28 July 2010

Hired Hands

Unlike computers and cellphones (and even, to a lesser extent, printing presses), paper cutters hold their worth. If, as at Gaspereau, your sensibilities and your budget tend to lean toward to bargain bin, you’ll wait a long time before you see a cheap used paper cutter for sale. We’ve been watching for a while now. We have three paper cutters in our shop, one guillotine style and two with manual fence and clamps but motorized blades. Trimming books has always been a bit of a bottleneck in our production process, so we’ve been looking for a cutter more modern programmable cutter. This one came available recently when another printer in the region upgraded. There’ll be some welding to do and a motor to repair, but perhaps we’ll have this fella up and running in time for the rush of fall books. The big question isn’t whether Gary can fix it. The big question is ... where the heck are we going to put it!

Presently in the bindery is the most recent North American edition of the International fine books journal Parenthesis. The sheets are printed and folded and ready to gather, sew and bind.

I spent part of the day making polymer plates for the cover, which I will handprint on a Vandercook proof press. Given it’s subject matter, I feel that at least some part of this journal ought be hand printed.

I also managed to escape to the basement of the Acadia University library this week and spent some time lollygagging around in copies of The Nova Scotia Royal Gazette, published at Halifax by John Howe and Son in 1813. John Howe (1754–1835) was a Boston-born Loyalist printer who came to Halifax after the American Revolution. In Nova Scotia, he was appointed the King’s Printer, publishing The Nova Scotia Royal Gazette and the Debates of the Legislative Assembly. As interesting as his life had been, John Howe was eclipsed by the fame of his son, Joseph Howe (1804–73), journalist, publisher, and politician, who successfully defended himself against charges seditious libel in a landmark case that helped establish freedom of the press in Canada.

Tucked in among the proclamations, sales notices and notes from foreign correspondents was this example of an early Canadian book ad for a sea captain's narrative published by Howe.

I have always loved the stories of everyday life an old newspaper can tell. Perhaps a careful investigation of the 64th Regiment’s paperwork from this period might reveal a sudden shift in the quality of the handwriting sometime after this ad was printed. It might even tell us whose hand was hired. But the fate of the red heifer at Nine Mile River is likely to remain a matter of conjecture.


20 July 2010

Alcuin Awards Exhibit

The Acadia University library and art gallery in Wolfville are hosting an exhibit of the winning books from the 2009 Alcuin Awards for Excellence in Canadian Book Design, and they asked me to speak at a reception last Friday. I gave a very rambly talk, riffing off the books in the display and discussing type history, manufacturing and many elements of book design. I had printed some letterpress invitations for the event on ends of Saint Armand’s ‘Old Masters’ paper.

When I was in St. Andrews last weekend, Hugh French (Director of the Tides Institute & Museum in Eastport, Maine) slipped me a tube which contained, among other things, a wonderful letterpress poster by David Wolfe. The poster was printed as part of the Hand Line Press’s series of posters and broadsides and features some of the traditional design motifs used by contemporary Passamaquoddy artist David Moses Bridges. The text is in English, French and Passamaquoddy.

If you happen to drop into the printshop this summer, one of the people you're likely to meet is our press operator in training, Matt MacLean. Matt is pictured above, cleaning one of our Heidelberg KORDs.


18 July 2010

A Day in St Andrews

The Old Courthouse, St Andrews, New Brunswick

I made a whirlwind road trip to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where we held a very successful launch for our new book St. Andrews Architecture. I left the Annapolis Valley at dawn on Friday loaded with as many books as we’d been able to finish on Thursday. I drove my pick-up in a long arch around the Bay of Fundy, making numerous quick stops along the way to visit writers, artists and family. I ended up in St. Andrews around 9:30 that evening. Where I ended up, to be exact, was the terrace of the storied Algonquin Hotel, sitting in the cool salt-sea air with a glass of scotch in my hand, in the company of a couple of New Brunswick’s most creative minds, toasting the success of their book.

Thaddeus Holownia and John Leroux in the dock. The charge: attentive engagement with their community and their respective art forms. The verdict: Guilty!

The launch on Saturday was a great success. Hosted by the The Nature Trust of New Brunswick, the event was held at the Old Courthouse on Fredrick Street. It seemed like half the town showed up. John and Thaddeus both spoke well, John being emotionally overwhelmed at a few points as he spoke about the town, its people and its astonishing buildings. When I saw that people were buying books by the fist-full I realized that the 170 or so books I’d delivered would certainly sell out – and they did. The event ended with Thaddeus making a group photograph using his old-timey view camera.

Thaddeus Holownia makes a group portrait with his large format veiw camera

I had an excellent time. It’s always gratifying to see many months of hard work come to such a successful result and authors and artists being celebrated by their community. But I was anxious to get back to my lumber pile at home and to the stacks of books yet to complete in the printshop.


15 July 2010

How the summer slides into fall

The tumble toward fall begins! Our fall list is in pretty good shape editorially (other than that the fall catalogue is late, again), and production work on fall books is well underway. The first fall book to take form is St. Andrews Architecture, 1604–1966 by John Leroux and Thaddeus Holownia. The Nature Trust of New Brunswick is hosting a launch for this book in St. Andrews on this coming Saturday morning. Given that the first copies of the book were bound only this morning, it’s going to be a pretty crazy day in here today as we gather, sew, bind and trim enough books for me to drive up to the event tomorrow. Ahh!

There was a nice article about this book in the Telegraph Journal last weekend, which you should be able to fine at this link.

In the mail bag this week were copies of the The Alcuin Society’s catalogue for its 28th annual awards for excellence in Canadian book design, which includes a number of Gaspereau Press productions. I went into Halifax last week for the opening of an exhibition of this year’s winning books at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I’ll be speaking another opening of the same exhibit at the Acadia Art Gallery in Wolfville on Friday July 23rd at 2:00 p.m.

We’ve had a lot of interesting commercial work moving through the shop too. Of course, there's the usual dog’s breakfast of invitations, programs and flyers, but we’ve also been involved making some interesting books and journals. We did a slim volume by Sackville, NB, poet Michael Thorpe entitled About Thomas Hardy. And a family memoir by Stanley Havill with the delightfully direct title Some Happening of the Havill Family of Nova Scotia. And last week I found myself typesetting a geology paper on an Early Triassic camptonite dyke in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the online journal Atlantic Geology. All of these projects come with their own unique challenges and rewards and they keep me on my toes.

On the letterpress front, I recently designed and hand printed a short catalogue for an exhibition of photographs by Thaddeus Holownia which is presently showing at the Tides Institute in Eastport, Maine. The text is an essay by Paul Griffin. The type was Garamount.

We got involved with one of the other local arts organizations this summer, designing and printing a suite of promotional pieces (posters, cards, etc.) for Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The posters and cards were printed offset and included an original scraper board illustration by Wesley Bates. I used a revival of the Fells types to do this fun letterpress broadside, co-writing the copy with the play’s director Ken Schwartz. The next big letterpress project is a 96 page book celebrating the painter Alex Colville’s 90th birthday in August. The editorial and design work is complete, and I’m waiting for paper to arrive so that I can begin printing.

By far the most intensive typesetting job I’ve done in the past few weeks has been the Autumn 2010 issue of the international book arts journal Parenthesis, for which Gaspereau Press is the North American printer of record. Edited by Paul Razzel in Vancouver, the issue hosts a special feature on fine printing and the book arts in the state of California, as well as numerous articles and reviews. This issue is set in Ross Mills’ snazzy new typeface Huronia, accompanied by my own Memorial Hall ornaments. I’ll be printing the jackets on my letterpress later in the month.

Summer is always a busy time for visitors in the printshop. Recent drop-ins have included Jeffrey Macklin from Jackson Creek Press in Peterborough, Ontario, from Jack Illingworth of the Literary Press Group of Canada, illustrator and letterpress printer Basma Kavanagh, just to name a few.

(Oh, yes, and I'm still spending evenings and weekends working away at building a house.)