After nearly nine months, Portage Park resident Tom Jackson is finally comfortable calling himself an artist. Since the pandemic began, he’s been making one-of-a-kind greeting cards from “Quarantinaville”—it’s where we all live now and will likely stay awhile. Luckily, people like Jackson have helped make 2020 less miserable by bringing levity, humor, and original craftsmanship to the once-again-booming card business while also raising funds to help local establishments on the northwest side survive the pandemic.
Greetings from Quarantinaville features colorful cards made with rubber stamps, collages, recycled store-bought cards, inspirational or famous lyrics, and edited photographs to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Halloween, or just a needed pick-me-up. The artist has been crafting for more than 30 years and says he considers these sympathy cards for folks who can’t see family or friends due to the pandemic. “There is so much you can’t do properly during this time—you can’t even breathe properly,” Jackson says. “People can’t see people, you can’t hug a family member. I like to think that [people] get a good feeling or a smile when they get these cards.”
Now, he’s geared up for the holiday season to keep up the cheers: Jackson is busy in his basement crafting original Christmas and winter-themed cards—he is working to complete 70 cards for customers by the end of this week. He is taking custom orders via his Facebook page and 50 percent of the proceeds from each sale through January 31 will go to the Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park. Jackson also made holiday-themed beer cards being sold at Lake Effect Brewing Company in Old Irving Park to support the brewery.
From whimsical humor to uplifting messages and influential musicians, Jackson has made a plethora of eccentric greeting cards. Some standouts include one to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one depicting the very-much-missed music venue the Hideout Inn, and one with an original poem that came to the artist at 4:30 AM. “It’s a physical outlet, a creative outlet, an emotional one even,” he says. “It’s wonderful to have. I like sharing it. I end up setting an alarm early just to start working on things.”
Many of the cards revolve around music, and his A to Z music greeting cards celebrate some of his favorite local musicians like Jon Langford; iconic roots and New Orleans musicians such as Billie Holiday, Woodie Guthrie, and Muddy Waters; and other influential musicians such as Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, the Youngbloods, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and more.
Jackson, who is a part-time bookkeeper and a longtime DJ, reckons he has made about 400 cards this year, though he admits he stopped counting after 200 because his hobby really took off in the last few months. In the summer, he started charging $10 per card with $5 going to different businesses. His first batch of card sales went to the Interrobang Theatre Project in Andersonville, for which he raised more than $400. “It’s fun and fulfilling in a way that I don’t get from a job,” he says of the cardmaking.
Greetings from Quarantinaville cards have now reached customers across the globe. It’s also become somewhat of a family project, the artist says. His wife came up with the name and the logo, which has the longitude and latitude numbers of his house. His step-son designed and built the shelf at Tone Deaf Records in Portage Park, where Jackson first debuted his music cards for Record Store Day on October 24. Since then, he has raised about $200 for the Save Our Stages fund from his A to Z cards sold at the record store.
Tony Assimos, owner of Tone Deaf Records, says the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty birthday cards were the most popular in the store and he sold nearly 20 for Record Store Day weekend. He says customers were supportive and the affordable price was a selling point. His personal favorites are the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin Christmas cards, which Jackson made a few variations of because they sold out.
“What I love about Tom is his desire to help out [during the pandemic],” Assimos says. “He does a good job with the cards—they’re all unique and there’s something cool about each of them.”
Due to the pandemic, Tone Deaf is only taking online orders, but folks can browse the A to Z music cards online and then make an appointment for curbside pickup. And if you don’t see a card you like on the Greetings from Quarantinaville page, you can email Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll make you a personalized card.
“The way in the world that people have adapted to all this is inspiring,” he says of the whirlwind year. “[The pandemic] is obviously changing the world, and it's going to keep changing, and hopefully we come out for the better of it.” v