There’s a wave of artisans breathing new life into the Mountain State. West Virginia University School of Art & Design graduate Emily Sokolosky is one of them.
Sokolosky, a Charleston native, transferred to WVU’s School of Art & Design after her freshman year at Syracuse University to be closer to home.
“I loved that WVU’s art program is small enough to have really focused classes and a lot of attention from professors, yet WVU is a huge school to offer a great college experience,” Sokolosky said.
During her junior year, Sokolosky was intrigued by a letterpress presentation by Joseph Galbreath, assistant professor of graphic design. She asked Galbreath to teach her more.
“Emily’s enthusiasm was instantly apparent and I knew I couldn’t say no,” Galbreath said. “It helped that she was a great student so investing some extra instruction time was something I was happy to do.”
While letterpress courses weren’t offered at WVU, Galbreath was in the process of moving the School’s letterpress collection out of storage and into the graphic design lab so faculty could incorporate printing into specific courses. Galbreath created an independent study for Sokolosky, allowing her to learn how to run the presses and set type by hand.
“Her eagerness and willingness to get her hands dirty provided me with evidence that the the School’s letterpress resourses were underutilized,” Galbreath said. “Through the generosity of Dean Kreider and the support of Director Helm, we now have a modest space exclusively for letterpress printing. Emily is very much a part of that story.”
“That was the beginning of everything for me,” Sokolosky said. “That meant so much to have someone going out of their way to help me achieve. I don’t think that would have happened anywhere else.”
After graduation in 2014, Sokolosky interned at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee. She then returned to Charleston and began working at local screen-printing company Kin Ship Goods. There, Sokolosky was encouraged to open her own print shop. She did just that.
Base Camp Printing Company opened in September 2015. Located in Charleston’s West Side, Sokolosky creates and sells posters, greeting cards, coasters and more. Many of her designs draw on themes from West Virginia and Appalachia. Shoppers can browse the collection while watching Sokolosky work.
“It’s really fun to have my shop set up where people can walk in, shop for prints or cards, and see directly into the workspace,” Sokolosky said. “I’m able to show people the process and they can see exactly how all of the items in the shop are made.”
As the shop grows, Sokolosky hopes to host workshops to let the community further explore the process.
“It’s fulfilling to teach people about letterpress so I’d love to expand that further and actually invite people into the shop and give them the opportunity to set type, carve a block and create a print themselves,” Sokolosky said. “A letterpress workshop was how I was introduced to this art so to be able to give that to someone else would be a dream.”
Sokolosky also hopes to use her success to encourage other artists and current students to take the leap toward the career they want.
“I found something I really loved, worked hard at it, surrounded myself around the most supportive, inspiring people and have been able to set up shop and work for myself,” Sokolosky said. “It is possible. If you show the effort and willingness to learn and absorb all that you can, so many doors will open for you.”