By: Jarrett Van Meter

Sally Anne Morgan makes retro-cool art on real retro gear.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Although neither rats nor bees are immediately visible, a visit to Sally Anne Morgan’s farm in Alexander allows you to spot sheep, dogs, cats, oxen and chickens. The menagerie, curated by Morgan and her husband, Andrew Zinn, dot her studio Ratbee Press and Design as if it were tasked with protecting it. Inside the building, the vintage cylinder and cylinder presses she uses in her work – along with a guillotine letter opener as imposing in size as it is in name – give the space a air of antiquity. The windowsills are full of plants and flowers, the ceiling of raw pine. Several stacks of recent prints lie on his desk. His work, like his farm and the name of the company itself, is steeped in plants and animals.

Photo by Colby Rabon

“I’m definitely inspired by the natural world, being outdoors, going on hikes,” Morgan says. “I am really intrigued by the animals and plants that exist with humanity in a way. Rats, for example, have thrived and thrived and have much higher population densities than they would have without humans, as they are able to adapt to a human-built environment. No one wants a rat infestation, I get it, but to me it just calls into question how we think about wildlife, the wilderness, or nature.

Photo by Colby Rabon

An accomplished banjo and violin player, Morgan was introduced to letterpress – a form of relief printing where raised and inked surfaces print patterns or letters on paper – through vintage-looking promotional posters, to fashionable for roots music concerts and music festivals. On his first move to Asheville in 2011, Morgan sought an apprenticeship with Mark Olson at Innerer Klang Letterpress, which specializes in small-run poetry books. She learned to define type and to clean, organize and store equipment. In 2012, while helping Olson, she began to create her own work which would ultimately serve as the basis for Ratbee, which produced letterpress printing, illustration and design. She has moved away from time-consuming and expensive-to-reproduce concert posters for wholesome greeting cards, unique wedding invitations, and commissioned prints that possess an old-fashioned aesthetic and noticeable craftsmanship.

Possum and Bloodroot
Photo by Colby Rabon

“One of my most popular cards is a squirrel with a balloon that says Happy Birthday, and I calculated that I printed around 3000 copies… to imagine 3000 people getting it for their birthday is rather cool, ”Morgan explains. “I like it to be a work of art, but it’s affordable.” The squirrel is a recurring species in his work; another popular print depicts a squirrel playing a banjo. As to how Ratbee’s growth affected his own musical activities on the folk-drone circuit – including playing with Black Twig Pickers and House and Land – Morgan says the financial freedom offered by typography has dampened some of his creative pressure.

A collection of the most popular prints from Ratbee Press.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“It allowed me to pursue music more as a pure art, where I don’t really care if it’s going to pay me for my time, and I kind of modeled that on making a living. “, she says.

Close to the house

Sally Anne Morgan, Ratbee Press & Design, Alexander. Work is sold locally at Whist Greetings & Gifts (444 Haywood Road, # 102, West Asheville, whistshop.com) at Horse + Hero (14 Patton Ave., downtown Asheville, horse-hero.myshopify.com) , and at NOON Modern Merchandise (509 Mill St., Sylva, noonstorefront.com). For more information, see ratbeepress.com.