• Karen Seiger

Remembering Our Friend Matt Shapoff: Modern Design with Old World Techniques

Matt Shapoff at home on a sailboat.

On May 19, 2015, we lost Matt Shapoff, of Handmade on Peconic Bay, one of the most talented artists who shared his art and his spirit with us in the markets of New York City. I am devastated to be writing about my friend in the past tense.

Snail Cynotype Print by Matt Shapoff

Matt uniquely straddled the world of fine art and handmade crafts. He leveraged 19th century photo printing techniques to create fine and beautiful modern works of art. He printed his own photos and historical images on note cards, scarves, tote bags, shirts and even Christmas ornaments. Everything he made had a complex and fascinating story.

I first found Matt’s work in an eco-friendly pop-up in Soho. His Handmade on Peconic Bay notecards featured plants, flowers and nautical images, and they were way too beautiful to write on, let alone send away in the mail. On the other hand, the people who received the cards from me treasured the image on front way more than whatever sentiment I had scribbled inside.

Matt’s photography equipment for the Van Dyke Brown Technique

Matt studied photography at NYU as an undergrad and went on to earn an MPS in interactive telecommunications. He worked in digital media throughout his career, including several years at the School of Visual Arts. He worked with his wife Cynthia Rybakoff as the technical director at her eponymous luxury jewelry company. They were one of those rare couples who could live together and work together happily, successfully and seamlessly, and that was such a nice thing to see.

In 2006, Matt launched Handmade on Peconic Bay, where he could dive deeply into his own creativity and stretch himself both technically and artistically. He described his company as “an eco-conscious design lab dedicated to creative experimentation, mixing 19th century printmaking techniques with 21st century digital design.” It was even cooler than it sounded.

Matt used his Numbskull image in many different ways

I interviewed Matt for Markets Of New York City in 2012. At that time I wrote, “If you do have the good fortune to talk with Matt about his work, however, you will come to appreciate what he does even more, a wonderful combination of art, technique, technology, history and nature, with just touch of mad scientist for good measure.” I learned so much about Cyanotype blue and Van Dyke Brown printing techniques from Matt. I’d heard of them, but I didn’t understand what they were until he taught me.

I loved the way he used specific images in different ways. His “Numbskull” image appeared on scarves and prints in the blue and brown techniques. I personally loved his feather images on scarves, and the print of a little nest. He also printed boats and lighthouses, which reflected his deep love of sailing and the sea. He had been a professional sailor for a period of time, and he continued to sail throughout his life.

Matt Shapoff’s Van Dyke Brown print of a plane flying through the Arc de Triomphe

Matt was a quiet person, generally, but he brimmed with excitement when he was telling a story about something he had made or a process he was using. Every now and then he’d pop up in my Facebook message stream. His messages always started, “hi ya.” And they were always about something cool or exciting:

“making some prints today. the sun is spectacular.”

 “big news – Martha Stewart American Made Marketplace has selected me to participate.”

“did you see Cyn on ABC News?”

And my favorite: “i have a present for you at chelsea market.” (It was a totebag with the Van Dyke Brown print of an airplane flying through the Arc de Triomphe.)

In November 2012, Matt sent me this message, “hi. want to see a walk thru of the studio post sandy?”

Matt’s studio out on Long Island had been absolutely devastated by Hurricane Sandy. However, rather than lament the loss of most of his equipment and materials, Matt began creating prints with an even older printing technique from the 1700’s known as Oiled Paper Negatives. He had captured an image of a snowflake from the storm that hit the region directly after the hurricane. Using this technique, Matt printed the snowflake on 4 silk scarves, which he sold to 4 extremely lucky shoppers in the Artists & Fleas holiday market in Chelsea Market. I immediately wrote a story about Matt’s experience from disaster to design.

Cynthia Rybakoff and Matt Shapoff

Matt and Cynthia built and maintained the foundation of their businesses in Artists & Fleas, first in Williamsburg, and then in Chelsea Market. They also sold in the Hester Street Fair, ID Pop Shop and other artisan events in and around New York City. When Artists & Fleas opened their permanent venue in Chelsea Market, Matt and Cynthia were permanent vendors there. Matt was a beloved member of the market community, who will miss his smile and graciousness acutely.

Found Feather Cyanotype Print by Matt Shapoff

Matt achieved artistic and business success outside the markets too. He and Cynthia both created designs for Club Monaco. I remember stopping by the 5th Avenue retailer to visit their beautiful jewelry and scarves. Matt also collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger for LA Fashion Week in 2013, leveraging the printing techniques Matt used. (“I’m the ‘printed in USA,’” he told me.) It was inspiring to see these two designers and artisans being recognized by major international retail fashion brands.  Matt’s work also caught the eye of other notable figures, including Martha Stewart, Jon Bon Jovi and NBA star Kevin Johnson. Keith Johnson of the Man Shops Globe TV Series commissioned Matt to create a nautical themed tablecloth for his wedding on a vintage sailboat, as well as equestrian themed, one-of-a-kind curtains for his West Village brownstone.

My favorite part is that Matt rarely recognized celebrities who bought his designs until long after they had left and a neighboring vendor told him.

Matt’s Flag Print appeard at the Crest Hardware Store in Brooklyn

In July 2013, Matt wrote: “hi ya. i’m doing a little project for the 4th of July. i have printed 30 x 60 american flags and they are hung at Crest Hardware in BK, the sag harbor whaling museum on a 200 foot flag pole and A&F Chelsea.” The flags were actually historic specifications drawings for battlefield flags, and they were one of his favorite designs. Seeing them flying high in the sky was a proud moment for him.

There are so many amazing things to say about Matt Shapoff, and so many things left unsaid, unphotographed, unprinted. He was a special person to many people, none more than his loving wife Cynthia. My heart goes out to her and to Matt’s family and friends. It was a privilege for me to be a part of Matt’s life. I wish him smooth seas and perfect winds.

Note: Cynthia is planning a memorial celebration of Matt’s life and art. Details forthcoming.

~Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City

Matt Shapoff Van Dyke Brown Nest Print

Cyanotype Blue Nautical Theme Custom Tablecloth

Matt Shapoff’s work had its own chapter in the book, “Print Collective,” by Jenny Doh in 2013

Matt’s display at the Hamptons Open Horse Show won second prize

Matt Shapoff’s Van Dyke Brown Horse Head Print

Matt Shapoff’s Cyanotype Blue print of the Defender, winner of the 1895 World Cup

Matt Shapoff’s Van Dyke Brown Print of the Defender

The Defender as a Cyanotype Blue Slide

Matt Shapoff at the Hester Street Fair, his first market

Matt’s beloved beach on Peconic Bay

I love this video of Matt Shapoff being interviewed by Suchin Pak at the Hester Street Fair because you can really hear his enthusiasm for his work and understand his vast knowledge of photography and historical printing techniques.

#KarenSeiger #JennyDoh #CyanotypeBlue #CrestHardware #CynthiaRybakoff #MattShapoff #MarthaStewart #HandmadeonPeconicBay #Nauticalprints #IDPopShop #DefenderWorldCupWinner #SuchinPak #ManShopsGlobe #JonBonJovi #KeithJohnson #VanDykeBrown #HamptonsOpenHorseshow #ArtistsandFleas #Obituary #HesterStreetFair #PrintingTechniques #PrintCollective #Memorial #ClubMonaco #KevinJohnson #ArtistampFleas

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