Elizabeth Graves visits Chocolate Covered, a cyanotype and chocolate shop in San Francisco.
The very first encounter many people have with alternative process prints is a sweet one: they receive a cyanotype atop a box of gourmet chocolates from Chocolate Covered in San Francisco.
Chocolate Box and Documentary Photography Gallery
The front window of Chocolate Covered is a miniature gallery of cyanotype prints. Geometric metal tins and imported wooden boxes are on display, each with delicate blue Japanese papers on the sides and an expertly printed cyanotype on the lid. The boxes shine with a gentle gloss. The blue images on display include signs from local landmarks and favorite eateries, plaques of nearby schools, marquees of departed local theaters, and a fabulous collection of San Francisco street signs.
Jack, the shop’s proprietor, was introduced to cyanotypes by his friends John Basye and Barbara Hewitt, who were producing cyanotype goods for sale at crafts fairs. (Barbara Hewitt is the author of Blueprints on Fabric, a famous reference for quilters and others who print their own fabric images and patterns.) After experimenting with a variety of paper-covered gift boxes, Jack asked if John and Barbara could teach him to make cyanotypes they way they do.
Eight years later, Jack’s shop is a both a gallery of his documentary photography of San Francisco’s sights and signs in blue AND a highly successful chocolate shop.
Jack produces his prints with a custom-built UV light box and chemicals purchased from Blueprintsonfabric.com. He prepares each covered box by hand, coating every one with a protective, water-based coating that protects the paper and gives the box an attractive finish.
Not all of Jack’s image collection represents city landmarks. One of Jack’s most popular window displays was a set of cyanotypes of his own family photos and witty commentary. The personal collection, which includes an adorable photo of Jack’s mother as a young girl on a pony, plus photos of Jack and his partner as children, inspired neighbors stop him on the street to gush over his window displays.
Visitors also love the fact that Jack will print images they bring to him for custom gift boxes. An ordinary 4 x 6″ drugstore print with good contrast, a modest fee, and a polite request will inspire Jack to produce a gorgeous blue box with images from your anniversary, child’s first birthday, family reunion, or any other event you want to commemorate with art and chocolate. Jack says, “It amazes me how meaningful these boxes are to people.” During my visit, Jack showed me a set of boxes with a charming image of a happy young couple: the couple ordered the boxes as gifts for the members of their wedding party.
“I didn’t realize when I started that I’d be making things that could make people cry.”
And Then, There’s the Chocolate…
As if a beautiful blue box isn’t enough of a gift, the shop is filled with more than 200 kinds of irresistible chocolate bars and sweet gifts from around the world. Mention a flavor or ingredient you love, and Jack can immediately recommend dozens of fine products that will tickle your fancy. Do you like coffee? Chocolate covered coffee beans shine from the shelves, and coffee-infused bars are stacked on the west wall. Orange? Jack carries 10 types of chocolate containing orange, including an addictive white chocolate with stripes of orange on top, one of the best-tasting white chocolates I’ve tried. Chili peppers? You’ll have your choice of bars, syrups, and cocoas. From dark chocolate to white, from bars to locally made syrups, your blue box won’t leave empty.
You can visit Chocolate Covered at 3977 24th St (between Noe and Sanchez) in San Francisco. The shop is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Jack is available by phone at (415) 641-8123 during those hours. (He notes that at the time cyanotypes were invented, answering machines did not exist, and he is honoring this tradition.)