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Tangible Treasures Unfold at The Paper Seahorse

by Tona Bell November 27, 2015 3 min read

Tangible treasures unfold at The Paper Seahorse

This Tampa space carries the torch for handwritten artistry.


A vintage Royal typewriter ready for inspired hands at The Paper Seahorse. - RANDY ROSENTHAL
  • A vintage Royal typewriter ready for inspired hands at The Paper Seahorse.

The Paper Seahorse Letter Writing Social
Sunday, Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. $5. 211 S. Howard Ave., Tampa.
paperseahorse.com or (813) 251-8096.

In this predominately digital age, old-fashioned letter writing stirs the senses with tactile delight. The clack of typewriter keys or the soft scratch of a fountain pen, the clean scent of paper and envelope glue, can invite passage into a slower time.

Tona Bell, proprietor of The Paper Seahorse, wants to nudge folks out from behind their screens and help them recapture that time.

“It’s hard to stop and slow down,” Bell said. “I think people would be more mindful, would be happier, if they did.”

With husband Randy Rosenthal, a vintage typewriter enthusiast and owner of Tampa Type, Bell shares all things written and analog at her artisanal “paperie and makerie” housed in a cozy green bungalow on Tampa’s South Howard Avenue.

Passionate about pulp, Bell is immersed in her chosen medium, filling The Paper Seahorse with elegant stationery, craft papers, and writing implements as pleasing to look at as they are to use. Pristine letterpress greeting cards emblazoned with cheeky adult jokes draw out a lively contrast between fine artistry and low humor: “If they don’t make me laugh or make me blush, I say don’t bother,” Bell said.

The Seahorse’s official grand opening was last month, and they steadily gain followers at events and workshops designed to inspire, including sessions on paper crafting and advice for running your creative business, taught by Bell and other local makers such as Tammy Wright.

Wright, a Paper Seahorse regular and instructor who divides time between Tampa and Lakeland, where she leads classes on handwriting and mail art at the local library, said her love for written words dates back to before high school, when she “hoarded stationery” while working at Hallmark.

Tona Bell at The Paper Seahorse, her South Howard Avenue paperie and makerie. - RANDY ROSENTHAL
  • randy rosenthal
  • Tona Bell at The Paper Seahorse, her South Howard Avenue paperie and makerie.
A member of Chicago’s Letter Writers Alliance, Wright was referred to Bell’s shop by a friend, quickly becoming a fixture. She’ll lead a class on journaling next year, and knows firsthand the impact writing can have. Her grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s, and Wright said a letter could spark memories during the disease’s early stages.

“Even if she didn’t recognize me when we were face to face, if I sent her a letter in the mail, with a photograph, she could have a conversation with my mother about me, and seemed to know who I was,” Wright explained.

Join Bell, Wright, and like-minded others on November 29 at The Paper Seahorse’s Letter Writing Social and Mail Art Meet-Up, and learn how to kindle a new handmade tradition while giving something back.

The workshop will connect letter writers with seniors through Elves for Elders, an organization serving more than 230 wards of the state. Most have no family and grew up in a time when letter writing was common.

“We want to pay it forward to groups that need it, people who can’t get out as much but would love to connect and share something,” Bell said. “We want to encourage more people to write, but also to think about why they are writing.”

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