John Fass' First Photographs
In 1914 John photographed pussy willows in vases and matted them on deckle-edge papers. He inscribed the date on the reverse side of the matte. These are his first dated photographs. Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are native to Lancaster County, and grew wild along the Hammer Creek and other streams near Lititz.
John was a passionate aficionado of beautifully-crafted paper. He mounted many of his earliest photographs on deckle-edge papers and on carefully selected matte boards.
Later, in the 1950s, he collected hand-crafted Asian papers and marbled papers. In 1961 he assembled a book titled Hand-Blocked Oriental Papers, in an edition of one copy, as a Hammer Creek Press imprint from his Bronx YMCA room. That same year he assembled a book titled Marbled Papers to display specimens of marbled paper. This was also an edition of one copy, with a Hammer Creek Press title page.
Above: Willows by a Pennsylvania creek, and the Lititz Moravian Church, where John and his family were members
John's hometown of Lititz, PA, was founded in the 1750s by members of the Moravian Church, who were German-speaking Protestants from Europe. John Fass and his family were members of the Lititz Moravian Church.
John Fass and his parents are buried in the Lititz Moravian Cemetery, as are his sister Esther Wert, and Esther's husband Clarence. John willed $500.00 to this congregation. He willed most of his $115,000 estate to his sister Esther.
John worked at the Express Printing Company in Lititz throughout his teens and twenties, where he operated a Linotype machine, among other responsibilities. His brother Benjamin also worked for this company. John's sister Esther worked as a filing clerk at a company that manufactured safes.
Meanwhile John's father continued with employment difficulties, due to health issues. John's sister Laura married Norman C. Showers, who was a foreman for a local factory.
The federal census indicates that in 1920 John and his brother and two sisters were all living with their parents. John's sister Laura and her husband lived in this same household, with their daughter Helen May Showers.
Above: Tree in moonlight, and John's mother Sara
Above: Mount Vernon, Virginia
John's work at the Express Printing Company kept him living and working in his hometown of Lititz until he was around 30 years old. During that time he lived with his parents and siblings, and assisted them financially.
Despite his financial obligations to his family, John found time and money for travel. Later, while working in New York, John continued to indulge his passion for travel. He traveled to Europe, toured the American West several times, sailed to Bermuda, sailed to the Bahamas, and elsewhere. Living frugally at the Bronx YMCA allowed John to explore the world.
Sometime around 1920 John left his hometown Lititz to work in Philadelphia at the Holmes Press as a compositor. John worked in Philadelphia for several years before moving to New York where he would work the rest of his career.
The Philadelphia print shop was a productive stepping stone for John's career. In Philadelphia, as earlier in Lititz, John studied the work of the best printers, pressmen, and graphic designers. He read the trade journals, clipped specimens, and advanced his career.
John's first job in New York was in the advertising composition plant of David Gildea, where John continued his work as a compositor, composing advertising for newspapers and periodicals.