The Mandate Press | Splendid Glitch

1/10/2014 | Amy Tibbals
Stacey Jo Rabiger


What do professional watchmakers and symphony writers and Jenga players have in common? One: They have rad jobs, and Two: They know that every little piece of a thing has to be perfectly in place in order for the whole shebang to work. The story of The Mandate Press is both one of coincidence and one of very, very careful planning -- not unlike the coolest game of Jenga ever.

Ben Webster, maestro of The Mandate Press, began writing his accidental symphony in 1998, when he moved to SLC from his childhood farm in Idaho in order to attend the U. Webster graduated in 2003 with a “stock story” and a degree in Graphic Design, and started work at a scrapbooking company. Having grown up around huge, take-your-hand-off farm machinery, Ben was instilled with an innate love for taking things apart and putting them back together -- and one day he picked up an old-timey, heavy duty, take-your-hand-off piece of machinery of his own: a letterpress. No surprise here, he loved it, so when he was faced with either quitting his hobby or quitting his job, he chose the latter. And that is where Ben Webster’s “stock story” ends.

Ben’s first stab at the design world was a stationery company which, incidentally, was a bit of a loss to the retail market collapse the very moment that letterpress began to take off with the public. The timing couldn’t have been better, and the transition into letterpress seemed a perfect fit [the first of many for The Mandate Press]. The Mandate began acquiring a modest following, as good businesses do, with a surprising amount of their clientele based out of Australia and Canada. And then, “We got a little write-up in TIME magazine,” explains Ben. Well, then.

Yes, the write-up was by a freelance writer, and yes, the story was only available in an insert that was only available to subscribers, but still...shit took off, nonetheless. And here we are, in this space that looks like a mix between a barn and a mechanic’s garage [a weirdly perfect fit], that is decorated with a flurry of vibrant prints, a huge tapestry emblazoned with Beatrice Warde’s famous proclamation “This is a Printing Office”, a buffalo head, and one of those old, spinny barbershop poles. Oh, did I not mention there’s a barber? 'Cause there’s a fucking barbershop inside The Mandate Press, complete with a straight-razor-wieldin', talk-radio-listenin' barber. Why a barber? “Why not?” asks Ben. “It really ties the room together,” he says [long live Lebowski axioms]. Braxton's Barbershop, run by a former inhabitant of the Bonnevillains Speed Shop, was another perfect fit for Ben Webster, it would seem.

The outfit is currently dominating the SLC printing scene with a band of five employees. They are, according to Ben, easily the biggest printing company in the state, and probably one of the only ones in the country that can count John Meyer as a fan [it’s a long story]. The concept of The Mandate Press seems to be a manifestation of the respect commanded by manual labor mixed with the beauty evoked by design, and when you walk into the Press’ spot on State Street, you're confronted by both.

The peeps over at The Mandate Press have not perfected the art of letterpress, nor would they ever wish to. They toe the line between natural imperfection and professional consistency with an avid awareness. Products printed from The Mandate ensure aesthetic, a sick design, and the feeling that comes from having something that was printed on a rad, old-timey, take-your-hand-off piece of machinery. We'll be happy to write you a letter on our ill, new stationary should you require proof.

In this tech-driven, online-essential world, there is something memorable about holding a piece of paper in your hand. It lingers a bit longer in the grey matter. Add to that a texture, some color, a bit of soul, and you have something memorable, indeed. The art of letterpress is an intriguing one -- the simplicity and power of mere ink on paper, the way in which a font or color can change the entire mood or meaning of a message, and the way you can feel with your fingertips the labor of the person and machine who made it all beg you to enjoy it a little longer.

The Mandate Press will host an exhibition January 17th featuring 20 artists hand-picked by Webster [see the official flyer/info at bottom]. Their pieces will be created utilizing nothing more than the same piece of paper and the same two colors of paint. The exhibition’s theme is “Nothing Goes According to Plan” -- fitting, as both Ben Webster and his Mandate Press have flourished just fine without one.

The Mandate Press | 1077 S Main | 801.359.4868

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