LANCASTER, Pa.—Ken Kulakowsky has ink on his hands.
He stands behind a black velvet rope with a sign reading “Only club members .918 beyond this point” and powers the 1909 Chandler and Price printing press by pressing a pedal, rotating a flywheel and the ease of its 64 years. experience in letterpress printing. Kulakowsky, a retired graphic arts professor, is president of the .918 Club, a membership club that brings together printing professionals, enthusiasts, and the visiting public at the Heritage Press Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The “dot 918” reference is a printer’s quip – .918 refers to the standardized height in inches of movable type used on a printing press – and the club is part of a worldwide community of printers who use the printing press, a mechanical device that uses pressure to transfer ink to paper. They are also determined to share their knowledge with a new generation.
“Information and news didn’t always magically appear on a screen,” says Kulakowsky. “Previously, disseminating information was a difficult and time-consuming process.” Kulakowsky spends his retirement volunteering at the museum and establishing his namesake teaching center for typography and book arts at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, which contains over 40 different types of presses. The public can learn about printing and local printers can rent studio time.
Kulakowsky is one of many printers in North America who have made it their life’s work. And from Toronto to Australia, there are as many stories in the world of printing as there are presses.
“People enjoy letterpress printing in general these days because of the tactility – the way the ink sits on the paper and the impression made from the print,” says Phoebe Todd-Parrish, owner of the Flycatcher Press letterpress and printmaking studio in Toronto.
Todd-Parrish, who is known for her restaurant and restaurant prints, says it’s a myth that typography is a dusty old craft. Todd-Parrish uses Google Maps to display a photo of a building, then creates a design from the photo and transfers the design to a block of linoleum which she carves.
“When I meet other printers, there’s a lot of camaraderie and sharing of resources, and we understand the shared mission of promoting support and how that benefits us all,” says Vincent Perez, owner of Everlovin’ Press. in Kingston, Ont.
Perez has collaborated with top Canadian illustrators to create a limited edition line of themed typographic prints called “The Canadianist”, which features Canadian fashion, food and colloquialisms that are double inked and stamped in copper or foil. ‘gold.
There are online printing communities like Briar Press where printers can buy and sell presses, troubleshoot press issues, and get help identifying a press by year and model. And there are regional and national printer fairs where printers can network, share and sell their latest work.
Visiting other printers and working in print shops is one way to learn new skills and techniques. When Todd-Parrish lived in Perth, Australia, she visited Ann Ong’s Whiteman Park printing studio, Bright Press, and they sometimes printed together.
Ong and Todd-Parrish are committed to educating the public and hold workshops to teach beginners how to use the press. “It’s my way of allowing a younger generation to interact with something tangible, that is to say to interact with 600 years of history,” says Ong, who took over the shop after retirement. of his mentor, printer Phill Everitt.
“He realized that I was fully committed and enthusiastic about running the printing business and that I would champion and help the world of letterpress printing to live on,” says Ong, who uses educational tools such as Lego blocks to help beginners learn to print.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for the printing community. Printing supplies such as fine paper have been difficult to access due to supply chain issues, and printing festivals and events have been postponed.
The Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture in Dawson City, Yukon, had to postpone its Festival of Printing and Publishing for two years, but the fair took place in June as part of the Riverside Arts Feast. Parks Canada has restored a Chandler and Price printing press that is now in the Dawson Daily News Building, used for tours showcasing the history of journalism in the North, with the aim of inviting artists to demonstrate the use of historical printing methods and demonstrations.
“Instead of walking up to a machine and just pushing a button to create something, you need to develop an understanding that you are engaged in an ancient craft, which requires continuous physical interaction with processes in order to achieve desired outcome,” says Mark Barbour, executive director and founding curator of the International Printing Museum in Carson, California.
The museum’s printing collection includes over 1,000 presses, 10,000 metal and wood typefaces, and a library of over 10,000 volumes. The museum works with approximately 20,000 students each year through its educational programs, including the Ben Franklin Colonial Assembly, a 12-foot trailer that features a working representation of American Founding Father Franklin’s wooden colonial printing press.
Well-known press models include Chandler and Price, Heidelberg and Vandercook, which are considered the workhorse of printing. Moving a press can be a challenge; some weigh up to 680 kilograms and a Vandercook can weigh almost 900 kilograms.
Large presses are no longer made, but most machines made a century ago can be restored and repaired. Don Black, who founded Don Black Linecasting in 1964 in Scarborough, is well known in the printing world for his ability to repair and restore linotype, typesetting machines often used to print newspapers. His late son Craig was highly respected for repairing and restoring printing presses, and father and son worked together and traveled across Canada for repairs and ensuring the presses did top quality work. After half a century of repairing linotypes and presses, Black closed Don Black Linecasting in 2020.
“We had (linotype) machines that were 50 years old and still producing,” Black says. “They were done well, not like the way things are done today, when you have to throw things away and make a new one.”
Black’s customers came from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“The glory is that it’s a series of simple machines that do complex work, so that if it breaks down, it’s possible to get a part made,” says Chris Fritton, printer and artist from Buffalo. “These were built to last 1,000 years. The presses will last longer than most printers. Fritton is the author of “The Itinerant Printer,” a memoir based on his travels recreating the journey of a printer in the 1880s, when journeymen could show their union card and apprenticeship at local print shops they visited.
Fritton, who originally came to the printing press as a writer, still composes and edits poems directly on a printer. He says he hopes to take the “Roaming Printer” trip globally to meet and work with other printers from around the world.
“Great art is timeless,” says Jan Elsted, owner of Barbarian Press, a publisher of fine press books, with her husband, Crispin Elsted, in Mission, British Columbia. “It means we can bring works from the past, and sometimes contemporary books, to an audience that wants to experience these books in a tactile and personal way. The Elsteds print books as they were a while ago. 200 years, using six presses dating from 1833 to 1960.
Barbarian Press books cost around $1,000 and around 125 copies of each book are printed on the press. Since 1977, the Elsteds have published 50 books, including the most recent “Sudden Immobility: Selected Poems of Molly Holden”.
“A hand press is a tool, not a machine: it requires the press operator to do everything, from laying it on the sheet of paper to be printed, to inking the typeface, and even running the typeface and the inked paper under the platen and pull the bar across to print the sheet,” says Crispin Elsted, who defines each type letter by hand, sometimes taking up to four hours to compose a page of text.
“We love it,” says Elsted. “We can’t imagine retiring. It would be absurd.
Corrigendum — July 3, 2022: This article has been updated to change the deadline in Lancaster, PA.
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