Michele Burgess of Brighton Press is a fine arts book artist, creative soundboard, and part-time university professor who loves to share printing with those around her. For three decades, Michele and her husband have been enjoying the fruits of their collaborative efforts one pulled print at a time.
AN ARTIST BY NATURE I am a visual artist obsessed with working in book form. My husband, Bill Kelly, founded our press in 1985 and it has morphed and grown before our eyes.
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS I went to the Cranbrook Academy of Art for my MFA in the mid-’80s. There was a very funky letterpress there and small, crumbly piles of type. I enjoy the intentionality, the craft, the beauty of its collaboration with paper.
CREATIVE COLLECTIVE We are a small band of like-minded people using the studio as a creative laboratory. We create and publish collaborative artists’ books that braid the visions of both poets and visual artists. Everything is original and achieved by hand.
Bill Kelly, who founded the press, Nelle Martin, associate director/production designer/letterpress printer and I collaborate creatively with whoever the artist and poet might be. Most often, one of us is one or the other, or, in Bill’s case, both. We also often collaborate with papermakers such as those at Twinrocker, Cave paper, and the Morgan Conservatory to get a certain color or weight that we’re looking for.
Sonja Jones, in her 80’s and a previous librarian, has been a guardian angel and does our boxmaking. Kathi George, our crackerjack copy editor who makes sure we don’t have a plate made with a typo in it. Jenny Yoshida Park also works closely with us on typography and website and catalog design.
Recent poets include Bill Kelly, Chard deNiord, Bianca Stone, and Martha Serpas. Recent artists, besides myself and Bill include: Jinane Abbadi, Ian Tyson, Miya Hannan, Jenny Yoshida Park. A full list of artists and writers can be found on our website—34 years worth.
Sometimes we work with outside bookbinders Mark Tomlinson, Claudia Cohen, and Lisa Van Pelt, who have added creative ideas to the bindings. There’s a lot of back and forth regarding structure and content until it all melds together.
My favorite thing about it is that we never know what the final outcome will be until the B.A.T. (from the French phrase “bon a tirer” — good to pull. The subsequent prints should look like that one) is complete and that we can never remember whose idea certain things were. Synergy.
COAST-TO-COAST PRINTING We are bi-coastal now. We do most of the production in San Diego, which is getting a little less cool every year, and we do a lot of the creative work in Vermont in relative solitude. We also work in other artist’s studios sometimes or at the dinner tables of our writers.
PRINTING MENTORS Gerald Lange, Michael Bixler, Robin Price, Walter Hamady have been my letterpress mentors. William Blake, Sonja Delaunay, Ken Campbell, Anslem Kiefer, and Barbara Fahrner have been my book art mentors. The poets I work with inspire me. I get energy and fortitude from my collaborators at the press.
PART-TIME PRINTING, FULL-TIME FUN We decided years ago not to require the press to support us physically, so we teach at universities part-time.
THE ARTISTIC PROCESSES I start a book from a small kernel of inspiration which is always mysterious in its origin. Sometimes, the poet is my muse or his/her words. From there, I usually start working on visual images that expand on, rather than illustrate the text. The best scenario is when the poet and I are working together from a kernel and we’re spinning a web together.
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of the meandering path we’ve taken, despite the hardships. With regards to a project: A Woman Hit by a Meteor. Our paper was MUCH too large for the press, so we folded it and through that limitation were able to imbue it with a sensibility of folded maps in ancient, celestial atlases.
PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 219, old style. I love the Vandercook, the sound, the weight, the intuitive simplicity of the machine.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped us realize some visual formats that we couldn’t have done with lead type. Also, we were able to create Arabic calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese text that we couldn’t have done otherwise. Boxcar has been super-efficient, patiently helpful, both with my classroom needs and for Brighton Press.
PRINTING TIPS: Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Slightly more punch, less ink.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT A book called WHERE AND HOW BLOOD WAS MADE with poet Chard deNiord. It will be my most complex book to date.