Micah Whitson Gives it The Old Try
The North Carolina print shop celebrates three years of offering customers a piece of home.
The Old Try is about home.
It’s about your home, the home you once had, the home you miss, the home you long for and the home you hope to have someday.
The Old Try is about creating art that connects you to your places: the places that matter to you, the places you want to have conversations about, the places you want to remember and curate.
The Old Try is about something that matters, and that is one of the reasons the shop and creators Micah and Marianna Whitson (pictured below) are so successful at making prints that are, as they proclaim on their website, “Goods for Home & Away.”
Micah Whitson was inspired to incorporate The Old Try after going back to his alma mater, Ole Miss, for a football game. Because he wasn’t into the coat-and-tie at a football game scene, he asked his wife to craft him a traditional, beloved piece of collegiate attire: a letterman’s sweater. While at the game and hanging back around his college home in Oxford, Whitson received compliments and comments from folks who admired his throwback, a respectful nod to the heritage of the University of Mississippi.
It got him thinking about making things that have nostalgic value.
Whitson sat on the idea for a while. He dug through old yearbooks, looked at worn pictures and dwelled on bits of history and memorabilia. He thought about what had made him and the folks he knew who they were, the moments and spaces that helped form his family and friends, and that which had kept them close and connected to each other and their land.
In April of 2011, hundreds of tornadoes ripped their way through the eastern part of the country. The South was hit particularly hard, including Whitson’s home state of Alabama. Micah was living and working in Boston at the time and felt disconnected from the tragedy. He felt heartache after seeing news footage of the devastation on TV. Cell phone towers were out and he was unable contact the people — and place — he so deeply cared about.
After experiencing that rift between home and away, Whitson decided he would make some kind of material connection to his home and that he wanted others to be able to share in it — to make it a true community experience.
He came up with the idea of The Old Try on a bus ride commute while working at an advertising agency in Boston. He knew graphic design, he knew a letterpress printer who lived down the street, but most importantly, he had a good idea about making something that would connect people with their heritage.
“I had to figure out how to convince my wife in a 7-block walk,” he says. “I got the OK.”
In preparation for launching the business, Whiston sent e-mails to bloggers letting them know about the store and his mission, with the ultimate hope they’d help spread the word about The Old Try. One of the people who responded was Grace Bonney, the creator of Design Sponge, a site with over 700,000 daily readers and an established voice in the design community.
“My wife and I were boarding a flight to go to Akron for a wedding,” Whitson remembers, “and I checked our web page’s stats and it had something like 20,000 hits.” He received e-mails from friends telling him that The Old Try had made the front page of Design Sponge. It was the spark every small business hopes for from the outset, and one Whitson was grateful to have.
Today, The Old Try offers a wider selection of prints, some particular to a specific state or college, spanning 17 states, and others that are more generally themed about the South. One of their most popular prints called “Manners” features phrases like “Yes ma’am, no ma’am” and “Yes sir, no sir.” Whitson says he was inspired to create that one after reading an article in the paper about manners in our culture today becoming less important. He’s since gotten feedback from parents who’ve put the print in their nursery or kids’ room — and been told that the children kind of hate him for making them their learn manners.
The “Manners” print is a fine example of what Whitson is inspired by and what kinds of art he wants to make for people. He admits he used to be jealous of the mottos and logos of other states — like the famous palmetto tree and crescent moon of South Carolina — and that “being from Alabama, you’re kind of a mutt.”
However, he says The Old Try isn’t about promoting Southern exceptionalism or building a wall up around the Mason-Dixon line. While he loves the South, comes from the South and makes the South his home, his project is really about place.
“Place is really important,” Whitson reiterates.
He deeply believes that wherever you are or wherever you live, place is a part of who you are that needs to be talked about and remembered. The Old Try is about curating places: their history, phrases and memories.
The Old Try is also about conversation and preserving the past to make for a better South and a better future. Whitson says one of the reasons each Old Try print only has a small watermark on it is because he doesn’t want his art to be about him or The Old Try brand.
“I don’t want to ink up the logo,” he says. “It’s not about who we are, it’s about why you care about a place.”
Photo credits, from top: Wall of prints from Abode Design Shop in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Sweet Mountain Home print is $42 from theoldtry.com; Marianna and Micah Whitson; General Manners No. 1 is $42 from theoldtry.com; Carolina is $42 from theoldtry.com.