Let the Show Begin: A Look at Sideshow Press

The warmth of the South Carolina sun follows us in as we enter Virginia Gregg’s brightly lit printing space, Sideshow Press, located just a stone’s throw away from historic Charleston. Virginia greets us with a smile that lasts from the moment we start the fabulous tour on through the curious conversation threading from her Great Dane, Lulu, organization advice, and of course her gorgeous letterpress work!

THE PRESSES We have 3 presses total:  a 12 x 18” C&P, Vandercook No. 4, and a 10 x 15” Heidelberg Windmill

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP 700 square feet

THE LOCATION Located in historic downtown Charleston, our small shop is just around the corner from King Street. You can find us nestled in a small alley off Cannon Street. You can’t miss our bright yellow doors. Our space is crisp and clean, with great natural light…and paper everywhere!

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP The sound of presses running [is out favorite thing]. Besides the presses, we have lots of found objects we’ve gathered from our grandmother’s attics, antique stores and travels abroad.  They serve as inspiration for designs, techniques or texture. Our ceilings are about 14 ft. high so we never feel cramped or crowded. It’s nice to have that extra air around us filled with natural light. It’s pretty calming and inspiring!

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE Just the three of us! And sometimes Lulu, a 130lb Great Dane that comes to hang out every now and then.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL The line board we use to measure straightness. Can’t live without it!

FAVORITE INK We use VanSon rubber-based inks mostly. Currently we are using a lot of grays since they go with everything. That way the little pops of color really stand out!

SOLVENT OF CHOICE We use odorless mineral spirits for wash ups. On the Vandercook, we’ll run make ready sheets between the roller system to extract as much ink as possible before wash up.  And we let the press do some of the work for us by adding wash while its still rolling.  When the rollers stop rolling, you can start to clean.

BASE AND PLATE OF CHOICE We switched to the Boxcar base format and photopolymer plating about 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. We found it to be much more accurate, provides better impression quality and the polymer plates are so easy to store, reuse and cut and rearrange as needed.  One time we had a funny typo, with the phrase “to the mooon and back”, we’ll that’s an easy fix with a little poly-type surgery and we were back in business.

OIL OF CHOICE  Durofilm R&O 150

WHAT TYPE OF RAGS DO YOU CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSES WITH We use the boxed Scott Shop Rags for press wash ups.

FLOORING MATERIAL Our floors are concrete, painted gray. Of course!

FLOOR PLAN TIPS Keep it organized!

PIED TYPE We don’t really have/use much in the way of pied type.  We have a little hanging around.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE We use lots of storage boxes and shelves to maximize our small space. Since our ceilings are so tall, we just keep going up instead of out.

PRINTING ADVICE When setting up, make one adjustment at a time.  When having a problem, mechanical or while printing, start by looking at the simplest thing first and move up from there.

Big round of thanks to Sideshow Press for giving us a tour of their space today!

Boxcar Talk With Jessica Peterson

We’ve all heard the old adage that you should never mix business with pleasure, but Jessica Peterson, founder of The Southern Letterpress & Paper Souvenir would delightfully debate that. She’s built a business creating fine quality letterpress posters, cards, and printed goodies from her unusually narrow studio and in just three years, she’s cultivated a rich print media history to match her passion. A former fellow Central New Yorker, she’s weaved her printing prowess through three different states, creating a body of print work that caters to the art of letterpress. Here, we got a chance to catch Jessica between runs and to find out why Art Night in Northpoint, Alabama is extraordinary.

Boxcar talk with Jessica Peterson from The Southern Letterpress
SOUTHERN CHARM
I run The Southern Letterpress in Northport, Alabama. It is the narrowest print shop in the country: 6 feet wide and a city block long. In it, there are 52 cases of type, a basic bookbindery, a photo polymer plate maker and a Vandercook SP-15 printing press. I’m a book artist and letterpress printer, originally from Rochester, New York. I’ve been making artists’ books and multiples since 1994, and letterpress printing since 2006. My collaborator Bridget Elmer and I are building The Southern Letterpress to provide letterpress artwork, products and printing to undeserved areas in the Southeast. I work in Northport, Alabama, and Bridget is setting up shop in St. Petersburg, Florida.

LETTERPRESS PASSION I took a weekend class at The Center for Book Arts in New York because I wanted to print a book with beautiful text. I had been making digitally printed artists’ books and multiples, but when I saw the level of craft involved in letterpress, and how great the type looked (especially compared to a digital print), I was hooked. I soon left my day job in commercial print production in New York City to move to Alabama where I studied letterpress as part of my MFA in Book Arts at the University of Alabama. Since then, letterpress printing has slowly dominated my life and has become the impetus for many major life decisions. Printing is what keeps me grounded, especially now that I own like 3000 pounds of letterpress stuff.

INKING UP IN THE HEART OF DIXIE My print shop in located in historic downtown Northport, Alabama. The space used to be an alley between buildings which someone put a roof over and made into a long, narrow building. Before I moved in, the space was used as an art gallery, a lunch counter and a newspaper office. I’m across the street from The City Cafe, which has one of the best meat and three lunches. The Southern is next to a locally owned and very well stocked hardware store, Anders. Kentuck, an amazing art museum, is one block away.

I am part of Northport’s monthly Art Night. I typeset a simple, one color, text-based broadside, and invite everyone in the community to come try out the Vandercook and print one copy for free. The idea is that if you visit the shop every Art Night, you slowly accumulate a portfolio of prints for free. I started the print shop in Columbus, Mississippi, one floor above a still-printing newspaper press. The name of The Southern came from the first newspaper printed in Columbus, in the 1850’s.

PRINTING MENTORS Glenn House Sr., Joan Lyons, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Sarah Bryant, Jessica White, Bridget Elmer, Emily Tipps, Walter Hamady (Hamady is a mythical mentor, because I am mentored by looking at his work… I’ve never actually met him) and Steve Miller.

Boxcar talk with Jessica Peterson from The Southern Letterpress

THE DAILY GRIND I like to collect narratives, and print them typographically. I can’t draw (even after years of art school) so I love letterpress because I can use printed words to create image. The narratives I collect range from a simple quote to a whole story. For example, I have a postcard that reads “short haul”. This is a phrase from Gordo, Alabama used to describe the process of moving a large and heavy object a short distance, as in “I’m going to short haul this Vandercook across the street right now.” I also collect longer narratives about a range of topics: race in the United States, hurricanes and forgotten places. I make these narratives into artists’ books. Cause and Effect, which I wrote, made the paper for, designed and printed, describes how I learned about my connection to the 1964 race riot in Rochester, New York while living in Alabama.

Boxcar talk with Jessica Peterson from The Southern Letterpress

FULL TIME FUN I am a designer and printer. My goal is for my day job to be printing, both commercially and as an art practice.

Part of the challenge of working in an area without much letterpress or art is that you have to introduce your potential clients to the medium, and teach them about why they should want letterpress printing. I sell my artist’s books to special collections, and my prints in area stores. Right now, I’m working on a line of souvenir postcards for Columbus, Mississippi and Northport, Alabama, two places that have tourists, but no postcards. I teach book arts, graphic design and letterpress to make ends meet.

Boxcar talk with Jessica Peterson from The Southern Letterpress

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I found my Vandercook SP-15 in 2009 in the basement of an old farmhouse in New Jersey, where it was sitting disassembled in about 10 different parts for the previous 20 years.

It was very dirty and rusty, and no one knew if it would even work. The only way to get it out of the basement was to lift each piece through a small 1 foot by 3 feet basement window. I had pieces shipped down to Gordo, Alabama where I was living. I spent a year and a half removing rust and cleaning the parts, and figuring out how to put the pieces back together. Through that process, I learned how Vandercooks work. I know my press very well.

SPREADING THE ART OF LETTERPRESS I am proudest of how I got my press and my work. I try to use my press and printing to serve my community in some way. The places where I live don’t have a great deal of access to art, graphic design, typography. Sometimes I miss living in a big liberal city like New York City, but I am proud of the work I do in Alabama and Mississippi to spread art and printing.

BOXCAR’S ROLE My Boxcar base! I like to print artists’ books on handmade paper, and photopolymer plates make that process feasible.

My last book, Ma’Cille’s Museum of Miscellanea, was 80 pages, and about 14,000 words. Without photopolymer plates to print the text with, I would still be typesetting today. Also, even though I’ve adopted the South, I will always have my upstate New York rust belt pride, and therefore I love supporting a company in Syracuse.

Boxcar talk with Jessica Peterson from The Southern Letterpress

SHOP TIPS I think no matter what, you have to keep printing and keep finding things that you are interested in printing.

COMING SOON The Southern Letterpress will grow, and succeed. I am really excited.  (I’m also excited about figuring out how to get around Alabama football merchandising licenses and copyright so that I can print a bunch of Crimson Tide items for the fall football session. Roll Tide!)

A huge rolling round of thanks out to Jessica of Paper Souvenir for letting us get a glimpse of her letterpress finesse!

The Letterpress Roundtable, Part II: Letterpress love affairs

For our second letterpress roundtable discussion, we asked some printers we admire to tell us about their favorite press to print on (and don’t spare the details!). The stories are sweet, poetic, and inspiring. Read these responses and then we’d love to hear in the comments about your own love affair with a beloved press.

Todd Thyberg of Angel Bomb Design: My most widely used and favorite press at Angel Bomb is a Heidelberg Windmill which I’ve named Kaiser. I purchased it in 2009 from a printer who had advertised it for sale on Craigslist. I wasn’t on the lookout for a particular press, but I had been using a Chandler and Price for all my printing and wanted to be able to produce higher quantities of printing at a faster pace so I was keeping my eyes open for a good production press. Kaiser is a rock solid workhorse and a marvel of German engineering with an almost Rube Goldbergian sense of complexity. Kaiser had been relatively well taken care of but was filthy and several pounds of oil soaked paper needed to be removed from his innards before being used. His serial number is 104012E, placing his build date at 1954. He bears a badge stating “Made in the U.S. Zone of Germany” which reminds me of the Cold War era where spies lurked in dark corners and the world was a very different place. I use Kaiser to print small and large runs as well as die cut and he is always a hit with open studio events; the chug of the air pump powering the suction is like a siren song to passersby who get drawn in and are amazed at this old equipment that is still being used. Considering that this press was designed around the time of World War II and is still working today creates in me a sense of awe of how things used to be built and joy that I get to use him most every day.


Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press: I’ve recently retired from printing, but the best press I ever ran was my Vandercook Universal IV (SN 21497). It took a sheet measuring 32-7/8 wide by 29-1/2 tall—which was just about large enough for the books I was printing. Not only did it seem to be free of the usual problems that often plague power Vandercooks, but the enormous size of the cylinder and bearers cut down makeready time. Whereas I would spend tons of time making complicated tissue makereadies on my SP-20 and Universal I, there was just no need to do so on this big press. In fact, once I installed this Universal IV, I rarely used the two smaller presses as they weren’t worth the bother. And as the Universal IV was a power press, I was able to print twice as many forms per day without being exhausted and in pain when I crawled into bed. Of course, it took much longer to clean up the Universal IV, so I suppose the press wasn’t perfect. It was close, though. Now it’s with Art Larson at Horton Tank Graphics, and I hope Art finds the press to be as life-improving as I did.


Thomas Leech of Palace of the Governors Press: It was a tough call, but out of loyalty I have to say that my favorite press is my own 8×12 Chandler & Price Old Style that I’ve had since 1979. It’s not the best press I’ve ever run, but it is like a member of my family. The serial number is 26099, which according to the APA website puts its year of manufacture as 1890 – old enough to be my grandfather. It is driven by a leather belt and ancient motor that hums like a lullaby. Its comforting hum and rhythmic clanks put my kids to sleep when it lived below their bedroom.

I’ve owned it now for a quarter of its lifetime. I bought it from a guy who bought it from his brother-in-law, who bought it from a deaf man who printed cards with the American Sign Language alphabet. I still have a photoengraving of the manual hand signs, and printed it again only last year.

On November 23, 2008 the automatic counter, which I’ve never set back to zero, and which only counts to 99,999, turned over for the tenth time, which means that it had printed one million hand-fed impressions: business cards, book covers, birth announcements, wedding invitations, change of address notices, broadsides, poems, keepsakes, memorials, graduation announcements, wedding and baby shower invitations, clothing tags, bar mitzvah invitations, tickets, Christmas cards, Rosh Hashanah cards, art show invitations, book plates, keepsakes, and facsimiles.

While in my possession the press has printed under the names of The Fine Mess Press, the San Miguel Paper Workshop, the Smokebrush Press, and most recently, the Press at the Palace of the Governors. When a major building repair was required here at the Palace the press came back to my house, which felt something like having a grown child move back home. I regret I don’t have a photo to share of this press.


Eileen Madden of Evanston Print and Paper: That’s kind of like asking which of your children you like best. I’d have to say my favorite press to print on is the one I get to print on the least. Our big Vandercook 325 – serial number 6086. It’s my very first press. I bought it in 2007 from Columbia College. That’s where I learned to print, and I never saw anyone use it while it was there. It was mostly used as storage, I’m sorry to say. I guess I’d say it’s my favorite, because it’s the one I do projects of my own on – bigger posters or wood type collages. If I’m on that press it means I’m doing something just because I want to. As nice as it is to print with and for other people, it’s a treat to just play, too. After I acquired the press I found a metal tag on it indicating that it was owned at one time by the Cuneo Press – their press number 1024. The Cuneo Press was one of the large printing companies here in Chicago, and also had a fine book press that created some lovely and amazing work. Bill Anthony, who was a fine bookbinder who came out of the apprentice tradition in Ireland, worked at that press. I love having the connection with that history.

So. That’s my answer. In general I feel luck to be printing on any of our presses. I’m lucky to have this job, but I can say that the 325 is the one I’m the most personally pleased with.


John Barrett of Letterpress Things: The press that’s special to myself and the Barrett’s is B 57516, a new style C & P hand-fed with a Horton variable speed clutch. Manufactured circa 1920, Horace Moses purchased it in 1922 from an envelope company in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mr. Moses, a local philanthropist who founded Junior Achievement, Strathmore Paper Company and numerous other businesses, moved it to a building in Westfield, Massachusetts (formerly owned by the Westfield Whip Co.). There it was installed on the fourth floor as the first printing press owned and operated at Mr. Moses’ newest endeavor: The Old Colony Envelope Company. [The press still carries the original machine tag; a brass plate deep stamped with the number “1”.] It was removed from operations in 1967, about the time my interest in letterpress began to develop. Several years later, for the sum of $50, it was mine. Took it home and therein began my “second” career, Letterpress Services Co. From the beginning my interest was not so much in printing but in perfing, scoring, die cutting and imprinting; a trade service for offset printers, quick copy centers and in-plant printing departments. Old number 1 and me spent many, many hours together cranking out the impressions. Presently, “No. 1’ is semi-retired; eight Heidelberg Windmills carry the work load. But once in a while there’s a job best done by hand. And we step up, wipe the dust off, flip the on switch, coax the hand lever up to engage the clutch. And get goose bumps listening to the clack, clack, clack of the spliced leather belt. B 57516. . . ninety plus years and still pressing the letters.


Mark McMurray of Caliban Press: Well… my favorite press is really my first press, the one I bought with a deep breath, thinking: “in for a penny, in for a pound” after finishing just a week or two of letterpress classes at Red Ozier Press in lower Manhattan in 1985. It’s a 1947 Vandercook model 4T, serial number 10903, which is now tattooed over my heart. It came out of a commercial printer’s shop in New York that I was doing other business with at the time. Although it had been pushed to a corner and was not in use it had been well maintained over the years—which I’ve tried to continue. I remember my horror when suddenly one day one of the inking rollers started to wobble, then shock when I discovered that this was caused by a cracked bushing that was made out of wood (!), then relief to find that I could actually get a replacement (also wood) and fix it myself. (Thank you, Fritz, at NA Graphics).

But my other favorite press (come on, life is too short for only one love) is a R. Hoe Washington. As I recall, Hoe began making these in the early 1830’s when he somewhat unscrupulously appropriated the famous “figure 4” toggle joint from another manufacturer. Most of the Washingtons that I’ve come across have had serial numbers cast on them. Mine does not. Therefore I’m assuming it’s early in their production cycle and I date it somewhere around 1835. I suspect press historians may have some views on this matter. I acquired mine from the late wood engraver Frank C. Eckmair who got it not far from his home in Gilbertsville, New York. A local Northern New York printer, Jim Benvenuto, helped me set it up and adjust the platen height and I’m always surprised at how well it prints, given its age and technology. So there… my two favorite presses.


Brooks Chambers of Mamas Sauce: My main squeeze is an Original Heidelberg. Serial # 49582.
We adopted our Windmill from her original owner a couple of years ago. “Heidi,” as we’ve come to call her, was the workhorse of a family-owned basement print shop in Buffalo from the day she rolled off the line. We found her lovingly entombed with a host of tools, spare parts, and other presses that had been with Heidi since day one. The whole gang came with us to Orlando (no toy gets left behind) and Heidi still sits at the heart of this menagerie. Every time we give a tour, people react to her the same way that I did at our first meeting: they stop, stare, and smile. At that point in the tour, I’ve learned to shut up and get out of the way.

She isn’t the first Windmill I’ve had the pleasure of running, but she’s the best. If I had to put words to it, I’d say she’s delightfully invisible. She’s invisible in the way that every good interpreter ought to be. Other presses often interject, leaving the marks of their own idiosyncrasies throughout the run (even if their operator is the only one who knows). Heidi does exactly what I ask her to. Every. Single. Time. That kind of control gives you the freedom to defer to the artwork for inspiration. That kind of control forces you to become a better printer. Before we got Heidi, I could blame a lot my shortcomings on the press. Not anymore. Now the press gets all the blame for my success. She’s teaching me a lot about knowing when to shut up and get out of the way.


Brad Ewing of Marginal EditionsMy favorite press is the  Vandercook Uni III.  It has an adjustable bed and its rollers are super dialed in!! The serial number is #26318.  It’s currently located on 6th avenue and 29th street in Manhattan.

Leslie Miller from Grenfell Press told me that the press came from Middletown, New York about 20-25 years ago. It was large enough that it was taken apart and brought up to the 7th floor by placing the press on top of the elevator.

I have been printing lead and polymer plates on the press since 2005. I have also printed laser cut plexi, etched copper plates, leather, and even potatoes on this press. The ink splatters that have built up over the years on my Vandercook serve as a happy reminder of many beautiful print projects accumulated.


Is it any surprise that we love our presses? All of these presses have earned our love and loyalty and even a name or two. Now it’s your turn to tell us about the one that grabbed your heart and makes you a better printer. If you’ve got photos online of your press and you’d like to share them, please include a link to the photos in your comment!

Letterpressing the Issue On Immigration

The visual collaboration groups CultureStrike and Justseeds Artist Cooperative are utilizing the striking beauty of letterpress to display compelling views on the immigration issue. Favianna Rodriguez has been working with Patrick Cruzan – a California-based letterpress printer – to shed light on the issue through an art print portfolio series. This ongoing project is an effort to raise social awareness of immigration laws and their immediate effects. Click here to get the full story.

Photography courtesy of Patrick Cruzan

Letterpress Graces Special Edition Book of Georgia O’Keeffe

The Vandercook takes the spotlight once again, as its printing powers are drawn upon by letterpress printer, Tom Leech, for the newest memoir regarding Georiga O’Keeffe. Read on to get the scoop and enjoy the wonderful video in the Santa Fe New Mexican.com article here!

Letterpress pieces printed by Tom Leech were used for a new Georgia O'Keefe memoir.

Close-up

Hey, look! A cinema shot of a lovely Vandercook gripper. It holds the sheet as the “carriage” (moving cylinder) travels across the bed. Our Vandercook has been mighty busy lately.

vandercook letterpress gripper

Innards of a Vandercook

Up close and personal with our Universal 1 Vandercook press.
Universal 1 Vandercook pressUniversal 1 Vandercook press

A Sublime Poster Project

Today on the Vandercook Universal 1 we printed a commemorative poster for the Penrod Arts Fair in Indianapolis. This utterly charming piece features a dapper gentleman that counterpoints the bold graphics. Love it!


Vandercooking

This is the most glamorous sign I’ve seen in a while! Letterpress printed on the Vandercook press because of it’s large size (11 x 17), great texture is achieved with impression depth and super thick plush paper. Such an elegant way to maintain privacy.