Pulp Romance

Oblation Papers & Press celebrates 20 years in the Pearl.

If Jennifer and Ron Rich are worried that we’re just a tweet away from hitting the delete key on physical paper, they aren’t letting on. Bucking the paper-free trend, the couple celebrated the 20th anniversary of their beloved shop, Oblation Papers & Press (516 NW 12th Ave, 503-223-1093, oblationpapers.com), in October the best way they know how—analog-style.

For the Riches, making paper by hand has always been a family endeavor. “We had a monthlong honeymoon on the Oregon coast, where we just started picking seapods and grasses and throwing them into a blender,” says Jennifer. “We made this really rustic, gnarly organic paper and spread it out everywhere in our little apartment.” That was back in 1989.

“We made this really rustic, gnarly organic paper and spread it out everywhere in our little apartment.”

It didn’t take long for the couple’s micro business to outgrow their home near Seattle on Vashon Island. The goat barn Ron converted into a studio became cramped. As employees, trade shows, and accounts multiplied, they relocated their budding paper operation to Portland.

In the early ’90s, the Pearl District was still an odd choice for a retailer. “This was an abandoned warehouse surrounded by a bunch of other abandoned warehouses,” Ron says as he motions around their 5,000-square-foot shop.

Today, it’s hard to imagine Oblation ever having felt isolated. Handmade paper, refurbished typewriters, a public typing station, fountain pens, wax seals, and all the bits and bobs one might need for a proper paper-crafting exploit fill the storefront nicely.

While the spread is impressive, it’s the surprises hiding at the rear of the shop that are really something to write home about. There, you can peek into a handmade paper–making studio replete with traditional molds and deckles, or marvel at the century-old machines the couple uses for all their custom letterpress work. All of Oblation’s paper is pressed from 100 percent recycled postindustrial-waste cotton.

“We call ourselves the microbrewery of papermaking,” Ron quips. “You see where the stuff is made and hopefully drink as much as you can before you leave.”

It’s rare to do both paper-making and letterpress under one roof, but for the Riches, it makes sense. “It’s very textural—you know, you can feel it,” says Jennifer, as she fingers the deckled edges of a wedding invitation. “You choose the font, you choose the color, you choose the paper.”

Gutenberg would approve. 

– Erin Gilday | Photos by Michelle Mitchell