From Midwest to Miami and to teaching art by-day and printing-by-night, Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press weaves a letterpress journey of printmaking. We caught up with Tom after hours on what makes his printing clock tick, the tales of teaching art in the high-school classroom, and the excellent food fare that is a must for a late night printing session in Miami.
PRINTING, SLUGS & ROCK’N’ROLL I was born and raised in the Midwest, just outside of Detroit. Fueled by blues, jazz, Motown, and rock & roll, I made my first print in 1972. I am now in my sixth childhood, having spent twice as much time in South Florida than in my native Great Lakes State.
IN TYPE-TOP SHAPE In 2004, I took a letterpress class with Kerry McAleer at Pyramid Atlantic Center in Silver Springs, Maryland. We made cards with a short quotation of our choice. Mine was:
“The course of true love nevər did run smooth.”– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Act 1, Scene 1
I quickly realized my mistake, reset the type, and reprinted. I decided the typo was more in the spirit of the original quote, and returned the position of the second “e” to the first version. This is my first love of letterpress story.
THE PRINTING TRANSITION I am a bookworm (and a storyteller). Printmaking eventually led me to book arts. The ability to create archival editions from press printed text and images was what made me finally get into letterpress.
I have always worked in communal studios as a printmaker, so the transition to letterpress was a natural step. The first presses I printed on solo, were at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts in Boca Raton, Florida. Arthur Jaffe bought my very first book for the Jaffe Collection, and mentored me for the rest of his life.
SPLENDID IN THE SUNSHINE STATE Nestled in the middle of Little Haiti just north of Downtown Miami, I am a five minute drive from Korean fusion BBQ, Haitian cuisine, Thai food, awesome burgers and, right next door, Clive’s Jamaican Jerk Shop. Four blocks away is the Little Haiti Cultural Center. I am a white guy in Miami, living the cushiest minority experience on the planet. Extra Virgin Press has a Vandercook 4 Proof Press (formerly owned by Gaylord Schanilec, and lovingly donated to EVP by Regula Russelle of Cedar Fence Press- both from the Twin Cities in Minnesota). Our second press is a Challenge 15KP. Both presses are bringing back letterpress printing to the Miami community. The presses keep me from eating all of that amazing food, every waking hour.
PRINTING MENTORS I am fortunate to have had many teachers and mentors, all of whom have contributed mightily to my printing practice. I am especially indebted to Arthur Jaffe, who welcomed me to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and John Cutrone (Convivio Books/Jaffe Center) in South Florida. Stephanie Shieldhouse at Highway Press, in Jacksonville, Florida gave critical support when Extra Virgin Press became a reality in 2016.
In Red Wing, Minnesota, in my home-away-from-home, the Anderson Center at Tower View, I have been well schooled by the proprietor of Red Dragonfly Press, Scott King. Scott and Robert Hedin, the retired Director of the Anderson Center also introduced me to Regula Russelle (Cedar Fence Press), Chip Schilling (Indulgence Press), Monica Edwards Larson (Sister Black Press), Amanda Degener (Cave Paper), CB Sherlock (Seymour Press), Gaylord Schanilec (Midnight Paper Sales), and Richard Stephens, all from Minnesota Center for Book Arts, one way or the other. Moe Snyder and Maria Cardenas set me straight in Portland, Oregon. Many others have lent me assistance and support.
GETTING INSPIRED My Instagram feed is a constant inspiration. I follow all I can find. Regula’s Russelle’s books offer me a sublime view of the world of color that helps me escape from black and white woodcut prints. (Mary) Bruno Press, another Minnesota great, keeps me smiling, Amos Kennedy in Detroit offers a powerful moral compass, and damn fine work to back it up. Another Motown great is Signal-Return. When I grow up, I hope to create a community of dedicated printers like Lynne Avadenka has, in Downtown Detroit. Can I just say, “Hatch Show Print in Nashville?” Writers have enriched my life immeasurably.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS My visual arts practice included printing, painting, drawing, book arts, and public art, prior to my entry into letterpress printing.
Teaching a full spectrum of arts classes in Title I Public High Schools in the fourth largest school district in the United States helped me with design. I suspect the students teach me more than I teach them. My colleagues in grad school, as well as fellow Professors, Adjunct Professors, and working artists have helped me to bring some skills to the letterpress world.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN At this point, I am printing after school and on weekends. That is the bulk of my waking hours. My retirement from the public schools will make it possible for me to print full time.
PRINTING FEATS —In 2006 I received the Florida Artist Book Prize for Right There, an artist’s book about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and a semi accurate account of my childhood in Michigan.
–I have taught five or six thousand teenagers about art.
–Extra Virgin Press has received support from the Knight Foundation, Cannonball Miami’s Wavemaker/Long Haul Grant, Miami Dade County Cultural Affairs, and the Miami Foundation, in its quest to bring letterpress back to Miami.
PRESS HISTORY [My very first press was] a Vandercook 4 Proof Press, Serial #13622.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Cathy and Rebecca make it possible for me to function in a letterpress world, answering far more questions than can be reasonably expected. The words on the website about setting up a letterpress shop are revelatory. Thank you Harold and Company.
SHOP (AND LIFE) TIPS I am still learning, but you will be the first to know.
WHAT’S NEXT I look forward to more printing, more books, more kids, more grant applications, and teaching new printers, so that I can run both presses every day.
A triple round of applause & thanks out to Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press for letting us take a sneak peek at his wonderful + tropical printing world!