14 October 2012

Tramp Printer Report No. 10

On Friday I was in the shop of Gray Zeitz’s Larkspur Press near Monterey, Kentucky. I have known and admired Gray’s work for some time, largely because we both employ one of the continent’s greatest living wood engravers, Wesley Bates. Wes had told me so many stories about Gray and his press that by the time I arrived I felt like I’d known him for years.

Here is Gray in his bindery loft. Just this month, Gray was presented with the 2012 Artist Award from Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. He was one of nine recipients of the 2012 Governor’s Awards in the Arts, the state’s highest achievement in the arts.

One of the things that I admire about Gray is that he employs traditional tools (letterpresses, metal type and hand bindery equipment) to publish affordable books by writers in his own neighbourhood. His books are beautiful, but they are simply and efficiently made. The print run (usally about 400 copies) and materials of the main edition of a book are such as to make them affordable for normal readers, not just for collectors. Gray first learned to print on a traditional platen press like to one in the foreground, but he favours his two C&P clamshell presses.

One of the anchor authors on the Larkspur list is the influential poet, novelist and essayist Wendell Berry – who also happens to live more or less in Gray’s neighbourhood. Wendell’s writing on local economy and agriculture had a significant influence on me as I was formulating the rational behind Gaspereau’s ‘subsistence farming’ approach to literary publishing and book production, so I was pleased that I was able to swing in and meet him when I was in Kentucky. I was gladder still when Gray, his wife Jean and his assistant Leslie Shane came along. I’m a poor tourist and a worse pilgrim, and I am reluctant to bother people without proper cause. So I was happy to turn my visit with WB into, in effect, someone else’s visit in which I could relatively quietly tag along.

When we arrived, WB pulled up in his pickup and invited us to come with him while he went to look for a break in his fence through which two horses had recently escaped.

Leslie jumped in the cab while Gray and I got in the bed with WB’s dog.

... and with his briefcase, strapped to the side of the truck bed beside the chains, buckets and chainsaw.

The fence mended with twine, we drove back to the Berry’s kitchen for a visit. Mostly the talk was of local folk, projects, and WB’s new collection of stories (published by Counterpoint), but Tanya and WB also had fun recounting the funnier parts of a spring trip to Washington, D.C., where WB received a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. Pictured in the photo (L to R) are Leslie Shane, Tanya Berry, Wendell Berry, Jean Zeitz and Gray Zeitz.

Saturday, I drove north and east through Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to Auburn, NY, where I lucked into what appeared to be the last hotel room in town (it was raining, and the idea of pitching a tent in the dark and the rain after 14 hours of driving didn’t appeal to me). Today I visited the Bixler type foundry, but more on that later. I need sleep.


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