Stamp Pressed Lovers

Buck Rogers Printing Set

In 1974, while working at a garment company in San Francisco, a native New Yorker named William “Picasso” Gaglione walked up to Darlene Domel, a Chicagoan working at the same company, and said, “Close your eyes and put out your hand.”  With her eyes closed and her heart in her throat, Darlene offered him her open palm. She then felt a tiny weight in the center of it. He pressed her fingers around that little lump, and she then felt the brush of a kiss over her fisted hand. When next she opened her eyes, he turned and walked away. Upon opening her fingers, she saw a small packet in the palm of her hand. In it, she found a tiny little rubber stamp of a star.

“It seems quite charming now that my life changed directions under the sign of a rubber star,” Domel says, 37 years later. “I found his bushy moustache and the killer smile a devastating combination. His New York accent charmed me. He was not like anyone I had ever known. He did not fit my ideal fantasy. He wore traditional long sleeve shirts and pants when everyone else was in jeans and t-shirts. He wore only all black or all white. To tease him I bought him a red leather belt at a thrift shop. He began to wear it everyday. I knew I was in deep trouble.”

assorted stamp sets

At Esprit de Corp, Picasso was in shipping and Darlene worked in sales. He had a sign posted on top of his desk that said, “Dada is everywhere.” One day, Domel stopped and asked him what it meant. He began to explain that Dada was an art movement when she interrupted to say she knew that, and having seen the stickers all over the city, simply wondered what they meant. He was impressed to find out she knew about Dada and the Surrealists. They began to go on lunch breaks together and talked about art and art movements, all the while pretending their new friendship was anything but platonic flirtations.

Gaglione, it turned out, was widely known around the world as a consummate mail artist. As a young man, he was taken by the Fluxus and Dada movements; in fact, his nom de plume, before adopting Picasso as a nickname, was “Dadaland.” “He never stopped surprising me in the ways he looked at the world,” says Domel. “The kind of visual poetry he created and the materials he used. He made art in ways that I had never seen before, little photocopied booklets he called ‘zines.’ I loved it.  He made montages from photo booth pictures. He collected pictures of the backs of heads. He created collages with elements of old etchings that reminded me of Max Ernst.”

fulton printing sets

They fell madly in love. But somewhere along the line, their relationship ended. Gaglione married someone else. Domel was heartbroken and moved to Miami and tried to forget. There, she rode out the rest of the decade.

By 1981, Gaglione was divorced and searching for Domel. They reconnected in San Francisco, where Gaglione was working for a mutual friend who had started a rubber stamp company at his urging. It wasn’t long before they bought their own vulcanizer machine and began to make their own rubber stamps as a way to showcase and reproduce his artwork. “If we buy this machine,” he had said, “we can make our own stamps, and it will save us a lot of money.” “Like a fool,” she says smiling, “I believed him.”

They quickly realized there was an audience for rubber stamps. “We took all of Picasso’s early designs to a flea market one day,” says Domel, “and to our surprise, people bought them. After that, we went to flea markets every weekend to sell more stamps. Pretty soon, there were two or three guys helping him.” “And we were in business for real,” says Gaglione, finishing her sentence.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, rubber-stamping had been an American pastime for almost 100 years. After stumbling upon a Thirties-era stamp set, they started to track down other stamp sets from bygone eras, some going back to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

foreign stamp sets

Papa John stamp set

Defense Picture Printing Set

Initially, they set up shop in the basement of their San Francisco home. Early on Domel knew that in order to expand the business they would need to get it out of their house. Meanwhile, Gaglione set up a makeshift rubber stamp museum and production room. “Eventually I realized we had 14 people a day coming through our basement from 7 AM to 9 PM making stamps,” she says. “A lot of our business was through mail order. There were magazines and conventions that started to pop up all over the country.”

By the Nineties, their business, then called Stamp Francisco, blossomed into a multi-million-dollar operation with over 100 employees. “The business moved out of the mail artist’s world,” says Domel, “and moved into a burgeoning hands-on crafting movement. We knew we had to build an industry. It wasn’t long, however, before big companies, without the attention to detail they encouraged, came in and started to make “slave-labor-produced crap.” This flooded the market, and the wholesale market for stamps collapsed by the end of the decade.

“We have survived by innovating,” Domel continues, “by creating our own style of fine art hand-made rubber-stamping. We only deal with our end-users these days. We go out on the road and connect with our customers directly.”

Seat work - fill in's

The couple ended up back in Chicago with their rubber-stamping operation housed, once more, in the basement of their home. This time around, they christened their company and museum Stampland. The couple tried the storefront approach, but after moving in and out of several locations in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, this July 2010, Gaglione and Domel decided to move the whole operation to “a house in the country outside Gurnee, Illinois.”

With a small but dedicated staff, they still plan on offering affordable stamp classes to the public, and will continue to custom-make thousands of rubber stamps for collectors and renegade handmade aficionados around the world. Along with fellow mail artist Scott Helmes, who lives in Minneapolis, Gaglione and Domel possess the world’s largest collection of rubber stamps sets, which they’ll proudly continue to showcase and discuss passionately in their creative workshops.

“When you grow up in a city like New York or Chicago,” says Gaglione, “you’re surrounded by art all the time. What we do at Stampland is a reflection of that, no matter where our museum resides.”

collection of rubber stamps

collection of rubber stamps

collection of rubber stamps
collection of rubber stamps

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19 COMMENTS

  1. What a truly lovely and inspiring article on so many levels… I cannot wait to venture into your Gurnee location.. If only we’d met while you were in Chicago..  I can’t wait!  Best to you both! 

  2. And the love and stamp story “moves” on! I have seen every site from  the first to the last—–and wish you all the best in your new country location! Loved the article and all the pictures!    Dennie

  3. I used to set entire “manuscripts” for my homework with moveable rubber type sets when I was a kid. I passed my classes on the charm of these “typeset” pages with illuminated lettering — definitely not on the merit of the homework itself that was never really done! Thanks for bringing back some absolutely wonderful memories.

  4. I’m a graphic designer by day and a rubber stamper by night. So, imagine my delight upon seeing the word “stamp” in an article title on a graphic design site and then William “Picasso” Gaglione, a well-known name in the stamping community. I’ve briefly chatted with him at various stamp conventions about his stamp designs. It was so fun to read his backstory and learn more about Stamp Francisco and Stampland as well as Picasso’s history in mail art. It’s also nice to see validation of stamping as an art form and not just a children’s activity. Thanks for sharing. 

  5. What a wonderful article….really shows the depth of commitment that Darlene and Picasso have for the art of stamping, as well as to each other.  I love their work, and this increased my appreciation for their uniqueness.
    Kay Radcliffe
     

  6. Loved reading this article – I found out things I didn’t know about you two lovebirds, the first paragraph was magical.  ♥  Hope to see you soon, love the photos.  xo

  7. Johnny Sandler.
     
     
     
    To Mom Dar and Pop Bill,
    I love you guys and you know this.
    I am on the road again, and am working on your video documentary, we need to do more filming and as always with everything it will be half way done soon..
     
    Love Johnny!

  8. Great story with charming details about how love blossoms in Stampland. The stamp collection is impressive, too. Loving seeing how things are set up now. 

  9. Thank you for sharing that delightful story. I have adored Picasso & Darlene for many years, and I loved reading the story of their romantic beginnings! Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. As always i am continuing to learn more and more about these two very dear friends who sparkle like a brilliantly faceted diamond – the light reflected through them and their work influences me on a daily basis as i am always in the process of learning and creating my own art with their guidance and direction and encouragement – what an absolute joy it is to have them in my life on sooooooo many levels – as we are all works of art in progress, how much better can it get than to know and enjoy these two exceptional, talented and wonderful human beings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KUDOS :) :) :)

  11. I LOVED reading this. Thanks for letting me get to know you better. What brave – and talented people you are! I continue to stamp – and do color dusting, and have people in my home most Monday mornings for card making sessions. I’m having trouble sending pictures through my computer – they turn out HUGE – but would like to, one day, get this figured out so I can show you what I’ve been doing.