Putting Her Stamp On The World

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

October 04, 1992|By PATRICK A. MCGUIRE

Sally Mericle was one of those kids who was always drawing pictures. When she was about 8 years old she got a rubber stamp set as a gift and her career was set in type.

For the past 20 years she's worked in graphic design, both full time and as a free-lancer, and she currently teaches part time at the College of Notre Dame. But two years ago she went back to those basics from kidhood: rubber. She formed Mars-Tokyo, a company that sells rubber stamps -- many of them her own

hand-carved designs.

They include whimsical items like a pie with wings and classic items like cherubs and even one featuring the pope. She never mails out a catalog without adorning it with a collage of colorful inked impressions and a personalized message. Recently she was one of only two American artists invited to participate in Europe's first ever exhibition of rubber stamp art.

Q: So, you were a kid who one day was normal and the next day somebody gave you these rubber stamps?

A: Yes. I thought, "Wow, I can publish a newspaper." Then I started making my first sentence and that dream kind of went by the wayside. But if you wanted to make a really nice "Happy Birthday" card and you didn't know how to make the letters look really beautiful, you could use the stamp and make a perfect "H" and a perfect "A" and so forth. You can make your own film strips very easily by stamping different images in little notebooks. You can have a car moving real fast or an airplane flying by.

Q: But how serious a tool is a rubber stamp?

A: It's used by people who want to communicate an idea or a thought. Rubber stampers feel their collection is a visual lexicon, a dictionary of images. You pull out the exact little stamp that has the image on it that expresses whatever you want to express. The more you become a collector the bigger your dictionary becomes. There are people who have thousands of stamps.

Q: What does stamping really do for you?

A: It's very empowering to stamp. You don't have to be an artist or a draftsman or be capable of making an image yourself. All you have to do is have a stamp and an ink pad. People feel they have a means of expression they didn't have before. Many people find that all of a sudden they can become artists, creators of these little canvases.

Q: How do you use stamps in your life?

A: I started stamping whenever I corresponded with people. I write letters -- pen pal kinds of things -- and embellish them with rubber stamps. It's expressing yourself. I don't want to write a letter that is all words. So as I'm writing a letter I'll have a stamp that editorializes what I just said.

Q: Like what?

A: Well, I have a stamp of a dog doing . . . well, I better not say. . . .

Q: You can get stamps like that?

A: Yes.

Q: And you left a full-time art career for this?

A: My job was not satisfying. I was designing printed brochures for companies that I didn't have a lot of feeling for. Then, your work gets changed around before it goes to the printer. You get a check at the end of the week but you don't get any satisfaction. Creative people in this society get very little affirmation. The people I worked with would never praise you. When I started the rubber stamp company I said I'm just not taking it anymore.

Q: Where'd you get the idea to start a company?

A: Watching "Mister Rogers." He says wishing and dreaming and thinking about things won't make it happen. It just sank in one day. I said, "Hey, what am I waiting for?"

Q: Where did the name Mars-Tokyo come from?

A: It came to me in a dream. I always liked names with places in them, like Judy Chicago and Dakota Jackson.

Q: You're not even a tad worried that it's too bizarre?

A: I didn't care. It was my name and I could do anything I damn well wanted. After having compromised so many times in free-lancing it was refreshing. It has turned out to be the strongest feature of my company. Nobody in the rubber world forgets the name.

Q: Good point. So how's biz?

A: Sales have been up. There's no recession in rubber. Rubber is buoyant. I go to the post office and the orders come in. And also the appreciation, the affirmation. People write to me telling me they love my catalog. I didn't get that in free-lancing. No one ever said, "Hey, nice work." This is really rewarding to an artist. You feel like you're touching people.

Q: Uh, about this rubber stamp of the pope . . .

A: I have a feeling its gonna be a runaway best seller. Can you imagine the things you could have him say?

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