Woodblock Printed Bat Mitvah Invitations

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Eric MauroRecently, Eric and his wife Marcie sent us one of their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah invitations. The invitation ensemble was a co-production, with Marcie choosing the cards and envelopes and Eric handling the wood block printing using a design drawn from a recovered piece of wall from an old Jewish synagogue in Poland from where Marcie’s grandparents hail. You’re about to hear my telephone conversation with Eric about the project.

To save the audio to your computer, right click and “save as.”

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Your design for your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah invitation is so creative, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the invitation itself, which has a fantastic story associated with it. Tell me first about your wood block carvings.

Woodblock Bar Mitzvah invitation

Sure Josh. I’ve done some printmaking and screenprinting and etching and that kind of thing in art school. It [wood block printing] was something I’d been meaning to try and then this is something that I was sure I would finish because it had to go out.

(laughter) It’s so important!

Yeah. So many times you try and do something new and you just let it go because there’s more important things. So on the invitation itself, I made two colors so I had to make two different blocks. I carved them out of poplar boards. There’s text that we used for the invitation with a date and time and Eliza’s…all about Eliza and that kind of thing. I also included floral elements that I had lifted from wall paintings of a synagogue in Poland. It was part of a project I had been associated with. There’s an art teacher at Mass Art where I went named Rick Brown and he does all these kinds of projects; some people might have seen him on PBS like raising an Obelisque or something like that in Egypt. He recreated this wooden synagogue. We looked at the paintings and tried to recreate the paintings on the inside which were done with a kind of water paint.

When you say you guys were recreating the synagogue, what do you mean by that?

I’d be surprised if he doesn’t want to rebuild it. It was a wooden building and we recreated the inside parts and the panels of the painting on the roof and cupola which has a certain kind of architectural elements. It’s kind of interesting, these buildings were sort of very drab from the outside and then had inside, different architectural elements like domes and things like that. So we did the inside.

In the ’20s, these Polish art students; maybe they were Ukrainian it’s hard to know; they went to a few of these wooden synagogues around Poland and Ukraine. It’s in this book called Resplendent Synagogue by a guy named Thomas Hubka. And they took black and white photography of the inside. They did architectural elevation drawings as well, you know, measured it. And then they did some color renderings because it was before color photography was really available to them, so they did color renderings of as much of the
painted interior as they could. They were painted in a totally decorative…just a riot of different flowers, amazing animals, all kinds of things that you would never imagine. They’re very different from modern sacred decoration and that kind of thing.

In World War II, they were all burned down pretty much by the Nazis who marched through Poland—just dismantled them, burned them down, or just destroyed them. There’s one in Israel that somehow was just taken apart and left in like someone’s backyard and then recovered after the war, but most of them were destroyed.

So Rick Brown has maybe as an ongoing project of recreating the inside of this. He gets high school students to work on it and things like that. So maybe he’s built another one, I don’t know. I don’t know how many art classes he’s going to have to talk into this project over many years of rebuilding.

Copper Ore response card with Bat Mitzvah invitation

But you liberated this design from the synagogue, and…

Yeah. Oh sure. (laughter) You know, the thing about these designs is they’re so joyous and my daughter really, when we asked her, “What color would you like?” She said, “orange and red.” She just wanted something fun. She wanted people to have fun and she had so much joy about it and I really thought that this has some religious connection to her and it’s also that kind of spirit of her ’cause it’s just happy, excited, and then it’s sort of also over decorated and decorated and decorated.

How did you get the design into your woodblock?

I think I drew it out, Xeroxed it, and then using a pencil and a Xerox—you know, a thick, dark pencil—sort of rubbed in the parts I wanted to be on each plate. Then I had to flip that over. There’s all kinds of ways to do this, but you could do it like any kind of reverse rubbing where you rub the back of a paper and the pencil goes from the front of your drawing onto the plate so everything is reversed. All the text is reversed, all the designs are reversed and hopefully it all lines up in the end, although that’s not always that easy to do either. So once I had done that, I had carved them out with Ex-Acto knives and a Dremel tool, you know, a motorized tool with different carving bits.

How many hours would you say you put into this?

Oh a long time! I was supposed to be done before we went away for vacation but I wasn’t so I took the whole kit with me—and I don’t really have a press either—so I took the whole kit with me down on vacation and worked on it there too. And then I even had to re-carve all of my blocks because they weren’t deep enough. I had to learn about printing inks and the different papers that I could put it on and the different ways to get it to print without destroying the paper. It took probably a week’s worth, so forty hours at least. (laughter)

As I show this around to people in the office, one of the guys, Will Collins, said when he was a bit younger, he tried his hand at woodblock printing. He just was wondering what paper you did use for this.

Ok, gee I don’t remember. I think I used a kind of hot press woodblock paper I got at an art store. I can’t remember which one it was.

And then I couldn’t use a real press. I used clamps from Home Depot to push the paper onto a block and I had to apply a lot of pressure so I had to put on four clamps on each print and then undo them.


Yeah, it was hard.

For each single one…


And do you recall how many you did total?

I think I did at least a hundred and then I had to do them all twice because they had two colors and then, you know, it’s lining it up (laughter) and then, yeah.

Alright, well you need to get your credit and you will get it in this article.

Oh good! (laughter) Finally!

You really used probably some of the finest papers that you could get your hands on. The envelopes are an Aspire Petallics brand metallic copper paper.


You’re using an orange Japanese linen paper as well.


Eric's Bar Mitzvah invitation ensemble

The ribbon that you used, is that like a natural Raffia? Is that how you pronounce it?

I don’t know how to pronounce it. That’s my wife’s business. But she got the natural, sort of a reed-type ribbon as well. We wanted to work with her colors and then you have several different elements; you have your envelope, the reply card, reply envelope, the invitation itself and the different inks that are going to go on there. So I think we had two colors and a white, if I’m remembering. And then in addition we had the element of the tie. So all of that stuff together… I didn’t want to have three different colors where it starts to get confusing. It’s a general balance of papers and inks between boring, on the one hand, and then confusing on the other hand and so hopefully you try to land in the middle. The metallic really complimented the invitation where I was able to mix white in with some of the ink too and that it a metallic look to go with the paper.

So we were thrilled with the paper when we found your company. We had gone to store after store after store. Especially in this case when you’re trying to use some of your labor to offset some of the cost, so we knew that I was going to be doing the invitation myself; I was going to be doing the graphic design on the other elements myself. We had been to art stores; we had been to paper stores and it was hard to find things that would go together. We really appreciated the guidance you guys had and the great price on the paper was helpful too. And all the different elements that you could bring together with the envelopes and the cards themselves…

Your wife has been fun to work with. She’s been in a couple times as you know.

Yes. (laughter) Now we know where to go.

For people that don’t know how important a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is, as a father, can you talk about how significant the event is?

Ok, yeah, sure. I’d love to. Certainly for my wife’s family, this is a very important thing. They’re not tremendously religious, but this is an important family occasion, almost as a study project for your child as well, starting to get a little more serious about their life, the things that they want to do, and the kind of person they want to be. So you’re approaching that from a religious perspective at that point. How does this influence your behavior? How you become an ethical person? In addition, you’re learning Hebrew passages in a very intense way, and you got to communicate them, you got to express yourself publicly, so that can be nerve-wracking for your child and for you because it’s a performance now. You’re hoping that they do well in front of the family but also you just want them to… I don’t know where to go from here. (laughter)

Obviously you want the very best for them.

Right. You want them to be happy and not to have a breakdown at the same time. So you want them to start growing up; this is one more step.

So was it awesome?

Yeah, it was great. She did well. She had a tough passage but she did them both well and got through them. And her friends were great too. They really helped out in the service and everybody was impressed. I was impressed with her friends and how well-behaved they were.

Nice. You’re an artist and a designer. Tell people about your work.

I’m a painter. I do some work in graphics and some animation for the internet. I work in Adobe InDesign mostly and the Adobe graphics programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop. I can do most kinds of graphics projects and multi-page brochures, annual reports, that kind of thing.

What is your web site?

It’s EricMauro.com.

Thanks to Eric for telling us about the unique woodblock printed Bat Mitzvah invitations he designed for his daughter. We hope his hard work and passion will inspire you to create something special for a friend or family member’s up-coming event. If you have any comments about anything that Eric covered, feel free to post it here.

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