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Peat and Repeat



There are ways to tell someone you love them 365 (or 366, as it were) days a year without gorging on chocolate-covered strawberries and spending hundreds of dollars on a meal.

Jess Kemp of Peat and Repeat ( provides one delightful way to do so, appealing to arty food geeks with handcrafted postcards made from repurposed food packaging. (Still searching for a hot date on Valentine's Day? Tony the Tiger never looked so good.)

"Snail mail is such a treasure, and I've always loved making it and receiving it," Kemp says. "Postcards really appeal to me because you don't know who's going to see it along the way. It usually gets worn and tattered along the way, and that's just beautiful. And in our voyeuristic world, it's guaranteed that someone's going to read what you wrote anonymously, without being connected to you. To me, postcards are sort of a mobile public art."

Kemp has a degree in environmental science. Her day job is managing stream and wetland restoration projects at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Raleigh. In her spare time, the untrained artist runs Peat and Repeat, started in 2009, out of her home studio in Durham, where she refurbishes cereal, cracker and cookie boxes into durable, one-of-a-kind postcards and business cards.

Sometimes she'll keep the kitsch and design around ubiquitous brand logos and images, like enhancing the magnetic appeal of Tony the Tiger. She calls this style "naked." Most of the time, she explores her own artistic instincts, feeding off the colors and patterns on the boxes themselves using stamps, hand-drawings and pasted quotes.

"There are really beautiful designs on food packaging," she says. "When taken out of context, it's not just a box of Cheez-Its. It's this beautiful orange and red."

A big box of Cheerios, for example, can make up to six postcards and 10 business cards.

"It makes an ordinary cereal box this totally new, reincarnated product," she says.

To test the durability of the pasteboard, the type of paper used in food packages, she used a tried-and-true method.

"I needed it to function well, to hold up overseas. I sent myself a bunch of test postcards when I traveled to other countries. They held up really well."

Her product comes from boxes donated by friends and co-workers. "People with kids have the best boxes," she says. Reusing comes in handy; she now rolls extra cereal boxes and stuffs them into boots to keep their shape and uses remaining pasteboard to make stencils.

Postcards are currently sold for $3 each at the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, open Monday through Saturday. Postcards, along with business cards, wedding announcements and more, can also be ordered via email at

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