On June 10th, Harold Kyle (president of Boxcar Press), Carrie Valenzuela (a Boxcar printer) and I started on a pilgrimage to the town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, to immerse ourselves in the 2015 Type On The Cob conference. This Ladies of Letterpress conference is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with others in our printing community. I hope you enjoy my abbreviated travel diary of a time well spent filling my letterpress tank.
Day 1 – Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Thunderstorms with torrential rain and lightning strikes make for delayed flights. We crawl along in our car with limited visibility and pass over what feels like a narrow bridge that spans the Mississippi River. Harold provided Iowa music on his phone to get us in a Midwest frame of mind. We reach the hotel in the early morning hours.
Day 2 – Thursday, June 11, 2015. We sit down with Paul Moxon and Arie Koelewyn at breakfast — both are instructors for the workshops. Arie, from Michigan, mentions that Harold once taught Arie’s daughter at Syracuse University. Arie refers to the early years of Boxcar Press when Harold had time to teach printing classes. This was just the first of many, many times during the weekend where we were reminded of these little connections that exist within our letterpress collective.
For the morning, we are off to the Printer’s Fair museum at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion park. The Printer’s fair is a printer’s paradise.
There are presses that I have never heard of (over 40 of them) and we will have the opportunity to print on many of them over the next three days. I set up the Boxcar Press table with t-shirts and pressroom supplies before the morning presentations start. All of the attendees are coming in for the day’s activities and there are so many familiar names which will soon become familiar faces.
The schedule for Thursday and Friday includes presentations in the morning and workshops in the afternoon. Today is Part 1 of Letterpress Costing and Product Development with Harold, followed by Vandercook History with Fritz Klinke of NA Graphics (and his sidekick, Paul Moxon).
The info is very relevant, the lively discussions benefit everyone, we gain an appreciation for the proofing press and the day starts off on a great high note.
Lunch means pairing up with new friends and checking out the modest offerings in Mt. Pleasant. We run into other printers everywhere and our groups grow while we eat. Then it’s back for afternoon workshops.
Harold is spending time with an iron hand press, a Reliance from the 1890’s. Carrie is elbow to elbow with Fritz and Paul at the Vandercook class and I am learning Poster Printing where I am so excited to have access to drawers and drawers of wood type/borders/ornaments.
No polymer for this girl today. However, I take heed of Carrie’s advice to not get carried away pulling out drawer after drawer or I will never get anything set up into my galley tray to print. Rick Holdt is a great mentor for the day and after 3 hours, I have pulled my first poster proof. I am on a printer’s high when I see my results. I love setting things up in the galley and love, love, love Rick’s use of magnets to lock it up. Brilliant! We are using the Wesel hand press and this baby takes some serious muscle to pull the arm.
I am pleased with my workshop choice but there were so many other classes on this day. Jim Daggs has a large crowd for his Windmill Operation workshop and Scott Moore is filling the air with the sweet smell of wood while his class cuts their own wood type.
Arie is teaching printers to look at all manner of objects with a new eye for using them in their printing. At the end of the day, there is great reluctance to clean up and stop.
For supper, again, we find other printers to get better acquainted. And when we finally have to leave the restaurants, many of us find our way back to the hotel and to the Letterpress party room. We are all becoming great friends, and despite differences in age or level of experience, there is no barrier here to the conversation. The stories fly fast and furious.
Day 3 – Friday, June 12, 2015. Back to the museum. I am manning the Boxcar Press table and wishing I had brought more Chandler and Price T-shirts. This is far and away a C&P crowd with the Windmill being the next choice.
Presentations include Part 2 of Product Development where Harold covers (among other things) how to determine when it’s time to retire or “kill” a product. A tough decision when you are the designer and emotionally invested in your design.
Another interesting topic was Printing on the Fringe. This covers fine press books, printing with found objects, and broadside and ephemera printing. There is a great wrap up with a panel discussion on Designing for Letterpress with panelists Peter Fraterdeus, Kathryn Hunter, Sarah McNally, and Sara McCoy. The information sharing and helpful ideas are exhilarating.
After a lunch break, we come back eager to learn in our next workshops. Harold is being instructed by Tim Fay on the Linotype, Carrie is at the Windmill troubleshooting class and I am printing on the Platen press, a beautiful Gordon press.
Our instructor Sarah McCoy passes on a jewel of advice she heard from Judith Berliner of Circle Press. It’s called Hands Up. When you are feeding paper into a platen press and it doesn’t feed properly, don’t reach into your press to try to snatch back that paper. Put your hands up and step back. No print job is worth endangering your hands. The class practices and has to use this a few times while we all work the Gordon.
Other classes that day are Die Cutting on the Platen Press, adventures with the Ludlow Typograph and Printmaking with Dampened Paper.
One of the best parts of this conference location and the generosity of the overseers of the Printer’s Fair is that you can ask questions about any of the presses and very likely get hands on instruction. People can move from one class to another to see what others are doing. A demonstration of thermography lures everyone over for a try. With our new knowledge, a few of us try our hand at T-shirt printing on the Wesel Hand press. We are like kids with new toys to see and not sure where to go next.
For an afternoon treat, Rick Van Holdt holds a drawing for over 20 sets of type. The lucky winners walk away with some great fonts although it might send some of us over the baggage weight limit. Que sera and whatever!
That evening, we enjoy a catered banquet. People move from table to table to cement new friendships. Many in the group go back to the Printer’s Hall to finish projects or peer into the workings of a press they have discovered. We don’t want the evening to end, so we troop to the letterpress party room where the storytelling is spirited and the banter pokes fun.
Day 4 – Saturday – June 13, 2015 One last day at Printer’s Hall. While some are setting up for the Printer’s Fair, others are prepping the Miehle. This press weighs 30,000 pounds and from 1907-1961 it was used for printing money and bonds at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
This press is a wonder to watch and listen to as it churns and bumps and clacks. It fascinates everyone and what a treat to see it sending a printed press sheet 25×36 through.
All printer’s fairs and swap meets are magic, as you nose around other people’s things and find items you never knew you needed.
Handcrafted paper goods beckon. There is always one more printers block or set of type you find that you can’t live without. I am tickled to buy a classroom manual titled “Everyday Arithmetic for Printers” – copyright 1929. There are problems to solve…if a printed page is 420 points long, how many inches long is the page?
The final winners of the Silent Auction are announced. Over $800 was raised for scholarships from this event, so that is very satisfying. One by one people pack up and head home. There is a reluctance to leave this place where the energy and enthusiasm for our letterpress craft is so strong. Some will see each other again at the upcoming Chicago Wayzgoose. It is an amazing time when letterpress printers get together and the Ladies of Letterpress group, through the efforts of Kseniya Thomas and Jessica White, make it an adventure and an incredible learning experience.
Heartfelt thanks to the gentlemen of the Printer’s Museum for their care and expertise with this treasure of fine presses and equipment. See you at the next Conference!