25 January 2010

Reviving the Dawson Print Shop

Rod McDonald, Paul Maher, Steve Slipp, and Michael LeBlanc,
Chair of Design, NSCAD

A typographer can’t spend all his life hiding behind his own type cabinets. Occasionally he has to venture out and … look in other people’s type cabinets. This evening, I travelled into Halifax with designer and wayfinding whiz Steven Slipp to meet with a group of people determined to revive the Dawson Print Shop. Once hosted by the Library Studies program at Dalhousie University, the collection was assembled and maintained over the years by the late Bob Dawson and a dedicated group of volunteers. A few years ago, the collection was acquired by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and moved to its campus in Halifax’s Historic Properties. Following a short-lived attempt at operating it as a ‘commercial’ enterprise, NSCAD administrators pulled the plug last April and the collection’s future was left in limbo.

If tonight’s inaugural meeting of the so-called ‘letterpress gang’ is any indication, the Dawson collection will soon enter active use once again, having acquired some able and dedicated advocates. After all, this collection preserves an astonishing cross section of our print heritage; it is perhaps one of the most extensive collections of functional typographic material in the country. As well as a wide variety of presses and associated equipment, it boasts more than a thousand drawers of metal and wooden type.

I’ll post more details on the Dawson holdings in the future, as I plan to put in time working with the collection as a volunteer. What is important for now is that there seems to be interest and support from a range of NSCAD faculty, students and a few outside parties like myself for the revitalization and restoration of the Dawson collection. Personally, I think that it may be one of the most culturally significant assets that NSCAD possesses; I intend to do everything I can to help ensure that it is handled properly and used well.

Bookbinder and long-time Dawson Collection advocate Joe
Landry explains the state of the collection in the type cellar,
while type designer Rod McDonald nods in agreement

Rod McDonald holds forth on the collection’s significance

An unusal display face housed in the Dawson collection,
presently unidentified.


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