Beyond the Classroom: Letterpress Adventure

Nothing makes us more proud and excited when we learn about young printers and poets in the schools getting a chance to put their hand to a press. The sixth grade students of Mount Desert Elementary School (Mount Desert Island, Maine) experienced the joys and challenges while printing their own poetry this past year. The project was led by writing teachers Ms. Mariah Baker and Ms. Maria Simpson combined with artists/printers Nikki Moser and Katherine Emery.  Read on to hear all about the group’s instruction in hand-set type, printing with photopolymer plates, bookbinding, and the fun that went into the Call of the Robin letterpress printed book project.

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KATHERINE EMERY: I had met my daughter’s writing teacher, and she told me about a month-long poetry project the 6th graders were working on, and how it had transformed their attention and energy. It was a positive place to put their worries about the world. She was trying to do something special for them as an end-of-the-year project.

On impulse, I offered to help them print their poems. I got Nikki to agree to use her press and then persuaded the teachers to agree to bring the class for printing. I volunteered to help layout the poems for photopolymer plates, and then helped the students sew the books together. What a day when the kids walked to Nikki Moser’s artist studio and pulled prints on a tabletop press. After the students bound their final books, they signed their poems in the editions.

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Teacher MS. MARIA SIMPSON:  After the “Call of the Robin” poetry book was completed, we read the poems to the 2nd graders and it was so moving – each kid read their poem with feeling and passed a printed book hand to hand.

Then the kids gave the second graders advice about writing their own poems. One student, Kohl, had this advice, “Sometimes, when I got stuck, I would take a little walk. Then I would come back and write from my heart.”

It was an inspiring project that the students and I will remember for a long time. I look forward to doing it again!

BTS Kim Namjoon eats tonkatsu and enjoys letterpress.

STUDENTS’ REACTIONS AND REFLECTIONS

PIERCE HOLLEY: This experience was super fun and I loved that we got to be writing and doing art at the same time! It was really cool to be doing the printing instead of just using our computer like we always do. This would be an amazing activity for others.

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LANAIA McDANIELS: I really enjoyed the printing project. It was super fun to do, and I got to learn new and interesting things. The best part about it was learning how to use the printing press. It was fun to see and use it because I never knew about a printing press and the history behind it.

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Kemy: I got to learn from Nikki and Katherine the basic skills behind printing and making my own book. It was very fun and I got to be with my friends trying new things.

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HELAYNA SAVAGE: I loved writing poetry with Ms. Baker and Ms. Simpson. We did a lot of different types of poetry and close to the end we went to a place where we used a printing press. Best thanks to Katherine Emery and her work partner.

CORINNA JOHNSTON: I learned how printing is made and I really liked getting to print my own poem. 

PHOENIX SWEET: With Katherine and Nikki, I had fun learning to bind a book, I also enjoyed putting ink on, learning to use, and printing my poem on the printing press.

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We’re proud to share their story and hear how printing enriched these students and inspired fellow printers to reach out to their community. Huge round of applause out to Katherine, Nikki, and both teachers for getting their students invigorated about being on press and creating a lasting project.  As Katherine beautifully stated about the project: “the 6th graders [were] over the moon to be out in the sunshine, celebrating words, and using beautiful old machinery to honor their inner voices.” 

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