11 August 2013

International Tramp Printer, Redux

It’s been pretty busy here in the printshop as we prepare our fall list for press (more about that in a future post). I did manage to break-up my summer with a couple of diversions. One was a trip to Massachusetts and Maine with my friend and frequent co-conspirator, photographer and letterpress printer Thaddeus Holownia. We spent three days on the move making photos, and three days hunkered down in most eastern city in the union – Eastport, Maine.

Our initial destination was Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, where we took an early morning walk around the kettle pond Henry David Thoreau made famous after his two-year residency on its shore. The whole thing is a little odd now, mediated by swimming buoys in the pond, lifeguard chairs on the beach and page-wire fences to keep the pilgrims on the path and protect the shoreline from erosion. But still … it was Walden! There is a wonderful statue of HDT near the parking lot. The hand has been worn smooth from, I assume, people holding it.

We also stopped in and visited with Jeff Cramer, curator at the Walden Woods Project, and then headed north to Maine for a great supper with Michael Alpert of the University of Maine Press in Bangor, making pictures along the way.

Thaddeus was travelling with a number of cameras, but mostly he was rocking a 7 × 17 inch view camera. It’s a real brute. I always find it interesting to watch him set up to make a picture, and as the trip progressed I started documenting some of his process.

One of our objectives on this trip was to visit Moosehead Lake, on which Thoreau travelled during two of his three trips to Maine. We stopped on the dock at Rockwood where Thaddeus made two photos of the lower lake. The outcropping on the far left is Mount Kineo. It was a beautiful vista. Not that Thaddeus was only photographing landscapes. We photographed nail salons and barber shops, Dave’s Video Rental and Romantic Supermart, and Stephen King’s wrought-iron gates in front of his Bangor home, to name a few of his more unusual subjects. And me? As usual, I mostly photographed strange signs and wild letterforms. And photographers.

When we landed in Eastport we put our free-wheeling hobo ways behind us and settled in for three days of intense work. Our friend Hugh French has been toiling in that hardluck little city, population 1300, working under the flag of the Tides Institute and Museum of Art to save a number of its downtown buildings and establish cultural ventures within their walls. His most recent project is the creation of a studio space and printshop. While the building is still undergoing renovation, the Institute was able to host two artists in residence this summer. My plan was to slip in between the these two artists and volunteer in the printshop for three days, doing some much-needed maintenance on their press and then printing a little broadside. While I worked, I propped open the front door and enticed unwitting tourists into the studio to chat about the Tides Institute and about letterpress printing in general. It was a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, architect and art historian John Leroux arrived from Fredericton, New Brunswick, and he and Thaddeus took off to photograph buildings in the small but architecturally diverse city of Eastport. It seemed every other time I looked up from my press I’d see Thaddeus and John driving down Water street past the studio again, which made me think of a crazy chase scene in an early Peter Sellers movie.

Here’s the Vandercook No.4 in the early morning light, with a single letter Y locked up on the bed. Don’t ask me why. Just because.

Here is some 1930s vintage Eastport printing, announcing the Quoddy Power project, a tidal power project that was abandoned before it was completed. This poster is in the collection of the Tides Institute.

And here’s some wonderful wild signage which I saw from the front door of the studio while looking out to the wharf beyond. Notice how it is skillfully duct taped to the cab door.

The other reason for our trip was that Julian Smith, director of the Willowbank School for the Restoration Arts in Queenston, Ontario, was in town to give a lecture. I actually designed and printed the posters for this event back at Gaspereau Press earlier in the summer. The poster was handset in Monotype Baskerville and printed on a St. Armand paper.

When I got home again, I had to hit the ground running. As often happens during the summer months, this past week saw many surprise visits from other printers, writers and book lovers from all the place (including Toronto, Guelph and Jerusalem). When I wasn’t entertaining, I spent most of the week taking a final look at fall books before sending them to film and cranking jackets for the fall issue of the Fine Press Book Association’s journal, Parenthesis, through my big Vandercook. As the week wore on, it occurred to me that the wall which divided my office from the rest of the letterpress studio was no longer serving any practical function; it was a relic the early days of the press when we had more staff and needed more division of space. Why, I asked myself, was a I working in a small box at the end of a much longer room when I was the primary occupant of both rooms? So this weekend I tore the wall out and annexed the whole letterpress studio as my office. I am likely the only trade publisher in North America with ten printing presses in his office.


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