Kathryn Hastings: Artist Focuses on Bringing Back Slow and Lovely Communication
In today’s instant communication world, with text messages, emails, and social media messaging, handwritten letters are a lost art. Or are they? American artist Kathryn Hastings of Seattle, Wash., wants to rejuvenate the craft of writing personal letters.
“I’ve always been a letter writer. My grandmother taught me to write letters,” Hastings says. “And then I went to boarding school for high school and was a pretty prolific letter writer because I had friends at home. And when I would go home in the summer, my friends from boarding school would be at their homes. So it was a lot of letter writing.”
This artist wants people to bring back the idea of thinking slowly. Writing letters gives people more time to think and ponder and to communicate on a deeper level.
And it’s more than just hand-written letters. Hastings wants to bring back all the trappings, especially fancy wax seals on the envelopes.
What are wax seals? Just what it sounds like. Special wax for sealing paper communications. A person melts coloured wax, drips some onto a document or envelope, then presses a flat carved pattern into the wax to leave an impression, creating a distinctive design, as well as sealing the envelope and preventing interference with its message. The stamps are made of metal, clay, wood, or similar materials with an intricate carving on the flat side. For the sake of convenience, historically, many were large elaborate rings worn by royalty and religious figures.
In the middle ages, prominent people used wax seals extensively to authenticate important documents and prohibit anyone from tampering with the contents, which dealt with affairs of the state, religious proclamations, or other valuable information.
The Prophet Muhammad used a seal for official and religious notifications and letters, and his seal is one of the relics stored in the Topkapi Palace by the Ottoman sultans as part of the sacred relics collection. Tradition says that when Muhammad wanted to write to the Byzantine emperor in 628, he was informed that his letter must bear a seal to protect its contents. For that purpose, he had a ring made of silver, carved with the words Muhammad rasul Allah (Muhammad, Messenger of God).
Collecting antique wax seals was a logical progression for Hastings. After her love of letter writing, she discovered beautiful modern wax seals in Italy. When she accidentally collected a wax seal that turned out to be a historic piece, that was it.
“And then I was hooked, basically,” Hastings says. “And I collected for a long time. I really believe not only that we should have these antique objects in our lives and integrate history with the modern times, but that it’s meant to be shared.”
In her shop, Hastings shares her knowledge of this fine art in several forms. She has a free online course introducing wax seals, as well as a newsletter called The Epistolarian, which means “the letter writer.” She has also curated fine papers and sealing waxes, which she sells in her online shop, along with other tools like pens, inks, and spoons for melting wax.
This is a passion project for her, full of thoughtful letters, antiques, and wax seals. On the subject of passion, many people don’t think of fine ink and paper except when they’re getting married.
Hastings has a section on her website for these people with all the perfect, beautiful adornments for their communication needs. But Hastings doesn’t think people should save their best only for special occasions. Like with wedding attire, which for many people is the only time they will spend more on well-made and well-designed clothing.
“The things that you wear and let touch your body and your life are a form of that art and beauty. The design is indicative of who you are in the world and what you care about. And I feel that way about letters, that it’s about the beauty of embracing a slower life,” she says.
Hastings lives the way she speaks, opting for a slower way and a more balanced life. She’s the mother of two children, and she likes to be able to make time for the really important things in life, like their soccer practices and games. She feels the same about her business and is looking to build slowly and with care and quality, without cutting corners or taking shortcuts in quality.
“I always make the decision that’s best for the customer. I like the integrity of the art. I plan on being an artist my entire life.”
In addition to the course Hastings has available online now, she plans to soon release more programs to provide a higher caliber of learning for her customers who want to acquire her skills for themselves. There’s always something new to do when you take life slowly.