New Owner Of Howlingbird Studio To Carry On Tradition of Art And Science
By: DEBORAH G. SCANLON, July 2, 2014
After 32 years of owning Howlingbird Studio, dreams of relaxation, travel and time with her now-retired husband, Lee Prone, convinced Cynthia Moor to sell her Falmouth-based silk screening/T-shirt business to a longtime employee, Sandra Lewis.
And Ms. Lewis, who started working at Howlingbird at age 14 in 1986 with a few years off in between, is delighted to be taking over.
As a high school student she used to ride her bike from her home on St. Mark’s Road in Teaticket to clean screens at the design studio. She stayed on at the studio during summers in her college years when she attended Montserrat College of Art.
“I’d always hoped that I could use my training and be as creative as I am now,” Ms. Lewis said recently. “This is the perfect space for me,” she said, adding, “I feel really honored that ‘The Bird’ chose me to be its new keeper. I can carry on the legacy.”
Howlingbird Studio, on Queens Buyway in the 1920s building that used to house the Parkway shops, was sold to Ms. Lewis by Ms. Moor in May.
“The main idea now is to keep the flavor of Howlingbird,” Ms. Lewis said, noting that her own spin is “to make the atmosphere more creative. We have an extra room that is now storage. I’d like to use it for retail, for artwork.”
Ms. Lewis paints and works with glass.
“I’d like to enhance the creative end of retail, with more emphasis on using art as a vehicle to explain science,” she said.
Ms. Moor has successfully created a foundation for that concept. She grew up in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a major in aquatic biology and minor in graphic arts. She came east to visit her brother at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, went to Europe and then made her way to Woods Hole in 1978, working as an illustrator in the graphics department of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
One day in 1982 she stopped by Howlingbird Studio to discuss a project with Martha Howbert. Ms. Howbert, who established the business in 1976, was thinking of selling her business and told Ms. Moor she should buy it. Ms. Moor contemplated the idea for a day or two, then bought the business, with support from her family. Her father, who had used silk screening in his business, Pacific Bindery in the San Francisco Bay area, was especially supportive.
At that time, Howlingbird had retail shops in Falmouth Heights and Woods Hole. The Heights shop, which sold clothing and jewelry, closed in 1990; the Woods Hole shop, which primarily sells T-shirts, is currently open from April to December.
The studio on Queens Buyway serves as the retail/wholesale shop and work space. Customers see the screen printing process in operation while they explore the clothing, which includes T-shirts in both traditional and women’s sizes, sweatshirts, totes, baby clothes, aprons and bags.
The process is no longer called silk screening because the screens used now are polyester, not silk, It is an involved process, from dark room to light table to press. At Howlingbird, everything is done by hand. In many companies, the printing is automated.
Howlingbird Studio has six to eight employees, depending on the time of year. They include Ms. Lewis’s son, Jake Spagone, 20, a student at Becker College with a major in game design and development; Carolynn Sullivan, the office manager; and Linda McLaughlin, manager of the Woods Hole store.
The designs for the retail products in the two locations are drawn by the staff. Custom designs are sometimes given to the studio by the customer, sometimes created by the studio. Art created by the studio is done by Ms. Moor, Ms. Lewis and longtime employee Sharon Holloway. Designs by former owner Martha Howbert are still being used.
Where do they get their ideas? Nature.
Ms. Lewis recently showed some of their favorite T-shirts, including the new octopus design that Ms. Lewis drew “just for fun” and the snowy owl created by Ms. Moor. Then there was the monarch butterfly and flower design that Ms. Lewis created because “monarchs are in trouble and it is a way to get the message out.” The tortoise T-shirt is based on Susan Baur’s book, “The Turtle Sisters of Cape Cod.”
A Marty Howbert design of the Alvin and Lulu was brought back by Ms. Moor because it is so popular. She noted that a portion of the proceeds of WHOI-inspired T-shirts go to WHOI. Their most popular t-shirts, in fact, are the WHOI logo, as well as the limulus (horseshoe crab) and the ctenophore (jellyfish), both used for research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.
One of Ms. Lewis’s future projects is taking the favorite older Howlingbird designs and putting them on a poster for children to color.
Howlingbird’s T-shirts are popular, and not just on Cape Cod.
Ms. Moor was delighted when, one day in Bequia in the Grenadines, she saw familiar T-shirts and was able to say, “Hey, we did those!”