Keeping the Printing Rhythm With Tom Virgin

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.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints on a Vandercook.

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.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints beautiful broadsides.

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.

The printing abode of Extra Virgin Press in Miami, Florida.

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.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints beautiful broadsides.

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 high schoolers letterpress printing with Tom Virgin.

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.

Tom Virgin and helper set-up Vandercook printing press.

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.

Vandercook presses inside Extra Virgin Press in Miami, Florida.

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!

Cutting Edge With Keeganmeegan & Co.

Katy Meegan and Keegan Wenkman of Keeganmeegan & Co. have grown a small idea into a large community-empowered printshop over the past six years. The power printing duo houses a love for the yesteryear production model, the smooth whirl of Vandercook, and the inspiring Portland, Oregon resident support . To find out how the vibrant printshop ticks, we rode shotgun with Keegan and it’s been one amazing adventure.

Keegan Wenkman and Katy Meegan of Keeganmeegan and Co. in their letterpress shop.

LETTERPRESS BEGINNINGS Keeganmeegan & Co. was founded in 2007. Known for hand-illustrated relief printing, Keeganmeegan has also been recognized for award-winning design and print & packaging solutions for local and global clients.

We live and work in Portland after moving out west from Minneapolis in 2005. Both of us have been printing since our teens — Katy doing Book Arts at MCBA and I did silkscreen most notably at Burlesque Of North America.

Art brought us to print, in order to duplicate our art and be an assistance in our artistic community. We’ve had the shop for 8 years now, and focus on commercial and artistic editions modeled from the job printing shop of yesteryear. We unite illustration and design with printing and die-cutting services all in house.

Keegan Wenkman washes down his Heidelberg Windmill with Katy packing up luscious letterpress goodies.

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS Katy worked at MCBA and one day she casually showed me their shop. That was it for me.

The colorful print wall of Keeganmeegan and Co.

BUSY IN THE BEAVER STATE We have a 2,500 square foot shop in SE Portland next to the iconic Burnside Bridge. It’s on the ground floor near the Towne Building and was formerly the warehouse for Blake, Moffitt & Towne Paper Company based out of San Francisco.

We still have the original payroll safe in the shop and we’re coveting seven Vandercook cylinder presses primarily used for art editioning services and experimental projects.  The rare 232p, in particular, has one largest print areas of any Vandercook, an absolutely massive 32½ -inch by 30-inch. We also employ 2 Heidelberg windmills and 4 Chandler & Price printing presses for job printing.

Type drawers, Heidelberg Windmills and the press shop, oh my!Keegan Wenkman and Katy Meegan set-up plates and letterpress posters.

PRINTING MENTORS Stumptown Printers mentored us early on, giving us business advice and direction. Midnight Paper Sales was a big inspiration. Also the crew of CC Stern Type Foundry helped with our shop up-keep.

Gorgeous, colorful examples of letterpress printed treats from Keeganmeegan & Co.

DESIGN + PRINT We are illustrators, designers, print makers, commercial and artistic printers, we are fun loving idiots for art, problem solving, and perfection.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Old books, pen and paper.  If I go online for inspiration I just spin my wheels. I do what people did before computers: think for themselves.

FULL TIME FUN We have supported ourselves for 8 years, each receiving a salary as 50/50 ownership.

PRINTING FEATS We’ve grown a small idea into a large success thus far, through hard work and being kind to people. Hence, our clients are absolutely lovely being that they are makers and thinkers alike. They make us laugh, bring us gifts, and have allowed us to keep this going strong and grow more each year.

Additionally, we’ve been able to work with a lot of artists, touring bands, comedians, and people on the forefront of our current culture.Hand-carved printing plates and a shop view at Keeganmeegan and Co.

Extraordinary attention to detail is not spared while viewing the letterpress posters of Keeganmeegan & Co.
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BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press makes the biggest poly plates available that I know of. You’ve allowed us to completely max out our Uni III / with 2 13×18 Boxcar based butted up together (take a look).

PRINTING TIPS Ask the right questions to the right people and you can get yourself far in life.  It helps to fail a lot too. Otherwise, people always ask me how I cut my linoleum blocks, my answer is black magic and podcasts. Podcasts are a lone printer’s best friend.

Letterpress ink color prints for a poster printed at Keeganmeegan & Co.

WHAT’S NEXT We will just keep going, every day is a new day with new problems to solve and chances to learn. We will also go on vacation, gotta love vacation. We didn’t take one for the first 3 years.

Huge round of thanks out to Keegan over at Keeganmeegan & Co.!