow, the hunt for the perfect cover and slipcase materials began. We picked an elegant pinstripe suit fabric and started making the cover and the slip box. Two weeks later, we were ready to write our greetings to the President and to pass the book on to the White House. We met up with the Chief of the Campaign Staff, Ann Habershaw, who then took it upon herself to make sure the book ended up in the hands of the President.
Exactly 6 months later, our friendly and flamboyant postman, Rich, knocked on our door and said, Hey you guys, you have a letter from the White House! What’s going on?! He handed us a very pedestrian-looking yellow manila envelope. In it was a thank you note from the President! That’s when we knew for sure that the book that was made by so many, had found its way into the right hands. Thank you, Mr. President.
Remember the before-and-after moment I was talking about? Well, apart from having had the honor to work on such an amazing project, in early 2013 we introduced printing services to our users. Since then, anyone who uses our website has also been able to print a keepsake book of all their letters and photographs.
Perhaps you would like to start your own book of letters? GIVE IT A TRY!