Rachel Ann Dennis uses Ray Cosby’s letterpress at her collaborative education space, Ok Lovely. Leta Cosby, pictured in the portrait below, gave Dennis the press, sparking a close friendship between the women.
The lucky ones find a once-in-a-lifetime friendship that leaves a lasting impression.
Leta Cosby, 76, and Rachel Ann Dennis, 30, have just that friendship, and it began over a letterpress.
After the passing of Cosby’s husband, Ray, in March 2012, Cosby decided to dispose of several pieces of his equipment. Ray had been an engineering draftsman and a metalworker with a penchant for collecting machines, such as a letterpress he’d used to make flyers and ads. Cosby wanted to donate the press to a printer who would reap its benefits.
At the time, Dennis, whose post-graduate education is in print, book and paper arts, was running a small letterpress studio and education space out of her home. She went to see the 2,500-pound press on Cosby’s midtown property and fell in love.
Moving the press was a five-month undertaking that required a crane, rigging and partial disassembly of the shed in which it was stored. In the meantime, the two women bonded.
“Our friendship was unexpected, but there was a level of richness,” Dennis says. “If I had never given an unexpected friendship a chance, it never would have happened.”
Now Dennis has nearly restored the press, which is functional again. She recalls bringing Cosby to see it at Dennis’ collaborative education space, Ok Lovely: Print, Book & Paper Studio, at 941 S. Pittsburg Ave. There, Dennis teaches people to make books and paper and to letterpress print.
“It was a happy new chapter,” Dennis says. “She was really joyful about it. It’s one of the memories that is really touching.”
Cosby says, “It meant the world to me to be able to know that (Ray’s) letterpress is in such caring hands.”
Dennis and Cosby currently have a long-distance friendship while Cosby is in Nashville, Tenn., with family, but they talk on the phone a few times a week. When they’re both in Tulsa, they see each other about three times a week.
Both love learning about new things and the exchange of information and ideas. Together they enjoy art, dogs (Cosby pet-sits Dennis’ dog, Rocco), cooking, Whole Foods adventures and, of course, letterpress work. Dennis prints stationery for Cosby, who comes to the studio and watches the press in action.
“I feel privileged to learn as much as I have about letterpress work,” Cosby says.
In 2012, Cosby spent her first Thanksgiving since her husband’s death with the Dennis family. It’s her favorite memory with Dennis.
“Right before we ate Thanksgiving dinner, she talked about how thankful she was,” Dennis says. “She became a member of our family.”
Whether Cosby is researching new recipes to try, such as kale chips, or friending Dennis’ Facebook friends (she’s quite Internet savvy), this dynamic duo brings out the best in each other.
Plus, they’ll always have Leta. No, not Cosby. Leta, the letterpress.
Dennis says she named the press “Leta” in the tradition of naming a letterpress after a person one respects.