Mark Marchesi got his bright idea playing with his kids in the bathtub. He loathed buying one more plastic toy, and decided instead to make wooden playthings for his youngsters.

One good idea led to another, and the result is Merchants Row, a fledgling toy company for kids and adults that Marchesi is serving up after hours at Portland Color, where he works as a printer.

Marchesi’s boss, Andy Graham, encourages his employees to use the tools and equipment at Portland Color for their personal projects, especially when those projects stretch the imagination.

Marchesi, 33, met Graham’s challenge head on. He is experimenting with wooden bathtub boats resembling oil tankers and trawlers. He made a floating alphabet set in a stylish font, and produced a prototype for a skateboard with classic lines.

Since last summer, Marchesi has focused on plywood puzzles of Maine’s 16 counties. The size and sophistication of the equipment at Portland Color allows him to print his puzzle design directly onto quarter-inch sheets of plywood. He utilizes a computerized Eyecut router to cut the puzzle pieces precisely.

This equipment is designed for high-end, large-scale printing on a variety of surfaces, and Portland Color puts it to good use.

So does Marchesi.

On Saturday mornings when the machine otherwise would stand idle, Marchesi loads it up with 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood, and prints 24 copies of his puzzle at a time. That scale allows him enough production capacity to make a serious foray into toy making.

“Andy really encourages all of us to use the equipment and this space for our own personal work. The atmosphere is very creative and encouraging,” Marchesi said.

“When you have equipment like this, you are only limited by your imagination. Anything you can draw on the computer, you can cut out on any number of materials. He loves to see these machines used for something other than just cranking out commercial work.”

Marchesi has another puzzle featuring Georges Bank and the fishing boats of Maine.
“I’m trying to make them educational, but also fun to play with,” he said.

Marchesi graduated from Maine College of Art in 1999 with a degree in photography. He has mostly pursued photography as a private passion, although he uses those skills and knowledge in his job as a printer at Portland Color. And through his work at Portland Color, he has found a new outlet for his creative expression.

“With wood, every single piece has its own unique color and grain pattern, which makes each final product truly one of a kind,” Marchesi says. “Since I was young – from building skateboard ramps in my driveway to birdhouses in shop class to odd carpentry jobs I’ve taken – making things from wood has always been enjoyable and satisfying. I guess no more or less than making a good photograph, though. In the end, it is just another medium.”

Marchesi lives in South Portland with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 5.

For information about his work, visit www.merchantsrowmaine.com.

ANOTHER YOUNG Portland creator is making his name outside the boundaries of his day job. Zach Brockhouse, a copywriter at KG Partners, recently won the fifth round of the Three-Minute Fiction contest sponsored by National Public Radio.

NPR asks listeners to submit an original short story that can be read in less than three minutes. Writers are given an opening line and closing line, and fill in the rest. Brockhouse thought to himself, “That’s what I do every day.”

“Working in advertising is similar. You’re given a starting point and an ending point. How you get there is up to you,” said Brockhouse, who recently moved to Portland for the job at KG Partners.

Brockhouse was driving when he heard the contest rules. He wrote his story in his head that afternoon in the car, and committed it to the computer when he got home. He titled it “Roosts.”

Winning the contest hasn’t led to any book deals, although Brockhouse has received an e-mail or two from a literary agent – and it has made him the talk of the town.

Noting that the NPR story about his victory clocked in at 12 minutes, Brockhouse said, “That pretty much uses up my 15 minutes of fame.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]

Follow him at: Twitter.com/pphbkeyes