Tell us about your printing mentors: a Valentine for the people who taught us how to print.

A few months ago, we sent out a survey to a whole lot of letterpress friends asking them a whole lot of printing things. One of our favorite questions was “Who are your letterpress mentors”? The list of responses was a gushing love fest to the famous, infamous, and unknown printers alike, the people who taught us, inspired us, and stay with us. You can read the list below. So in honor of red hearts and Valentine’s, share your stories with us — who taught you a love of letterpress — and what did they teach you?

Harold Kyle of Boxcar Press talks about his first letterpress printing mentor

Barry Moser a designer, typographer, illustrator and teacher from Pennyroyal Press, shared his mentor story with us:

I got started in printing in 1968. It was a late umber November afternoon in 1969. I wish I knew the exact date, because it was a day that changed my life. When I opened the door of Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press I heard a din of sweet noise and smelled the essence of viscera of a sort known to me in some distant and obscure way. The din was the chitty-chitty-bang-bang of the big press running. The essence was the smell of oil and grease and ink and solvents. There was an antique trestle table with stacks of books on it and a model of Gutenberg’s printing press. The books were of a kind I had never seen. Hand made paper. Fine bindings. Impeccable printing. I stood there, a little uncomfortable, and feeling like I had just stepped into another world.

And I had. I had stepped into the world of the rest of my life. A life of books. In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined such a thing.

Not long after, I convinced the headmaster at the Williston Academy, where I was teaching at the time, that the school needed a printing press. Harold McGrath knew an old job printer who was hanging up his apron and wanted to sell his shop. We bought it, and with Harold’s guidance I learned how to run it and how to set type.  Harold McGrath and Leonard Baskin taught me my love of letterpress.

A long time ago McGrath was printing a bibliography of the books of Thomas Bird Mosher, the literary pirate from Maine. It was a Gehenna imprint, a couple hundred pages or so, set in ten point Bembo, printed eight up on a very large sheet. Sidney Kaplan, the editor at the Press caught a typo on a sheet that had already been printed—both sides, sixteen pages. Most folks would have let it go: the typo was a comma where there should have been a semi-colon. I mean, personally, I’d just let it stand. But not Harold McGrath. Nope. He locked up a ten-point period, all by itself on a form that measured 35 x 24 inches and printed it over the comma. Imagine:  on a sheet that was probably 23 by 35 inches. The man was a printing wizard. A true magician.

The most valuable lesson my mentors taught me and I try to pass on to others—to stick with it. To do the work to the very best of your ability and settle for nothing less. It reminds me of a very early mentor, my uncle Bob, who taught me this little ditty:

When a job is first begun
Never leave it till it’s done.
Be the labor large or small
do it well or not at all.

McGrath never took himself seriously and that rubbed off on me too.

It’s very sweet that people now think of me as a mentor.  I see myself as a servant. A guide. I think that all artists have a responsibility to teach. To pass along the knowledge that he or she has accumulated.

One last thing about my mentor—Mac was a man who was full of good humor and good will—as well as a fair amount of piss and vinegar. A man who affected no airs or pretensions no matter how grand or lofty the projects he worked on, or how vainglorious or overweening the artists and writers he worked with. He was a man who kept two feathery pom poms attached to the superstructure of his mighty Kelly 2 because they were presents from a couple of small kids, my daughters, who saw him and that venerable old press nearly every day of their lives. He was never too busy. There was never any work that was too important that he couldn’t put it down for a while to play with a kid—his, mine, anybody’s—it never made any difference to him. All children were golden, and he loved them all. This was one of the things I most admired about him. That and his generosity. He never withheld anything as he dissected and exposed the mysteries of printing to an entire generation of printers, designers, printmakers, and typographers.

When Alan Mandelbaum heard that Mac had died, he wrote to me saying that it was praise—not sadness—that resonated most in him. “laud, laud, laud—” he wrote, “how many will be grateful that Harold labored on this earth. Labored—and lives.” And he was right. There are a host of us who are grateful that Harold labored on this earth—and preeminent labor it was—but it was his laughter & generosity, and the goodness & simplicity of his heart’s affections that I admired most.

This is what Harold Kyle at Boxcar Press had to say when we asked him about his letterpress mentor:

I met Paulette Myers-Rich at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) back when I was a college student. I was working a summer job in Minneapolis at Joe’s Delicatessen, and I understood MCBA was a special place and pretty unique—so I wanted to intern there and learn about printing. MCBA was in their old downtown location. Paulette was a resident printer at the time, in charge of producing the Winter Book, MCBA’s big publishing project for the year. Even though I hadn’t printed before, I figured that I would be able to volunteer to help out printing the book. But Paulette (very kindly) said, “no, we have too many people who want to help out.” Instead, she set me up with some pied type to sort into cases. That’s how I spent my summer vacation: after work got off, I took off my gloves covered with salami grease and headed over to MCBA to get my hands covered in lead.

That first year I was there, even though Paulette had a completely full plate, she showed me how to sort type and how to set up the press, and I’m forever grateful for this. I made so many mistakes. I made every mistake, I think. It’s also the intangible things that I remember—like Paulette’s passion for teaching and passing on this craft that she loved. I was used to photographers or printmakers who were more proprietary about their craft—so this was new to me: to work with an experienced craftsperson like Paulette, very technically competent, but also very sharing about whatever she knew about the craft. Working with Paulette was my first glimpse into the warm and sharing community of letterpress printers, both at MCBA and later with all the printers I would meet through Boxcar. Well, most of them, anyway!

So what’s the most important thing I learned from Paulette, and from the other printers I got to know through MCBA (Julia Welles, Mary Jo Pauley, Chip Schilling, Michael Fallon, the list goes on)? Sharing of information is necessary to keep a craft alive. When a craft’s experts become secret or proprietary about their knowledge, they turn away talent; their craft becomes shut off from the people who will keep the craft relevant going forward. Paulette and all the other MCBA printers taught me the importance of patiently spending the time with the newbies, to show them why the craft is beautiful and necessary. Thanks Paulette! Thanks MCBA! I miss you guys.”

Finally, Art Larson of Horton Tank Graphics shared how he get his printing career started and the mentors who helped him along the way:

My printing career started in September of 1979 at the Hampshire Typothetae in Northampton, Massachusetts working with Harold P. McGrath and Barry Moser. Harold, who had been Leonard Baskin’s pressman for years, was then set up in a shop with all of the old Gehenna Press equipment. Harold was printing books and blocks for Barry’s Pennyroyal Press. Both Harold and Barry were passionate about fine printing and their enthusiasm was infectious. Harold and Barry were both unfailingly patient and encouraging to me and to the numerous other apprentices who found their way to the Typothetae. Rather than any one particular story about Harold, I think the thing that stands out for me in hindsight is what a remarkably patient teacher he was. Harold died in 2000. I continue to work with Barry on various projects.

One of Harold’s favorite sayings (and he had many) was “More impression, less ink.”

In addition to Harold and Barry, I also consider Dan Keleher of Wild Carrot Letterpress and Bruce Chandler of the Heron Press as mentors. From 1984 to 1987 I worked with Dan at his shop in the East Street studio building in Hadley. Bruce was and still is a frequent visitor. Dan and Bruce are as passionate about printing in their own ways as were Harold and Barry. I learned much and continue to learn much from them both. My shop is located upstairs in the same building as Dan’s shop. Dan and Bruce are now colleagues, but also perpetual post doc advisors of a sort.

One thing Dan is particular about is that “the ink stripe should be 8 pts”—when checking roller settings, the ink stripe left on the roller setting gauge when the rollers are adjusted correctly should be 8 pts wide.

I think my main task as a mentor is to transmit correctly the knowledge and skill of the best traditional letterpress practices to those who wish to train with me. If I can do it with a fraction of the grace and humor of those who trained me, then I’ve done a good job. So on one level this involves demonstration and instruction but it also means giving apprentices opportunities to learn these skills over time on their own, make mistakes, diagnose problems, & so on.

“Who are your printing mentors?”, we asked in a Boxcar Press survey to letterpress printers all over the place in 2011. Here’s who:

  1. Adrian Wilson
  2. Alastair Johnston
  3. Amber McMillan
  4. Amy Redmond
  5. Alec Lawson
  6. April Sheridan
  7. Art Larsen
  8. Artnoose
  9. Barbara Blumenthal
  10. Barbara Henry
  11. Barry Moser
  12. Betsy Davids
  13. Bill Berkuda
  14. Bill Kitchens
  15. Bill Moran
  16. Bob Blesse
  17. Bob Giles
  18. Bob Oldham
  19. Bob Schmidt
  20. Bonnie O’Connell
  21. Bridget O’Malley
  22. Bryan Baker
  23. Buddy Lang
  24. Carolyn Robertson
  25. Casey McGarr
  26. CB Sherlock
  27. Charles Alexander
  28. Charles Hobson
  29. Charlie Jones
  30. Chip Schilling
  31. Chris Stern
  32. Cory Clark
  33. Cynthia Thompson
  34. Dan and Brian at the Arm
  35. Dan Keleher
  36. Dan Morris
  37. Dave Seat
  38. David Comberg
  39. David Lance Goines
  40. David Wolff
  41. Denise Brady
  42. Dikko Faust
  43. Don Kilpatrick
  44. Ed Regan
  45. Elsi Vassdal-Elis
  46. Eric May
  47. Ernie Dahlin
  48. Evan Summer
  49. Frank Romano
  50. Fritz Klinke
  51. Gary N Jenks
  52. Gene Pawlowski
  53. Gerald Lange
  54. Greg Lago of Winged Bull Studio
  55. Griphogs
  56. Harry and Sandra Reese
  57. Henry Morris
  58. Hicks Brothers
  59. Howard Paine
  60. Ivan Snyder
  61. Jack Lemon
  62. Jack Stauffacher
  63. James Wehalge
  64. Jamie Mahoney
  65. Jana Pullman
  66. Jody Williams
  67. Joel at Dependable Letterpress
  68. Johanna Drucker
  69. John at Logos Graphics
  70. John Barrett
  71. John Falstrom
  72. Jules Faye
  73. Julie Chen
  74. Julie Holcomb
  75. Kathy Walkup
  76. Kent Aldrich
  77. Kevin Auer
  78. Kevin Nelson
  79. Kyle Van Horn
  80. Laura Gunnip
  81. Les Ferris
  82. Macy Chadwick
  83. Maritza Davila
  84. Mark Herschede
  85. Martin Antonetti
  86. Mary Phalen
  87. Matt Neff
  88. Michael and Winifred Bixler
  89. Michael Winship
  90. Monica Edwards Larson
  91. Muir Dawson
  92. Patrick and Willie at Swayspace
  93. Paul Foster
  94. Paul Moxon
  95. Perry Tymeson
  96. Peter Koch
  97. Peter Kruty
  98. Phil Gallo
  99. Regis Graden
  100. Regula Russelle
  101. Richard Siebert
  102. Rob at Tryst Press
  103. Robert Barnes
  104. Robert Basel
  105. Roni Gross
  106. Sara Parr
  107. Sarah Nicholls
  108. Steve Robinson
  109. Suann Song
  110. Tennille Shuster
  111. Terry Belanger
  112. Timothy Barrett
  113. Tom Balbo
  114. Vance Gerry
  115. Wendy Partridge

Share your own stories with us in the comments section below!

34 thoughts on “Tell us about your printing mentors: a Valentine for the people who taught us how to print.

  1. I apprenticed in printing from 1971 to 1973 with a 40 year pressman. Vincent “Ben” Benidict had been operating Mehile Verticals for his entire career. He refused to acknowledge the offset press capabilities. He would boast that he could “out print” those new-fangled machines anyday. He could. He taught me how to print everything from large solids to 4-color process on the Vertical. He was a stickler for make-ready. Often stopping a press run to add a piece of tissue here and there. On the day he retired, we broke for lunch, he walked twice around the V-45, hung up his apron, removed his pica gauge, handed it to me, and walked out the door. I never saw him again.

  2. Tracy Honn at Silver Buckle Press is my mentor. I’m very surprised she has not been mentioned because she is someone who has mentored many, many people. Everything I know about letterpress I learned from her. She is extremely knowledgeable and a stickler for the “proper” way to do things, yet is so, so kind. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to work with her.

  3. Actually , although there were a couple of early letterpress instructors – the major influence on me as I was beginning to print was my Art Advisor . His name was Hardy Hanson who taught at UCSC for many years. This is confirmed by another fellow printer / publisher: Felicia Rice of Moving Parts Press who also was a student of Hardy’s a few years earlier. He is remembered in loving Memorium for what he imparted to us.

  4. My introduction to printing, particularly letterpress began when I was growing up and my father Norman Cordes had a basement filled with cases of type, a Challenge proof press and guillotine cutter, a Pearl foot treadle press, and eventually a Heidelberg Windmill. Yes, I did say basement! Norman began printing strictly as a hobby and as so often happens, it eventually became a business.

    I got interested in it as a young boy (printing ink does get in your blood!) and I remember my dad gave me one drawer of something like 14 pt. Goudy or Garamond for me to use. It didn’t take me too long to get the b, d, q, and p’s all mixed up! That’s when I learned what the little notch was for on the side of the piece of type.

    When I was in about the 6th grade a classmate commissioned me to print him up some cards or tickets, which I did — and he never paid me for them. Lesson #1: get the money up front!

    When I was a Sophomore in High School my dad lost his job working for Heidelberg (of all companies!) and decided to make a full time go of the printing business, seeing that he was “over-qualified” for all the other jobs he applied for. I would help him out from time to time in the evenings or on Saturday, and the business expanded to the 2 car garage with the addition of a Linotype machine and a Davidson offset press. We also had a Smith Hoe Acorn hand press that Norman had bought when I was in the 8th grade from a gentleman who was selling off his print shop. This press was at least from 1835 and Norm also bought his collection of beautiful and very old wood type to go with it.

    When I graduated High School I worked with my Dad during the day, running the Linotype and printing orders and attended a local college in the evenings. Norman took on a part time job working for Hoffman LaRoche in the afternoons in order to have health care coverage. We continued to work out of the garage and basement until a neighbor complained and the town told us we had to either move the business out or stop doing it. So with this new incentive we rented a small corner store front in Glen Rock, NJ and began our official venture into the world of printing.

    For almost the next 30 years I had the privilege of working with Norm as the business grew and we continued to hire more help, take on additional space and get involved in aspects of the printing field that none of us could have imagined when we first started out. Sure there were times when we didn’t see eye-to-eye; I used to tell people that he and I got along so well because we could yell at each other and still love each other at the end of the day.

    Norm is retired now, but he recently moved to an Assisted Living facility right down the street from our location. Almost every day after lunch he calls me up and has me come and get him so he can spend the afternoon at our office, reading the latest printing magazines and asking if we are turning off the lights and locking the doors at the end of the day and if we are oiling the presses! But the cool thing is that two of my sons are now involved with the business and are bringing new ideas to the table that I never would have.

    So here’s to Norman, my “printing hero” – I love you Dad!

  5. Eric May taught me how to print on the letterpress, and I am not alone…Eric touched many lives with his quiet quirky ways and incredible knowledge he passed down to us. He will me missed but not forgotten!

  6. I started working as a graduate assistant in the RIT Cary Collection in 1999, under the former curator, David Pankow. I learned from David to be exacting in all aspects of book and exhibition production. He has such diverse talents that go beyond being a teacher and scholar: he can typeset a broadside, bind a book, matte a poster, or edit a manuscript. The list goes on. I think by his model, I have become proficient in many of the same things. There is never a day that I don’t use one of these skills in my job. I am indebted to him for taking me on as an apprentice of sorts in letterpress printing. I have a degree from the School of Print Media, but I learned everything from him about how to typeset a job in metal and then run and care for historical presses. I am thrilled that letterpress is making a comeback in the craft world. It makes this knowledge so relevant and irreplaceable.

  7. In 1961 I walked into Howmar Printers in Ridgewood New Jersey to see if any one of those fellows would help in getting my Printing merit badge. Boy Scouts was a big deal in Ridgewood in those days. It was the beginning of a three year relationship with Marvin Shryer who taught me everything there was to know about type setting and printing on the Heidelberg 10″ x 15″ platen press. I suppose Marvin may not be around anymore but whenever I turn on my press his image and the generous gentleman that he was, is ever present in my mind.

  8. My father, the late Joe Sargent, began teaching me the trade in 1960, when I was 12 years old. He and his brother Ben had come to the letterpress craft as teenagers in the 1920s, and though both were amateur printers, both were lifelong masters and lovers of the printer’s art. Our shop still includes the C&P 10×15 Old Series press the Sargent boys bought nearly 85 years ago, as well as hundreds of fonts of type from their shop. I can’t think of a more wonderful gift my dad could have given me than the printer’s trade, and I am proud to be passing it on to my own son. “When a boy gets printer’s ink on his shirt, it usually takes three or four generations to wash it out!”

  9. It’s interesting and wonderful to see the thread of inspiration, knowledge, and craft that has been passed from one printer to another future printer. Being older than most, I see that my mentors are not listed, which has prompted me to write. I learned letterpress printing in San Francisco from Clifford Burke at Cranium Press and was greatly inspired by Andrew Hoyem at his Arion Press along with Saul and Lillian Marks in Los Angeles. Later, after we were making handmade paper at Twinrocker, in Brookston, IN, Howard and I got to know Claire Van Vliet with her Janus Press (Vermont), first as a customer, who became a great friend and inspiration. Henry Morris of Bird and Bull Press in Pennsylvania was also a tremendous inspiration , both for the quality of the handmade paper he made in his basement and for the quality of his letterpress printing. And last but certainly not least, perhaps most, for us and many, many others, was Walter Hamady with his Perishable Press in Madison, WI.

  10. Tim Buttler of Quality Press in San Diego, California. Fine Master printer, showed me the art of movable type, this craft emended in all countries is loosing ground but Juan Torres and his Son Israel Torres of Mexico City are my reborn letter press partners in Abeja Roja Press here in the City, I´m more than grateful for such company during press work. Un gran saludo a Box car press .
    Thank You, Santiago M.

  11. I have fabulous mentors—Betsy Davids, Mary Laird, Alan Hillesheim and Fred Voltmer. I told Mary Laird, of Quelquefois Press, I found a great Vandercook SP20 press but I couldn’t buy it unless she was willing to mentor me. She agreed 16 years ago and is still my inspiration and guide. Alan Hillesheim of Digger Pine Press is also always there for me. When I call him he reaches into his vast experience and helps me trouble shoot my problems. Fred and Barbara Voltmer of Havilah Press cut my first set of furniture and advised me on equipment and type for a printing project I set up for middle school kids.They continue to support me from near and far. I now live in a rural area of Oregon and am the only letterpress printer in the region. So mentors are essential. I am inspired by their work and their dedication to this glorious field. Long live letterpress!

  12. I didn’t see the original request, but this is a great opportunity to introduce new generations to some of the leaders of the letterpress revival. While I have several memories of printers I want to introduce a printer who made his own type Paul Hayden Duensing. I first saw one of his typefaces in Maine in a small print-shop at the Sabbath Day Lake Shaker community. Later I was treated to the fine printing that Paul practiced at his private press using the excellent typefaces that he designed, cut and cast for hand composition. It was amazing to see what he accomplished. We would talk about details, such as which was the better type 10 pt or 9 pt Monotype Bembo. Later Paul brought me meet Stan Nelson and as soon as I saw a printing punch cut by hand I was determined to cut type by hand. I have never looked sideways to faster techniques, the books I have printed with types made from my hand-cut punches are a delight that is unequaled, and every time I find myself remembering the example set by Paul Hayden Duensing.

  13. I was lucky enough to grow up as an assistant or “printer’s devil” to my Grandad, Mark Gibson. He was a hobby letterpress printer. He printed menus and placecards for Mizzou football game parties. He printed invitations for my birthday party and pieces to trade in the APA bundles. He served as the Treasurer for APA and saved every piece of paper he received. I love looking through the bundles and seeing what folks were printing with.

    My second mentor was Ruthann Godollei at Macalester College. She taught me the right way to work in a teaching print shop. The right way to fold my rag, the safe way to approach a press and the importance of plants. She set me loose to do an independent letterpress project each semester and helped me organize a study away my senior year.

    I loved interning with Stan Nelson at the National Museum of American History. We went through acquisitions from the ATF sale and did printing demonstrations in the the Graphic Arts Hall. I loved casting type and I loved 19th century printing. Most of all it cemented my love of teaching and working with the public.

    I learned so much from the teachers at Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Each artist working at the press has a vision and method for printing. I find it fascinating to work alongside someone else and see how they approach a project.

    Many, many thanks to all of those who take the time to teach and share their knowledge. xoxo Allison

  14. Well, my first letterpress mentor was my machinist dad, Ben Jelinek. Ben had a little 3×5 press in our basement in Loves Park, Illinois. With his friend Tom Wojahn’s drawings turned into blocks, and type scrounged from sales and junk shops, by night my dad printed up business cards, notepads and also display cards for his philatelic collections.
    At UW Madison Raymond Gloeckler taught us art students to create wood engravings and how they could be incorporated with type into broadsides and books. Ray Gloeckler bought Ben’s little press after he died back in 1974. I still love typography and printmaking, and still really miss my creative, sweet dad.

  15. Actually there were two gents that got me started.
    Dave Knauer had an 8 x 12 C&P which he used to make beer labels for his hem brewed beer. He was living in Irvington NY at the time and had a view of the Hudson River. He called his brewery efforts the High On the Hudson Brewery and his press the High on the Hudson Press.
    The other was a grand old gent named Stu Dobson. Stu had several presses but taught my wife Mattie and I how to set type and print personal stationary on his Pilot.
    We moved on from there, adopting Stu’s policy as our house policy, “Don’t ask me to print for you, come and print for yourself.” In the 30 years since we have adopted this policy we have had over 50 friends come and print everything from wedding invites, to party invites, personal exposes’ and birth announcements.
    They always leave with a sense of accomplishment, a better appreciation for the craft and an apron the reads, “Left is deft at the Southpaw Printers”

  16. I discovered a group of amazing people at the Richmond Hill Book Arts Guild in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. I showed up in the basement shop in 2005 with an idea and not a single clue of what letterpress was all about. Each member patiently taught me to set type, helped with the furniture, lent me ink, talked paper, cleaned rollers and stayed late, long after they finished their own projects, to help me with mine. I am so enamoured by this group of kind-hearted and selfless artists. They are passionate about printing and freely help anyone who is interested, without expectations for something in return. Cameron, Jessica, Thomas, Stephen, Nadia and Rainer, are my letterpress mentors. I need to also add the ghost of Donn Purdy to the list, whom I sadly never met, but whom I know is looking down at us as we happily print away in his shop.

  17. I’m still very very amateur as a printer (in practice more often enthusiast than practitioner), but I owe almost the entirety of my graphic arts and printing education to my late grandfather, Charles Frank Remein, who worked for a small print company in Rochester, NY (originally the John P. Smith company), mostly doing an array of jobs for Kodak and others, and also ran a small business out of his own basement doing bus. cards, small jobs, etc., on one tiny (I think it was a Kelsey) press and a slightly larger automated feed press. Surprised at my interest late in his life, he talked a great deal, if haphazardly, about precision, patience, doing things the right way, etc.–and gave me a number of his old press manuals, textbooks, histories of paper, type manuals, and the like–a gold mine of a mid-century printing library.

    In addition to C. Remein, I owe a great deal to my pal Matthew Lee, who works for a design firm in PA, and who taught me most anything I know about type.

  18. I am so happy that both Walter Hamady and Tracy Honn were mentioned. It is all their fault that I am a lover of the Vandercook. I took many classes from Walter in graduate school and met Tracy Honn when Walter took us to Silver Buckle Press for a tour. After Tracy critiqued a group show I was in I knew I had to get to know this woman. I badgered her until she hired me at Silver Buckle and loved every minute of working with her. Tracy is an incredible fountain of information and always willing to share. She is an amazing teacher who has continued to mentor me, even 13 years after grad school. I cherish my relationship with both Tracy and Walter and think of them both every time I ink up Virginia, my no. 4 Vandercook.

  19. I was fortunate enough to be one of Amanda Degener’s first interns along with Bridget O’Malley, now of Cave Paper, when Amanda was the first paper artist-in-residence at Minnesota Center for Book Arts in 1985. I was all about paper back in those days, but the paper studio adjoined the print shop, where Allen Kornblum of Toothpaste Press—now Coffee House Press, was the first printer in residence. He and his trusty intern Kent Aldrich (Nomadic Press) were having too much fun running those presses, and hand-setting type appealed to the writer in me. So, after taking a break to study librarianship and creative writing, I returned to MCBA in 1990 and signed on with Gaylord Schanilec (Midnight Paper Sales Press)as a Winter Book intern.

    Gaylord was an experienced, but still emerging letterpress printer and illustrator in those days. He had me setting type by hand the first day. There were no training sessions, but rather, mini-tutorials for each task, and then I just did it. It was all about doing the work. It was the best way to learn and coming from a skilled, working-class craft background (my father was a journeyman machinist with apprentices) it was a way of learning that I understood. The book was “Winter Prairie Woman” by Meridel le Sueur. We printed the text and wood engravings on dampened paper. I learned so much on that project. When Meridel came in to sign the edition, she said “I want to meet the workers who made this book” We were introduced and she said, “I’m going to sleep with this book under my pillow.” It transformed me to hear that. And, by then I was hooked. I stayed on and worked as an intern for Gaylord for another year or so, and eventually began my own book projects. When a #3 Vandercook became available, Gaylord went with me to look it over and see if it was fit to restore. It was, and I worked on it in my studio in the old warehouse district of Mpls. where Gaylord later took a studio one floor up from mine. Many times at night, I’d walk down the hall and I could hear his Vandercook cylinder rolling as he printed. It was great having another printer in the house, but Gaylord wasn’t just another printer. He was generous and patient, a mentor and a friend. If I had problems with make-ready, I could run upstairs and he’d help me troubleshoot by looking at a proof. I never expected him come downstairs, as he was in the middle of his work, but he always allowed me to knock on his door when I needed help. I hated to interrupt him, though and that’s what made me a good printer, I learned to figure it out for myself in time and just did the work.

    Eventually Gaylord moved out to western Wisconsin with his wife and daughter, and he now has an international reputation for his work. He has a prolific output, not just in quantity, but quality. His books are astonishing examples of craft, design and content. They’re a high-water mark for someone like me. Not sure if I’ll ever get there, but the thing I learned from him is to just do the work. It’s how you get good. Hard work, imagination, community, studying and then teaching—passing on what you know. When I eventually became the printer-in-residence myself, I felt such a debt of gratitude to both Amanda and Gaylord, and I’m so proud and happy for my interns who have gone on to make fabulous work and contributions to letterpress. Beyond rewarding!

    And even though I was initially concerned watching Harold and Debbie drive east hauling tons of letterpress equipment with them, I knew I’d hear from him again because he got hooked too. He went from dissing pied type to transforming the way letterpress is practiced today, helping to launch it’s revival. It’s a way of life, this letterpress stuff. Nothing about it is to be taken lightly.

    Harold, thanks for letting us honor our mentors, & thanks for your appreciation of me, but please know I’m also honored by you through your work, your contributions and your ethic. You’ve done so much on your own and I know you’re mentoring too. Reading all these stories, I know that letterpress has a good, long life ahead and you’re a big part of that. Thanks!

    • Great to hear from you, Paulette! Debbie was excited when I pulled a letter of yours that I had printed from my desk and she put that up on the blog this morning. Thanks for all your help, and also for sharing your story of working with Gaylord. Was this the building on Traffic Street, where Gaylord was upstairs? I hadn’t known/remembered that.

  20. I was introduced to letterpress printing at The University of Maine at Machias by Professor Bernie Vinzani. Bernie definitely needs to be added to your list of printing mentors. We printed on a Vandercook Press in the Book Arts Studio and it’s because of his expertise that the program at UMM exists and thrives. He’s a wealth of knowledge and his love of the book and of letterpress printing is infectious. I am in awe of his talents and feel fortunate to have studied under his always patient tuteledge. Thanks, Bernie! And thanks, Boxcar Press for the opportunity to share my story!

  21. On Valentine’s Day this, from Walter Hamady (appearning in the exhibition catalog “Made in the Midwest: Walter Hamady’s 6451 Students”), seems an apt reflection on mentorship:
    “Pedagogical structure has been simple: The old boy motormouths about what is to be done and by when; show and tell; demonstrations; questions; go do it; critique; go do some more. . .There are differences of opinion amongst all eye-witnesses to any event. As the only spectator of the whole unravelling sequence it is easy to say that it is the journey, after all, not the destination that matters. It is the travelling that finds us all. Though the room sits there it is like a train in my head with people getting on and getting off like in Toby Olson’s ‘Reading.’ Some passengers shine in their integrity and humanity, others merely egregious netherthroats. All a challenge in one way or another. All have left pieces here with me and many, many, without their knowing it , have taken a piece of my heart away.”

  22. These are all wonderful mentorship stories, and point to how much letterpress has enjoyed a revival over the past few decades. I learned to print back in the dark ages (also known as “the 1970’s” at Yale University, which at the time had one of the most extraordinary assemblages of letterpress mentors, advisors and inspirations ever assembled. Some of them such as Harold Hugo, have already been mentioned by others. But no list of letterpress mentors would be complete without the following names (in no particular order) from the mid-late 20th century beginnings of the letterpress Renaissance:

    Carl Purington Rollins (before my time, but ubiquitous in spirit)
    J. Ben Lieberman (likewise)
    Green Allen
    Alvin Eisenman
    George D. Vail
    John Hersey
    Dale Roylance
    Howard Gralla
    Lance Hidy
    Con Howe
    Richard Rose
    Rocky Stinehour
    Joe Blumenthal
    Stephen Harvard
    Polly Ladamocarski
    Richard Minsky
    Doug Wolf and Carol Sturm
    Raleigh D’Adamo

    I will remain forever indebted to these, and the many others who have served as my mentors and guardian letterpress angels!

  23. Pingback: Advice for letterpress printers: a letter from the machinist’s daughter. at Boxcar Press – Us

  24. My mentors have stood next to me and some have hovered in memory only. In the bookbinding realm, Joan Soppe patiently showed 14 year-old me how to bind a book, marble paper, measure twice and cut once, and find a way to express myself in 3 dimensions. Harry Duncan’s meticulously handset books line the shelves of my parents’ library so I grew up with some of the best fine press specimens at my fingertips. When it came to letterpress, Dan Morris and Bryan Baker coached me through the early steps and were generous ears as I jerked through growing my work into a full time business. And my mom, printmaker and draftsman extraordinaire, has always set the benchmark for my drive and aesthetics. Having a press in the living room while you’re growing up never hurts, either, and I’m repeating that tradition for our daughter now.

  25. Morgan Calderini and Meg Turner first introduced me to letterpress and taught me to print at the AS220 printshop in Providence, RI as well as Suzi Cozzens at RISD. John Barrett (who was mentioned) at Letterpress Things in Chicopee, MA answered all my questions and guided me as I bought my first press!

  26. The studio where Gaylord and I and about 40 other artists worked was located at 700 No. Washington in the North Warehouse District of Minneapolis. Back then it was still a working warehouse/factory building, with Mill City Brush as a tenant. They made natural bristle brooms. Once in a while, the place would get a bit smokey when the bristles would catch fire in the heat treatment ovens. There was a rail spur directly behind the building for the loading dock for trains to pull up alongside. It was a perfect building for a letterpress printer. We had an indoor loading dock you could drive a semi-tuck in, concrete ramps and a lot of heavy duty freight elevators that took the weight of our presses. Frank, the forklift driver would happily take a heavy load of something for us and move it in place. It was a working building, well used. It’s all condos now, with a coffee shop where the loading dock used to be.

    We moved a few blocks to the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Arts, at N. 3rd Ave and Traffic St., which is where I took the name Traffic Street Press. David and I now live and work in our own building, a former auto garage built in 1919. It’s on a bluff of the Mississippi River, just outside of downtown St. Paul. It’s a 6000 sq. ft. one-story brick building. The thing that’s hard for people to understand is that we live this way because of the equipment, not because we think it’s cool to live in a warehouse and I don’t ever want to have to move all my studio ever again. Three times is enough.

  27. I will always remember a few who could be mentors. There was Jack Stimson, a retired job printer who gave me my first press (1911 C&P) in 1980. There was André Chaves of Clinker Press who generously provided his garage space and more presses that allowed me to grow my business. He was not an elder, but we learned together and we helped each other through some of our trials.
    I should also mention Bob Paduano, the angel repairman and craftsman of Southern California. He got so many of us small press people out of jams over the years, sometimes not even accepting a payment no matter how we tried.
    The real dispenser of knowledge, however, was Regis Graden. I could call him or go to him with any problem and he would always start his answer with, “It’s either the press, the ink, or the operator (or sometimes the weather).” Regis had a genuine love for anyone who practiced his craft and trade and the idea of competition never entered his mind. He was always available to answer a tough question or even show you tricks in his shop. He was always gentle, always funny, always humble, and the many press operators who showed up at his funeral in 2006 all had their own stories to tell.
    When I think of Regis, I always think of the lines from this old Jerry Jeff Walker song:
    He was the kind to pay no mind when he was bumped into
    He was the kind to let you find out all that he knew
    He never got uptight, never started a fight, never threw so much as a dart
    He was a man after my own heart.

  28. Thank you Scott,

    I sometimes google “Regis Graden” when I am really missing my dad. I read your post just now and was a bit choked up (in a good way). I’m glad you remeber him so well after these 6 years. Your words about him are a kind tribute to my sweet, modest, talented dad. Thank you. I was lucky to have him as a dad and mentor and I miss him so much. He’s smiling at me right now thinking I’m silly to get choked up over him- so humble and so good a man.

    Best regards, Margaret Graden Braun

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