Simon Kiefer shares vintage machines with community
Her name is Lucille, and she has been with Simon Kiefer during his long career as an urban planner in Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Santa Barbara.
“Lucille is a beautiful black Smith Corona Speedwriter that I carried from office to office. She was a conversation piece, an ice breaker,” said Mr. Kiefer, who retired in 2014 and lives in Goleta. “I named her Lucille because one of my favorite artists, B.B.King, had a guitar named Lucille. It’s a sweet name. I heard he ran into a burning building to save his guitar.”
While Mr. Kiefer has no intention of doing something so dramatic — or dangerous — Lucille is responsible for his current collection of more than 100 vintage typewriters and the founding of the Santa Barbara Public Typewriter Project.
“I’m now known as The Typewriter Guy,” said Mr. Kiefer with a chuckle. “People have even left some on my doorstep.”
And it all started in 2014 when he took Lucille in for a “tune-up” at an office equipment repair shop on San Andres Street.
“When I went to pick it up, the place was in chaos,” Mr. Kiefer told the News-Press. “The owner had died, and his widow didn’t know what to do with all the typewriters that had been brought in for repair plus the ones he had collected. There were about 40 of them. She was about to throw them away. I couldn’t see these beautiful things headed for the landfill.
“She asked if I was interested in them and wanted to know what I would do with them. I told her I was going to do creative writing workshops for teens and seniors and anyone in between.”
And that’s exactly what he has done — conducting creative workshops since 2015 for people ages 8 to 80. His mission statement is “Creative expression and community building through vintage typewriters.”
“I specialize in inspiring expressions of emotional content in the form of memoirs, short essays, correspondence and poetry,” said Mr. Kiefer. “I have found the act of writing to be a valuable therapeutic exercise and extremely important in community building. I use the restored vintage typewriters to entice people to write and have found the tactile/sonic quality and immediacy of the typewriter to facilitate expressions of emotion, sentiment and spontaneous creativity.”
With a Community Arts Grant from the city of Santa Barbara that is administered by the county’s Office of Arts and Culture, he has been leading the workshops at various venues such as Art From Scrap (his fiscal sponsor), Santa Barbara Public Library, Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, UCSB, the Dunes Center in Guadalupe, Third Window Brewery and the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.
“While working for the city of Santa Barbara, I helped finance the construction of several low-income housing projects that the Housing Authority owns and operates. It now gives me great pleasure to conduct writing workshops for the people I helped house years ago.”
Or it did until the coronavirus outbreak when the group workshops were shut down.
In its place, Mr. Kiefer established the Santa Barbara Typewriter Lending Library where individuals can borrow one of the typewriters.
“Even though the grant will end Nov. 30, the response has been so positive that I will bear the cost of continuing the service to the community during these trying times. It is important for people to have a means to communicate that is an alternative to our ‘screens,’ “ he said.
Mr. Kiefer’s fascination with typewriters dates back to his childhood in Detroit, where there was always one in his house.
“My father and sisters were excellent typists, and I took a typing class in junior high school. I’m proud to say that I can type 60 words per minute,” he said.
After graduating from Royal Oak Kimball High School, he earned his bachelor’s degree in art history and German at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a master’s degree in urban planning at UCLA.
Among this collection are Underwoods, Olympias, Hermes, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, which he keeps at the Goleta home he shares with his wife Karenina Manpearl.
“Some are in the garage, some are in a storage unit, and I have a collection of small Remingtons from the 1920s on display in the living room. They’re different colors in two tones of red, green and blue. They look like candy,” said Mr. Kiefer, adding, “My wife is very understanding.
“Most of them are manual, but I have some electric ones because they work really well with little kids who don’t have the finger strength to operate the manual keys. My favorite workshops are a mix of seniors and young people who help each other and share stories.”
In addition to more structured events at venues, he also does weddings and birthday parties.
“I set up typewriter stations where guests can type messages for the bride and groom or the birthday honoree,” he said. “I was doing three or four events a month before the pandemic.”
Mr. Kiefer said he has found that typewriters have taken on a new life.
“People are intrigued by the dated technology, the value of communicating from the heart. They find it’s a better way of expressing their emotions. It’s immediate, and there are no distractions like spell check or advertising or emails flashing on the screens.”