Artistic family pastime turns into career, vehicle to inspire the community

Art in some form or another has always been central in Mary Bruno’s life.

As a child she helped her father, Don Bruno, wash screens from his silk screen printing classes at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University in St. Joseph, and visited his classrooms when he taught at St. Cloud State University. When her dad started acquiring more letterpress equipment and built a studio onto their family’s one-car garage, Mary Bruno could usually be found in that same studio with her dad, and would one day make it her own.

“I’d always come home and print with him in the shop. I just always loved everything he did,” she said. “I loved that stuff. Even in grade school, I was the art kid, for sure.”

Bruno Press logoEventually she would follow her dad to SCSU, the home away from home where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art in 1997. She then moved to Madison for about six years, but came back to St. Joseph frequently to print with her dad and worked different jobs while putting her artwork on display. She would ultimately return home in 2003 when her father passed away.

“I don’t think I really thought about what I was going to do with an art major. I was no stranger to working, so I guess I sort of assumed art and printmaking — which I loved — would just kind of be my side hustle or my hobby,” she said. “I think I saw some potential for it being something as a career. After my dad passed away, I really took it seriously. Before that, I was like, ‘It’s fun, it’s cute.’ But then it hit home and I had a lot of thinking to do.”

She started Bruno Press out of that same studio she spent so much time with her father in, looking to preserve an artistic medium not often seen in contemporary artwork.

“With Bruno Press, a lot of it is about preserving this really kind of lost craft. Every time I have interns, every time I have events and kids are coming in and people are coming in to print something on the presses and smell all the smells and see all the type — I think it really just ignites people to be like, ‘Wow, what is this? This is cool,’” Bruno said. “I also feel like it helps me and others get back to being creative with your hands and not so much screens and all that kind of stuff. I really do have a passion for sharing letterpress with as many people as I can — not necessarily to make them letterpress printers, but maybe letterpress lovers.”

Bruno started producing irreverent greeting cards with “funny swears” in the Bruno Press studio. She would travel to different art fairs and festivals to get them out there.

“Seventeen years ago, not a lot of people were doing it — certainly not around here — and I think especially Minnesota people maybe don’t talk like I do. So, unexpectedly, my cards did really well,” she said. “I would get really scared when old ladies would come up; I thought they were going to yell at me. But they’d just buy a stack of cards and hand me money.”

The cards took off, and by 2010 Bruno was traveling to the National Stationery Show in New York City. The show is for wholesalers — “brick-and-mortar” shops stop in to order cards and other products from the different vendors for resale in their respective shops. The experience evolved into Bruno having representatives who traveled up and down the East Coast selling her cards.

“I was printing stuff that I thought was funny — my target demographic is myself. People were just flooding into my crappy little booth, being like ‘Where did you come from? This doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,’ which was huge,” she said. “It was really interesting, kind of organic, and me being oppositionally defiant, that had me sticking out a little bit. It really opened my eyes to ‘Wow, this could actually be a business.’”

Greeting cards were a significant income for Bruno Press from 2010 to 2016, and Bruno would take faxed orders for cards at a preschool down the street from her since she didn’t have a fax machine. Since then she has pulled back from producing as many cards, as she felt she was focusing too much on quantity as opposed to creativity. She said the cards still do great on their own, and she has been able to diversify into “50 other things.” Bruno Press now offers posters, fine art prints, cards and other items that Bruno designs and creates on her “old school 100-year-old presses,” and has been a full-time business for roughly the past 13 years.

“There’s just so much more I want to do,” she said. “I think that’s part of my success, that I’m not just doing one thing — I’m trying to ride the wave and do all kinds of things.”

Mary Bruno working in her studioIn addition to the artwork she creates and promotes through her business, Bruno inspires the next generations of artists through internships in her studio. She also is heavily involved in several community and regional efforts to support local businesses as well as causes she feels are important. She has been a part of the Shop Small Crawl for about 11 years, which celebrates and showcases the spirit of small businesses, local entrepreneurs and artists in the St. Joseph area heading into the holiday shopping season. She also partnered with friend and fellow business owner Erin Lucas — co-owner of Flour & Flower Bakery and Krewe in St. Joseph — to start an annual event that celebrates women-owned businesses while raising money for organizations that protect women’s rights. In 2023 the event got the SCSU Women’s Center involved, and was able to make a sizable contribution to Planned Parenthood, Bruno said.

“There’s a lot of amazing, young people starting businesses all over … We just became friends and started teaming up,” she said. “Beyond all the other stuff, my job and the other businesses — I just love connecting with people.”

Celebrating art as well as the connections and possibility of change it can bring about are paramount for Bruno.

“Art can help us have conversations and see things similarly or differently and create this common ground,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who made it or how expensive or how inexpensive — it should be fun to look at, it should make you feel things — good or bad, it should start you talking with people and it should be for everyone. I think that’s one of the things I really enjoy: just getting all kinds of people in front of art.”

Bruno tries to make it clear to her interns as well as other young artists that they need to be open-minded, continue to learn, team up and talk with those already in the art world.

“I think art is a necessity in our society and always will be, but I think it’s important to look at it like a real business and be serious about it and think about how you can be different from other folks,” she said. “You value your own work. Don’t be giving it away forever. … The more you value what you do, the more other people will. I think that’s important.”

While Bruno said she has fallen into a good groove of custom printing, and creating her art prints and posters while still finding time to travel, she plans to keep learning and evolving herself.

“I want to just keep doing what I’m doing. I want to continue to share what I’m doing. Eventually I want to get out of that double garage and have a bigger space that could be a community place that I could have all kinds of events, even besides letterpress and art. … I have big dreams of doing bigger stuff, and I’m working on that,” she said. “Bruno Press 2.0 is always in the back of my mind.”


Get Involved

Your knowledge, experience and expertise can help students thrive. From supporting them as they decide to come to SCSU to mentoring them as they navigate their next career step.

Get Involved

Update Your Information

Keep up-to-date with the latest news and research from the University, connect with local alumni and attend events, workshops and seminars.

Update Your Information

Share Your Story

Whether you are making a difference in your community, bringing about change to your industry or shaping the lives of those around you. We want to hear from you.

Share Your Story

Connect with SCSU