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Presses and Metal Type Put Students in Touch With Printed Word
- To: Multiple recipients of list BOOK_ARTS-L <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
- Subject: Presses and Metal Type Put Students in Touch With Printed Word
- From: Peter Verheyen <pdverhey@DREAMSCAPE.COM>
- Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 08:43:02 -0400
- Message-Id: <199610071244.FAA08219@SUL-Server-2.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "The Book Arts: binding, typography, collecting" <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
>From the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Thought you might all enjoy it. Peter
>The Chronicle of Higher Education
>Date: October 4, 1996
>Section: The Arts
>NOTES FROM ACADEME
>Presses and Metal Type Put Students in Touch With Printed Word
>By Lawrence Biemiller
>Chestertown, Md. -- Five presses that progress forgot print poems and
>broadsides and business cards in a high, sunny room at Washington College.
>The room is cluttered with old cases of metal type -- Garamonds and Goudys
>and Palatinos -- as well as with stacks of paper and galleys waiting to be
>printed and the once-familiar tools of the printer's trade. Pica rulers hang
>from nails. Drawers full of ornaments and antique borders wait, open, for
>young compositors hand-setting everything from sestinas to warehouse order
>forms. The thick scent of ink mingles with the aroma of coffee and the
>warmth of an afternoon breeze that drifts in from the back garden through an
>Michael Kaylor, the college's master printer, is showing Jennifer Lubkin and
>Jason Oosterwyk how to clean ink off the rollers of a gray Van der Cook
>Universal press the size of a kitchen counter. "You start with the dirty
>rags and work towards the clean," says Mr. Kaylor, squeezing solvent onto
>the rollers from a plastic bottle. "Did we choose another color yet?" Ms.
>Lubkin, a first-year student, has just completed one run of an announcement
>for the Society of Junior Fellows, rolling paper across the type one sheet
>at a time. A second run, with a different color ink, will add borders and an
>The ornament gives her trouble, however -- it's old and the top doesn't
>print clearly. "I think it's been smashed," says Mr. Kaylor, leaning to
>inspect it. The damage, which is probably older than Ms. Lubkin and Mr.
>Oosterwyk put together, is not serious. It will lend the finished broadside
>character that is missing from relentlessly perfect type generated by
>computers. Mr. Kaylor cuts a piece of paper to fit underneath the ornament,
>raising it by the thickness of one sheet. "This is called an underlay," he
>says. Ms. Lubkin opens the Van der Cook's paper clamps with a foot pedal and
>fits another sheet onto the drum before turning the handle that rolls the
>drum over the type. This time the ornament prints perfectly.
>Mr. Kaylor is a jovial, bearded man who looks the part of a master printer
>but is far less dour than many printers writers meet. He speaks of
>letterpress printing with conviction and warmth, describing as only a
>devotee could "the sparkle that comes from the reflection of light in the
>depth of the impression." In the basement, he has something like 1,000 cases
>of old type. The faces range from the common to the rare, such as a font of
>six-inch Victorian poster type carved out of wood. The five presses include
>a handsome black Heidelberg platen press that can print up to 3,000 sheets
>an hour. Mr. Kaylor cannot resist turning it on to demonstrate the hissing
>paper-feed mechanism, the rhythmic inking and pressing cycles whose music
>sounds as sweet as Mozart's to the ears of any writer.
>Mr. Kaylor's operation here, called the Literary House Press, is one of an
>ever-dwindling number of letterpress shops left in the United States. It
>occupies a 10-year-old addition down a short flight of stairs from the
>O'Neill Literary House, a place of wide porches and overstuffed sofas that
>is home to the college's largest student organization, the Writers Union.
>The house and the press are part of an extensive writing program at the
>college that includes a visiting-writer series and the Sophie Kerr Prize,
>which is worth thousands and is given each year at commencement to the
>senior "who has demonstrated the greatest literary potential." The prize and
>the writing program are paid for by a bequest from Sophie Kerr, an Eastern
>Shore romance writer whose stories sold well in the '30s and '40s.
>The press gives young writers a sense of the printed word's history, Mr.
>Kaylor says -- it "puts them in touch with the roots of the thing." He and
>the college have an agreement that lets him operate the press as both an
>educational facility and a traditional job shop. The college pays him a
>stipend to offer workshops and occasional courses in papermaking,
>bookmaking, and the like. But he also takes on all kinds of printing jobs,
>from college broadsheets to envelopes for a local bookstore. He has a
>work-study employee -- Mr. Oosterwyk -- as well as volunteers who have grown
>to love printing through his workshops. "If we have paying jobs on, I pay
>them," he says. "If not, they get dinner at a Chinese restaurant."
>Mr. Kaylor says the press is not much of a moneymaker, but it is popular.
>Students confirm this. "You walk in on a Saturday afternoon when you're sure
>the print shop will be empty, and there's always people here," says Amy
>Peterson, a senior. In addition to working on whatever jobs are waiting in
>the shop, students are free to undertake their own projects. Ms. Peterson
>set a poem by Seamus Heaney and illustrated it with a linoleum-block carving
>she did herself. Cortney Clulow, another regular volunteer, printed 12 poems
>by a friend and assembled them into a book, 20 copies of which she gave to
>the friend as a birthday present. Others set their own verses. "I worked
>with a poet this summer," Mr. Kaylor says. "He actually rewrote several of
>his lines while he was setting them. To spend a summer with a poet who cares
>enough about his own work to do it this way -- that's what it's about."
>"So many students come -- this is like therapy for them," he says. "We have
>a beautiful room, tea, good music, and a high level of conversation." The
>level of conversation is partly Mr. Kaylor's doing -- he seems as fond of
>the spoken word as of the printed page. This is how he describes the
>Literary House cat, Edith Wharton: "Edith is feline non grata. She used to
>come into the press room and walk across the rollers and then walk across
>newly printed pages. Then she would drink from the toilet and leave paw
>prints all over it. One morning Edith single-handedly -- if that can be said
>of a cat -- knocked a case of 10-point type to the floor. It took the better
>part of two weeks to clean it up."
>Mr. Kaylor grew up in Beverly, Mass., and has been setting type since he was
>12. He attended a vocational high school, intending to become a machinist,
>but he was always "tremendously interested in books." He went to Eastern
>Nazarene College and eventually came to own an offset-printing shop here. In
>the meantime, he had begun collecting old presses and type. When the college
>set up its press room, he was called in to give printing lessons. Invited to
>stay on, he sold the offset shop. Now he also teaches graphic arts and
>medieval history at the Gunston Day School, in Centreville, Md., and in his
>spare time he helps high-school teachers organize literary magazines. He
>keeps a commonplace book -- a sort of Victorian journal -- and says he is
>"living in the 19th century." But he has also purchased equipment that
>allows him to set type on his Macintosh and produce photo-polymer plates
>that can be printed on a letterpress; this permits the Literary House Press
>to take on projects too large to set by hand.
>Even so, work in the press room is unlike anything students do elsewhere.
>Ms. Clulow remembers the first time she set a poem, finding the letters one
>by one in the case and arranging them in the galley until they spelled out
>words and lines and stanzas -- all of them upside down and backwards. It
>took her six hours. "The letters aren't in the case in alphabetical order or
>anything," she says. "And you have to check your b's and d's." Returning
>type to the cases is, if anything, worse. "Putting away type is how you
>build character," says Jennifer Ward, a junior, sounding suspiciously like
>Mr. Kaylor himself says letterpress printing "is a craft that's been
>elevated to an art because it's so labor-intensive," and it's precisely that
>labor that he enjoys. "I love all the little paraphernalia," he says. "I
>love the ritual. I love that it's not instant." He especially loves the
>results -- handsome cards, beautifully printed poems. "You can stand at the
>top of those stairs and think, 'Anything is possible here.'"
>Copyright (c) 1996 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.
>Title: Presses and Metal Type Put Students in Touch With Printed Word
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