Borealis Press’ ironic and whimsical greeting cards resonate everywhere

BUCKSPORT — The Borealis Press story began with an idea, several false starts and “no idea how to sell things,” said founder Mark Baldwin, leaning back in his chair in the production room. Sunlight streams in through small tall windows at the north end of the unassuming building. A curated but unglamorous space tucked away on Main Street, Baldwin moved Borealis Press from Blue Hill to Bucksport last year, and the facility is as old as many of the photographs that adorn the company’s iconic greeting cards. .

Baldwin incorporated his fledgling business in 1989 and began creating posters for children the following year. He asked The Ellsworth American to print them before recruiting an employee to start his own printing business, using a monochrome Miehle press.

Baldwin used these outdoor print jobs to pay the bills, and his posters not selling, he turned to a new idea: coloring card books for children, complete with a pack of miniature crayons attached. The black and white designs were drawn by local artists, as was the Proverbs of Hell line of greeting cards, illustrated by Brooksville artist Rob Shetterly and featuring quotes from English poet William Blake.

“I don’t know why this came to mind,” he mused. “Somehow I thought we could sell cards with [Blake’s] Proverbs from Hell.

Then he tried using images and quotes from Mother Goose. “I didn’t know anything,” Baldwin said. “It was embarrassing.”

His publicity consisted of running a 1-by-1-inch ad in the old Maine Progressive publication, with the slogan Printing for Thinking People, which brought famed 20th-century graphic designer Rudolph de Harak to his print shop. “All we do is Rudy-[based]“, Baldwin said.

Baldwin then came across the idea of ​​matching interesting photos with interesting words and found success.

What makes the Borealis Press range of greeting cards unique – at least before other companies started copying the idea – is that readers are often asked to find their own meaning between the photo and the text.

“The idea was to get two things that have nothing to do with each other and establish a connection,” he said. “It is not easy.”

A former street photographer who photographed for magazines and his local newspaper, Baldwin said that when street photography “died out,” Borealis Press became a major destination for this type of photography. But all those photos needed words, and Baldwin, who started as a newspaper editor at 16 and spent a decade as a journalist, found quotes and sayings — some he made up on the spot — that each told their own story. And since everyone at Borealis Press does a bit of everything, Baldwin and Jeff Grenier aren’t the only ones racking their creative brains around a chosen photo.

“You just have to look at it and see what it says,” said longtime employee Dede Johnson.

Baldwin added, “We don’t have to connect with everyone. But it must be true. »

The Borealis Press team is small in size but mighty in impact, with Baldwin having passed the reins of the cards business to Jeff Grenier in recent years, while Heather Grenier is bureau chief and Johnson works on design and the production. A few additional employees complete the dashboard.

Jeff Grenier joined Borealis Press about 12 years ago, coming from an inventory background, and his wife Heather “takes care of everything,” Johnson said.

“I entered into what already existed,” Grenier said.

“And he has a better idea of ​​what will sell,” Baldwin added.

“Our success rate is pretty good,” admitted Grenier.

While Baldwin is ending his involvement in day-to-day operations, he still remains involved in editing and approving new card lines.

Most greeting card buyers are women, Baldwin discovered early on, which helped explain why cards featuring photographs of men, especially older men, did not sell. And because tastes change with time and cultural shifts, card types that failed before sometimes found success later.

So how did a small Downeast Maine greeting card company become a national and international success? Baldwin thought for a moment, “I think every line we write and every image and layout kind of adds up to something that people identify with…And it just seems like there’s enough of people.”

Journalist Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When she’s not reporting, find her hiking the local trails, reading, or watching professional tennis. Email him at [email protected]
Anne Berleant

Mika R. Pyle