The Pencil Factory

The heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn is not in the cafes and bars, it does not beat in the churches or restaurants either. It exists in the unsuspecting warehouses and factories. No longer filled with assembly line workers and industrial machinery (the absence of smoke stacks a welcome sight), artists, designers, and creators have taken their place. They are producing ideas more than anything, and it’s a prosperous business. One of the most interesting of these warehouses is known as The Pencil Factory, where Owen & Fred resides. 

The building, which is over 140 years old, was originally built by  the Eberhand Faber Pencil Company, hence the name Pencil Factory. John Eberhard Faber a terrific entrepreneur, opened the facility after his previous pencil factory across the East River in Manhattan had burned down. Designed by Frederick H. Klie, at the time, the Pencil Factory was the largest factory in the area. Large windows surround each floor to allow stunning daylight that warms the facility on winter days and provides ample natural light during work hours. On the exterior, between each column of concrete, reliefs representing pencils can still be seen. 

Faber and the factory were quite successful and created some of the most respected pencils in the world. Leonard Read once wrote an essay that detailed the production of one of Faber’s most famous pencils, the Mongol 482, in first person. In detailing the production, Read writes,

The absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the invisible hand at work.

Though Read is referring to the production of a pencil, I can’t help but see a similarity in what the Pencil Factory became after Faber left. 

Faber closed down the factory in 1956, and for many years it went unused. Only recently (roughly early 2000s) the building was converted and offered to anyone who needed a studio space. Very quickly, the building filled with printmakers, woodworkers, designers, musicians and more to create a large community of young minds working toward the goal of producing amazing pieces that would inspire others. Whether it book covers, art installations, wood cabinets, or duffel bags, the men and women of the Pencil Factory are helping shape the culture of New York, and subsequently, the world. 

As well, the factory, and the ones surrounding it, drastically helped boost Greenpoint from a neighborhood barely ever visited to a bustling area with sought after reality. "There was nothing down here. There was a creepy bar where people bought cocaine, and this other bar that has been here for a while and is pretty fantastic, (also) called the Pencil Factory." Sam Weber an illustrator, who moved into The Pencil Factory in 2006 told Print Mag. 

Similar to Read’s belief on pencil making, there is no master mind at the Pencil Factory, and that’s what makes it so great. Each studio is run independently from each other, yet creativity flourishes through each. Sam Hopkins, another designer who spent a year in the Pencil Factory told Print Mag, “There’d be little daily powwows over in someone’s slot. It was completely open; that was a priceless aspect of the space.”

Owen & Fred moved into the Pencil Factory in 2013 and have found it an amazing experience. It’s very interesting to see Greenpoint prosper from the six floor of our studio. We have met woodworkers, designers, and craftsmen far more talented then we’ve ever known that help inspire and help us create our own ideas. We’re happy to be surrounded by such great energy. 

One aspect of the factory I have yet to mention, at the top of the building, the parapets reveal reliefs of diamonds, which surround Eberhand Faber’s trademarked star. This symbol is also imprinted on the pencils they made throughout the years. Unfortunately, history does not hold as to why the Fabers chose this symbol. In fact, the symbol only appears one other time through history as the mark of a polemical poet. Written close to the 1490s, the poet’s epithet next to the small symbol seems to help encapsulate the blooming creativity of The Pencil Factory:

Pray the candelilla make its wax
Pray all creative energy set free
The fallen risen from the cracks
The risen fallen where they may
The human genius un-simplified
Raise up her tools to raise the day
When all-encompassing black star
Emancipates the Iris pent inside!

So perhaps the symbol, placed on this building almost 140 years ago, is perfect for what the building has become, and should hopefully stay for many years. 

Further Reading:

The Pencil Factory: An Oral History by Rob Walker for Print Mag, 2013

I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read” by Leanord E. Reed for The Freeman, 1958

The Mongol 482 - Most Prized Pencil in Human History by Tom Riordan, 2009