The Letterpress Journals: Guardians of the Craft

Posted inDesign Inspiration
Thumbnail for The Letterpress Journals: Guardians of the Craft

by Erin Beckloff

Hello! I’m Erin Beckloff, letterpress printer and graphic design educator. My time as a printer has been about as long as a typical apprenticeship, six years, but I’ve taken on more than the usual sweeping the shop and distributing type: I am now the co-director of Pressing On: The Letterpress Film. I will be sharing with you the story of creating a feature-length documentary about the survival of letterpress and the remarkable printers who preserve the history and knowledge of the craft.


For me it all started with a unique wedding gift: a small tabletop Kelsey printing press. To begin learning how to use it, I sought out the knowledge of more experienced printers and interned at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, TN. With a desire to bring new life to equipment long left idle, I returned to my alma mater Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and revitalized the Department of Art’s letterpress program. We named the shop Curmudgeon Press (after professor emeritus Tom Effler) and each semester as more students experienced the wonder of the letterpress process, my love of teaching grew.


Becoming a part of the letterpress community was like joining a huge family, except at our dinner tables we’d pass around wood type and tell letterpress jokes. As I joined organizations including the Amalgamated Printers’ Association (APA) and Ladies of Letterpress, and attended events such as the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgoose, my network of letterpress friends broadened. I knew that I needed to preserve the stories and knowledge of these guardians of the craft and began collecting oral histories with my little audio recorder. One particularly dear friend, Dave Peat, has impacted innumerable printers’ lives during his 53 years in letterpress. A scare with his health added a sense of urgency to my preservation project.


Wanting to expand my own knowledge as a design educator, I enrolled in the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Graphic Design low-residency program. VCFA’s independent study model allowed me to focus on my own area of interest, values, and goals: letterpress printing and design history. Encouraged by classmates and faculty, I left after my week-long residency in Montpelier certain that I needed to visually document the people and craft of letterpress; while also feeling anxious about how I was going to make it happen.


Besides my brief stint in television broadcasting class in high school and a bit of iMovie, I knew very little about media or filmmaking and realized that in taking on a project of this caliber I would need experienced collaborators. Several connections led me to Bayonet Media in Indianapolis. We met in the late Fall of 2014 and I knew they were the right partners; their high quality portfolio of work and holistic approach were immediately evident. Plus Dave Peat lives in Indy, which was a huge bonus!


Making a film had not been a goal of mine, but was the ideal way to bring the project to life in addition to being an exciting and somewhat surreal experience. But before we could make a movie, we had to fund the project and decided to do so through Kickstarter.

Here’s a video interview with me that we produced for the Kickstarter campaign:

Stay tuned for another edition of The Letterpress Journals next week!


Tactile, beautiful, and vibrant, letterpress printing is a wild, ornate, escape from a filtered reality brought to you by Photoshop. But how did letterpress techniques, with their delicious patterns and curlicues, develop? Listen to this OnDemand webcast to find out.