An Elegy for a Printer Named Cottonwood

Cottonwood No. 5, Autumn, nr. La Cienega, New Mexico 1996 Photograph ©Craig Varjabedian

The printing presses ceased to roll at Cottonwood Printing Company this past Friday. The firm was forced to close its doors after thirty-five years due to the City of Albuquerque condemning the property where the plant is located. The city wants (needs?) to put a road over a water diversion channel and it seems that the Cottonwood plant is in the way of the growing needs of the city.

I began my adventure with Cottonwood in 1994 when the firm printed a brochure for a one-person exhibition of mine at the Albuquerque Museum. It was there that I first met Victor Scherzinger and a great friendship began. And over time, as the business grew and changed, Victor brought on two partners, first Blake Thies, a wizard of the accounts and later his wife Christina whom I have often called the heart of Cottonwood Printing. Over twenty years we created many beautiful things together—calendars and notecards and even a book—a duotone volume for an exhibition of mine that was assembled by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center titled By the Grace of Light: Images of Faith from Catholic New Mexico.

Victor and Nora Scherzinger, Corrales, New Mexico 2014 Photograph ©Craig Varjabedian

A photographer I used to work for, a mentor of mine really, told me once that when the world hands you dung, find a way to return beauty. With this in mind and with the blessing of Cottonwood Printing, I created the broadside below which features my photograph Cottonwood No. 5, Autumn, nr. La Cienega, New Mexico 1996, a kind of non-official image used by the firm many times over the years. The broadside includes a powerful essay about the nature of trees written by German poet, novelist, and painter Hermann Hesse that seems to remarkably echo much of these current circumstances. Hesse writes:

A tree says: a kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

— Hermann Hesse, Trees: Reflections and Poems (Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte)

For in a world where events conspire to close down a viable and venerable firm because there was questionably no other place to put a road, my hope was to find a way through this injustice, to somehow find a way to return some beauty. And while everyone at Cottonwood had the best of intentions to get the broadside on press before the lights were turned off last Friday, fate and last minute work conspired for it not to be so.

While the broadside will never be printed, it was still good to have designed it. For in the process of creating the work, I had a very real opportunity to pay tribute and say thank you and goodbye to old friends and to a place that allowed me to explore my creativity over many years. Cottonwood provided me the chance to share my photographs with a huge and appreciative audience and to work with others who wanted to bring beauty into the world as well.

I will miss them.

Cottonwood Printing Company 1979-2014

An Elegy for Cottonwood Printing, A Broadside designed by Craig Varjabedian