The world is their alphabet
Husband-and-wife team finds and photographs ‘Letters from the Cape’
A different perspective on the world can yield beautiful results, as Jan and Chris Capece know well. From subtle shapes made by ropes on a dock to patterns in the sand, nature’s nuanced aesthetic provides the Capeces endless inspiration for their art, Letters from the Cape.
The couple, who have a home in South Orleans, uses photography to capture different “letters” as they appear naturally in the world—and then arranges those images to spell words and phrases that express the essence of Cape Cod life. With an estimated 700 letters in their inventory, a booming greeting card line, and a complete do-it-yourself mentality, the Capeces have watched their casual side project evolve into an exciting business.
Worth a thousand words
To create a Letters from the Cape piece, clients choose their favorite option for each letter, which will spell out a particular word or short phrase—such as Beach Girl, Red Sox, and Home. Anything might look like a letter: a seashell, rope, fence posts, flip-flops, rocks, architecture, well-known Cape Cod landmarks, and so on. Jan can relate the story behind each photo.
“Everybody loves the beach, and everybody wants a piece of that beach,” says Jan, who has never missed a summer on Cape Cod. “People come to the Cape on vacation, or they live on the Cape, and they look at [these photos] and they can relate.”
In addition to choosing from several variations of each letter, clients also decide on color, black and white, or sepia prints. All photos are 4 by 6 inches, available à la carte or in custom panel frames made of barn wood from Utah. The frames can hold up to 10 photos and come in natural, white, and black. One of the Capeces’ favorite aspects of the business, Chris says, is helping people develop unique signs with personal meaning, either to keep or to give as gifts.
“It’s so much fun, it’s addictive. Just to watch people make their signs up is fascinating,” says Jan. “Some people take forever to pick out letters. … Sometimes I’ll give them the letters to take home so they don’t have to decide right there.”
In late 2011, after their first summer season with Letters, the Capeces expanded beyond the signs and started making greeting cards, which quickly became very popular. Jan designs the cards, and Chris produces them, using Adobe Illustrator and a small army of printers in their home studio. They currently have 500 different greeting cards, which vary from traditional lines—like Happy Birthday, Thanks, Congrats—to more creative ones—Beach Girl, Shark, and Ahoy are among the most popular. It’s almost a sure bet they have cards with every well-known beach or landmark on the Cape, and if not, they’ll make one up custom.
“We actually started the cards because they’re frame-able,” says Chris. “People even buy them as souvenirs. People like to take a memory from the Cape home. If you do a framed card, it’s easy to carry.”
Always taking photos
Jan and Chris, both originally from New Jersey, are used to always carrying cameras, though photography was only a hobby until recently. On a “girls’ getaway” to Charleston, S.C., in the fall of 2010, Jan bought a framed series of letters that spelled out her daughter’s name, E-m-i-l-y, and inspiration struck. She had seen letter art before, but never with a Cape Cod or coastal theme. She had found her niche.
Upon returning home to Clinton, New Jersey, Jan suggested to her husband that they try out a similar project with their photos. The couple pored over their extensive collection and started seeing letters pop out of the photos: an “s” in the clouds, a “t” on a fence. When they cropped and zoomed in to focus on the shape, though, some of the photos ended up blurry or pixelated, so the Capeces embarked on a new photo project. They started seeking out letters everywhere they went, never moving anything for a photo, or cropping or zooming in.
“We’re fussy about the photos we take now; it’s got to be really good to get into our inventory,” says Jan. “It gets more difficult because we’ve taken so many photos, and people have favorites.”
Before starting their art business, Jan and the kids—Emily, now 24, and Greg, 28—spent each summer in Orleans, and Chris drove up from New Jersey on his weekends off from Nokia, a telecommunications company where he has worked since 1984. When they began Letters from the Cape, they carted the materials between their two houses so they could always fulfill an order. Jan now lives part-time in Orleans to give more attention to the growing business. The duo looks forward to Chris’s retirement within the next couple of years, so they can both focus 100 percent on Letters.
“This [work] started as a summer fling,” Jan says. “People say you’re on vacation and, well, [it is], sort of, but I am working. My office just happens to be at the beach, and we love it.”
The fun of the art
The pair frequents art fairs and shows year round, as close as Falmouth and Wellfleet and as far as Georgia. Between connections developed at these events and the help of their friend and sales rep, Liz Prentiss, their framed signs and greeting cards are carried in stores throughout the Cape, along the New England coast, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Indiana.
“[Jan’s] use of photography and the alphabet combine to create an enormous variety of unique visual messages,” says Carol Wright, owner of Oceana in Orleans, the first store to carry the Capeces’ work. “We have sold her pieces for years, many with her own statements and many more custom pieces for our clients who want to spell out something original that captures the Cape vibe.”
While Letters definitely has Cape Cod roots, the Capeces make cards and signs for other East Coast towns and places near lakes. If a customer can dream it, there’s a good chance they can help design it. In fact, customers can design their own signs, and experiment with different letter and frame options, on the Letters website.
According to Chris, many customers return for more, loving the unique experience and pieces they create. One such client is Peg Dempsey. “I first saw Jan and Chris Capece’s work at a craft fair at the Drummer Boy Park on Route 6A. It immediately caught my eye because it was different,” says Dempsey, a Quincy resident and one of the Capeces’ first customers. “They have taken extra time with me to find the best combination of letters for my purchases. The recipients of these signs have been thrilled with them because they are one of a kind.”
For more information, visit lettersfromthecape.com.
You might also like:
Traversing in Thoreau’s Cape Cod footsteps, Ben Shattuck takes readers with him through one of life’s most important journeys; that of self-discovery.Read More
Local journalist Greg O’Brien applies determination, intelligence and wit in his personal battle against Alzheimer’s.Read More