Lead Graffiti does a few crafts shows and we love talking up letterpress. It is strange how many people or their family members who were connected to the printing trade at some point. Lots of times it is specifically letterpress.
So, Bill Roberts, of Bottle of Smoke Press, and I are in New York City for the JFK/NYC/OMG poetry reading on the anniversary of JFK’s death. Bill printed a nice keepsake book via letterpress containing Allen Ginsberg’s poem Nov 23, 1963: Alone to be given away to the attendees to celebrate and remember the evening. One of the readers at the event was Grant Hart. Grant was the former drummer and co-songwriter in the influential 1980’s punk band, Hüsker Dü, and then singer and guitar for the alternative rock trio, Nova Mob. Anyway, at the post party at the event organizers’ Greenwich Village apartment, I took the shot of Grant below.
I like shooting photos holding the camera at waist level to give the image a different perspective. Having a more spontaneous feel, this photo has jumped into my top five favorite letterpress portraits that I’ve ever taken, which brings us to the important part of this story.
I’m guessing that life in an 80’s punk band was a somewhat different than the life I was having during some of my most memorable days teaching in the Visual Communications Group at the University of Delaware.
Bill and I were talking with Grant about music when he mentioned liking the letterpress keepsake. Then out of nowhere, he starts grilling Bill and me about the order of the cells in a California job case. Huh? “What are the top row cells?” and we would stammer a bit and start reciting the list. Then Grant would fire another question.
Grant told us, “Let Me Now Help Out Your Punctuation With Commas,” which is a mnemonic for the middle row of lowercase cells in a California job case. It is strange that after almost 12 years of letterpress, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of these memory aids until Grant blasted us with them. So, sometime in Grant’s life he had done some letterpress.
Also, how can you not like a guy who was in a band that had two umlauts in the name? According to Wikipedia, the term without the umlauts means, “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian. The group added the heavy metal umlauts for effect. I could love Hüsker Dü for the umlauts alone.
Grant was playing a solo performance at the Cake Shop later in the evening, which Bill and I wanted to check out. When we got there, Grant was standing right at the door. He grabbed us and we headed for the stairs. He told the cashier who was taking money that we were friends and to just let us through. The three of us, connected by letterpress, headed down into the basement theater for an hour of great Grant Hart music. Most definitely a night to remember.
I do really love this portrait. Now to figure out how to get Grant to want us to print his next CD cover via letterpress.
It seems like I should show Bill’s Bottle of Smoke Press keepsake book (shown below) that was given away free to those in attendance. Some days I like letterpress more than other days. This was definitely one of the good days.
I should throw in a mention of meeting Meagan who will be the subject of an upcoming Lead Graffiti book.
It’s strange how an experience can seem inconsequential, but over time can mutate into an obsession. We have two such letterpress experiences involving large pages of large metal type, both occurring in England. And while I took dozens of photos at both spaces I didn’t take a single one of the images of the type that would come to haunt us.
The first experience came in 2004 when we were taking a week-long letterpress workshop with Claire Bolton at Alembic Press, just outside of Oxford, England. She would print large book pages for the Reuters news service each time a Reuters journalists was killed in the line of duty. Reuters would write a short biography and Claire would print ten copies of the bio on two sheets. These would be distributed to the various Reuters offices and placed in an unfortunately ever-expanding book. The typography was 30 point Garamond with 18 points of leading set on a 75 pica measure and printed on her Albion iron hand press. The field of type was stunning.
Claire Bolton (right) during one of our visits with a group of my students.
The second experience came on a visit to the studio of London letterpress printer, Ian Mortimer. He printed a large sheet listing important donors to the Royal Academy of Art. As I remember, there was the year in red, followed by names of important donors in black. The next year he would add the new year in red and continue down the sheet. The whole page was treated as one continuous paragraph with the texture of those colorful years sprinkled down through the sheet. The page might have been as large as 24″ x 30″ or so, printed on Ian’s Albion.
Ian Mortimer (center) showing type specimen sheets from his book Ornamented Types which was the catalyst for us starting our lives as letterpress printers.
When we first started looking for an iron handpress, we had these two projects in mind. We wanted to do large pages of type. Speeches, dedications, opening sheets in large portfolios, etc. So, finally we got both a 25″ x 38″ Hoe and a 21″ x 29″ Albion iron handpress which shifted our focus to obtaining large metal type. We could do one of these pages in photopolymer, but we wanted to be able to do it in metal.
On Thursday, February 19th we traveled to Washington, D.C. to see Roland Hoover at his Pembroke Press to pick up that large type that we think will realize our field of dream type. Roland was in desperate need of some space in his crowded shop to accommodate a number of cases of wood type and had offered to sell Lead Graffiti a run of Garamond (roman & italic) from 14 point to 72 point. Additionally, he was willing to part with 72, 84, and 96 point Caslon (roman & italic). Almost all of the large type is foundry metal.
A sample of the 96 point Caslon.
For some photos of moving the type, click here.
trips Wednesday February 11 2009 06:05 pm
We like being a place you call when you’ve got some problem with letterpress.
We got a call from a friend who teaches at Millersville University in Millersville, PA. They had obtained two R. Hoe iron handpresses, but couldn’t get one to work. The bed was too wide to get through the vertical ‘cheeks’. Jill and Ray traveled up to spend a morning working on the press. There ended up being two problems.
First was that with the ‘rails’ (what the ‘bed’ rides on as it slides from the front to the back of the press), one of the pins which keep it oriented correctly was not in its slot which put the rails at a slight angle to the frame of the press. Second, the bed was rotated 180°. This was an easy mistake to make as the only difference in the two ends seemed to be the thickness of the head of the bolts that stuck out from the sides making it a mere 1/8″ too wide on each side.
Once those two things were corrected we attached the leather straps to the ‘ronce’ and the ends of the bed, oiled the rails thoroughly so the bed would slide in and out very smoothly and nearly effortlessly, and the press was once again ready to print.
trips Sunday June 22 2008 06:00 am
From June 16th to the 20th both Ray and Jill attended a great class at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia entitled Typography, Lettering and Calligraphy: 1830 - 2000 taught by the well-known typographic historian, James Mosley. This image shows James with the object that got us interested in letterpress.
Click here for a few photos and more information.
trips Monday January 28 2008 09:13 am
Over the weekend of January 26th & 27th Ray attended a Vandercook maintenance workshop at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Springs, Maryland. A nice group of twelve excited attendees participated in taking two Vandercooks (4 & Universal I) apart to see the innerworkings and to understand how to maintain the equipment which is getting harder and harder to come by.
Jill spent the weekend starting her education on how to produce linoleum cuts and woodcuts with Washington, D.C. letterpress artist Chris Manson.
Overall, one of the most pleasant weekends in a while.
trips Thursday January 17 2008 08:50 am
Jill and I celebrated Benjamin Franklin’s birthday (a day early) by visiting the Grolier Club in New York City and their wonderful exhibition of his printing work. Fabulous show. It really makes us wonder how much will be around that is worth holding to from today’s world in 200 years. What will a paper ephemera show display in then. I can see a booth selling CitiBank emails.
With so much important stuff being handled digitally it really makes me want to try to help companies and people produce things that are worth saving.
Via letterpress, of course.
trips Monday December 31 2007 08:32 am
On Sunday, December 30, Jill and I took a field trip to talk to Randolph Faulkner at Three Owls Press. We had a wonderful time looking at his wide assortment of letterpress printing equipment, assortment of type, listening to stories about incredible violins, and adding a new friend to our network. It turned out that Randolph was the grandfather of a recent and highly favored student when I was teaching at the University of Delaware.
trips Monday December 31 2007 08:29 am
On a drive to Washington, D.C. to pick up the APHA / Chesapeake Chapter exhibition at The Catholic University of America, Jill and I stopped by Crooked Crow Press to see what Chris Manson was up to. He was hard at work on a wonderful series of illustrations and a foldout using a very complicated arrangement of border type for a new book by Henry Morris at Bird & Bull Press. It is always nice to stop in someone else’s shop to see both what they have that is interesting (this time type specimen books and fanciful type) and also how they keep things organized. It also gave us a good idea for how to treat some type for a 2008 calendar we are trying to start (note we visited Chris on December 29th). Oh well. We’ll consider this a dry run at the Lead Graffiti 2009 calendar.
trips Saturday December 15 2007 09:23 am
Jill and Ray of Lead Graffiti volunteer once a month to demonstrate letterpress printing at the Lancaster Heritage Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as part of their commitment to the .918 Club. On the 75 minute drive to Lancaster we’ve started to develop a nice ritual. We stop just up the road from Newark for lunch at the Country Cricket for soup or soup & sandwich. Great food and nice people.
We then drive through Amish country which is wonderfully slow. You’ll usually get ’stuck’ behind an Amish wagon several times (twice yesterday). Then to Strasberg, Pennsylvania where we stop at the Strasburg Country Store and Creamery. Jill always gets one scoop of ice cream in a cup and Ray always gets it in a waffle cone (thickest I’ve ever seen). We always try to have enough time to sit and enjoy each other’s company for a bit. Then check out the candy. We bought soft, chewy Christmas mints yesterday.
Then we drive into Lancaster and spend the rest of the day talking with anyone who wanders to the third floor print ship equipped as it would have been in 1920. Yesterday, we had these three printers (above) who were working with Jill on the model Franklin Common Press from about 1725. This is a model built by a Lancaster High School student. We are hoping to build a full-sized version over the next two or three years. The printers were great fun and wanted to do every little part on every press and wanted examples to take with them. It’s nice to think that they’ll remember the afternoon for a while and will have some keepsakes to pass along.
We staffed the shop yesterday with fellow club member Mike Donnelly of the .918 club from 2:30 until 8:30 pm. It was kind of a light day as it was cold and people were probably doing final holiday shopping, but we got a lot done, straightening up, putting away type and having all the time those that came in wanted to take.
Afterwards, we were hungry and stopped at Yorgo’s and had a late dinner. Food was wonderful. I think this will be the way we will end our Lancaster run rituals for a while.
Then, grab a hot chocolate and hit the road back to Newark. All in all an 11-hour day of fun, doing things we like with people we like. A nice way to spend a day.
trips Thursday December 13 2007 06:57 pm
My son, Tray, is a fairly fanatical Star Wars fan and has recently acquired a serious Storm Trooper outfit. He is the one on the right working for the Salvation Army in Boulder, Colorado and he tells the following story.
“While bell ringing for Salvation Army on Saturday, December 8th we noticed this gentleman with his two kids and his son was dressed up is his Darth Vader costume complete with lightsaber. The gentleman walked up to us and had his son put a $5 bill into the bucket. He told us he got a call from a friend who had walked out our door, telling him we were there collecting money for SA and he drove up in the snow and bad weather just to bring his son to see us. Our Vader was impressed. The father had no intentions of shopping at Walmart but he did go in to get more change to put into the bucket. He stayed visiting with us for more than fifteen minutes. We love when kids are dressed up as one of us. It makes it all the more enjoyable.”
Armed bellringers just gives it all a homey touch, don’t you think?
We were working on the new studio today, bringing some things to decorate the space a bit before we start moving the big, heavy things. I have a photo taken by a former student of mine named Craig Cutler who is a photographer in New York City and a big deal in the world of advertising photography.
Craig was chosen to shoot a photo for the Life Magazine celebrating the 100 most important moments of the last millennium. As fate would have it he was chosen to represent Johannes Gutenberg as moment NUMBER ONE. He got to hold the bible, turn the pages, and choose which page would be used for the photo. Whew.
It is kind of coincidental that in my retirement I’ve gravitated to letterpress printing.
Here is Craig’s photo.
In Jill and my travels we’ve now seen 10 of the 48 or so Gutenberg Bibles.
If you stop by our studio you can see the original photo of Craig’s.
These are keepsakes we made for a gathering of members of the William Morris Society to remember the event. Keepsakes are one of our favorite things to produce with letterpress.
The William Morris Society gathered at the home of artist and landscape architect, Judy Hanks-Henn, on Saturday, August 25th for a tour of her Morris-influenced home. Following are a few photos of the gathering and her home.
trips Friday July 13 2007 07:47 pm
Ah, the Internet.
Rik Hoffman who taught at Sul Ross State University when I was there from 1971-74 (and I’m not sure we’ve spoken since then) sent this photo of me (left and without my beard) and Claude Thormalen (Sul Ross Dean of Students) hiking in the Chisos Mountains of Texas up near Boot Springs. Claude, Rik and I would often go on these kinds of hikes and float the Rio Grande River in rafts as it passed through Big Bend National Park.
Lots of beer and tequila flowed around and through these trips.
trips Sunday July 01 2007 08:31 pm
Jill and I were invited to the wedding of Ben Thoma, one of my students that has become a good friend.
Here is a photo of the VC classmates who were also attending.
Front row / left to right: Emily Mellor, Jessie Perlin, Ben Thoma, Dee Geraci, Christie McPartlan.
Back row / left to right: Karla Burger, Jillian Cordes, Sarah Salvatoriello, Russell Fraze, Carly Tushingham, Ray Nichols.
trips Wednesday March 28 2007 07:51 am
Six of our placements found to date.
6) #167 - July 12, 2007 in The Elephant Vanishes by Murakami
5) #122 - May 17, 2007 in Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
4) #115 - May 4, 2007 in On The Road by Jack Kerouac
3) #83 - March 24, 2007 in Collected Poems of Robert Frost by Robert Frost
2) #61 - February 11, 2007 in The Cantos by Ezra Pound
1) #38 - January 20, 2007 in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
. . .
We thought the ‘trips’ category was an interesting place to put this entry.