Man of Letters: Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.
Photo: Terry Manier
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.’s hand-printed and hand-sewn books can be found in the libraries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the artist will sell you an original letterpress print for just fifteen dollars. “My posters are for everybody,” says Kennedy, who runs twelve mid-century presses in a former hardware store in Gordo, Alabama. He took up printmaking as a hobby twenty-five years ago—long before the current letterpress resurgence.
Today Kennedy puts his collection of thousands of rare wood and lead block letters to full-time use, printing media for individual collectors and for such clients as the furniture retailer CB2. Posters typically incorporate a proverb, an aphorism, or a thought-provoking statement buffeted by a measure of sly wit (“Coffee Makes You Black”) or political symbolism (“Gay Pride” beneath a silhouetted pink fist) for emphasis. Between Kennedy’s straightforward art and his fondness for overalls, he’s been mislabeled as a folk artist. But while he admires vernacular crafts, he holds a master’s in fine arts and names modernist legends such as the painter Jacob Lawrence as major influences.
Kennedy’s work also references a tradition of African-American letterpress printmaking that flourished through the late fifties at historically black colleges and universities. The craft may enjoy less mainstream profitability today, but Kennedy says his love of the art form is compensation enough. “People tell me, ‘You don’t charge enough,’” he says. “I’m making much more than I would at McDonald’s, and I’m happy. What more do you want out of the world?” kennedyprints.com