by Erin Beckloff
The Spring 2015 Kickstarter campaign for Pressing On: The Letterpress Film was an emotional rollercoaster. It was a challenging and fulfilling experience that connected me to people around the world who love the craft and printers who help it survive by sharing their knowledge. An email from a retired Linotype operator in Australia; social media posts by designers I admire; testimonials from Steven Heller and Tobias Frere-Jones, coverage on AIGA’s and Neenah’s blogs; I still look back and have to pinch myself!
The generosity of time, knowledge, and goods that the letterpress community provided was incredible — just check out some of the Rewards. Every time we entered the ‘trough of sorrow’ and it seemed like we wouldn’t reach our goal, we’d receive a kind note of support or be offered yet another amazing Reward. The last week we skyrocketed beyond our goal reaching $71,748 with the help of 951 backers! After super Producer Kevin figured out the budget and the team made our pre-production plans, we were ready to start filming.
Still a bit dazed from the campaign but ready to hit the road, the first shoot was at the ChicaGoose where we got to celebrate the successful project funding at one of the largest annual gatherings of printers. Most of the characters in the film are members of the Amalgamated Printers’ Association. The APA was organized in 1958 and consists of both professional and amateur letterpress printers, whose emphasis is on the exchange of members’ letterpress printing and information on sources of equipment and better printing practices.
Each summer an APA gathering is held, this year metal type maven Jennifer Farrell of Starshaped Press planned and hosted the Wayzgoose. So what the heck is a wayzgoose? Historically a wayzgoose was a celebration given by a master printer to his workmen each year around St Bartholomew’s Day (Aug. 24) marking the start of the season of working by candlelight and later referred to an annual outing and dinner for the staff of a print shop or newspaper.
The APA Wayzgoose often includes an auction (the Daves were a most entertaining auctioneer duo), a flea market of printers’ treasures, tours of the host city or local print shops, and hands-on workshops. A major highlight is visiting with other kindred spirits who love letterpress. Jen Farrell introduced us to printing’s history and future in Chicago: a walking tour of Printers’ Row with Paul Gehl of the Newberry Library, shops tours and talks with current commercial letterpress printers, and a delicious Chicago hotdog buffet.
We interviewed several influential community members who are facilitating the preservation and growth of letterpress. Stephanie Carpenter, Assistant Director of Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, shared her views as a graphic designer, one of the primary audiences driving letterpress’ growth. She credits designers’ interest to the history and the hands-on process, “It’s not about how quickly you can print something anymore, especially when we’re talking about letterpress printing. It’s the beauty that goes into it. It’s the craft that goes into it. It’s the character that comes out of it. I think that’s why it’s got this revival.”
Kseniya Thomas, co-founder of Ladies of Letterpress, explained her motivation for establishing a trade organization to help connect and support women becoming printers today, now 2,200 members strong. She explained the economics of using digitally designed photopolymer plates for her business, Thomas-Printers. Richard Kegler, P22 Type Foundry and director of the Wells College Book Arts Center, discussed the relationship between digital typesetting and physical letterpress processes; the ‘authenticity’ of the aesthetic; and digitizing historic typefaces to give them new life. You’ll get to hear more of Stephanie, Kseniya, and Rich’s thoughts on the future of letterpress in Pressing On.
With the cameras and microphones, I was concerned about disrupting the Goose but the crew was welcomed with inky handshakes and words of encouragement. We captured the interactions of the community; the multi-generational relationships that are a vital part of the culture. Our next trip takes us to the cornfields and print shops of Iowa.
Inspire your type designs with the side-by-side travel photo comparisons in Culture+Typography by Nikki Villagomez. Each image features examples of typography in culture, along with cultural and historical commentary to go with the image. Explore how design choices can be informed by the language of the cultural surroundings, and learn more about type selection, color usage, and more with this inspiring book.