by Erin Beckloff
Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a series from the creators of Pressing: the typographic film. Lily Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
We packed our Tetris-style vehicles with lights, stands and all sizes of black Pelican gear cases, and of course the camera. Being my first road trip with the guys, my first reaction was that we had way too much stuff and would never need it all (I was wrong). For future cinematic benchmark, the Prius turned out to be the best and most spacious production car we could have chosen. Andrew Quinn and I spent most of the drive to Des Moines discussing the general themes of the film, the big ideas that will form the living history of the documentary. We call it a living story because regardless of what we expect or want the interviewees to say, their responses and thoughts are what shape the film’s narrative.
Based on my knowledge of the typographic community, I selected the majority of the cast of printers ahead of the Kickstarter campaign. It is a representative group that offers a range of perspectives, life experiences, and specialized skills or areas of knowledge related to printing. Actors are also bound by their relationships, which is crucial when we look at typographic culture. Andrew conducted pre-phone interviews to give us background on each printer and to give us a basis for drafting questions. July in Iowa was beautiful, lush green fields and bright blue skies dotted with clouds made for a beautiful drive to Rick von Holdt’s farm.
Rick greeted us with an energetic wave, but there was something odd—his thumb was wrapped in a neon green bandage! Apparently, while fixing an antique ventilator, he had cut off his thumb and had just returned from the ER. The green thumb will be something movie buffs will surely wonder about, though Rick does have a “green thumb” in the most common sense of the phrase, as evidenced by the colorful and manicured gardens that surround his home.
Commit random acts of gardening printed by von Holdt
Rick shows us around the store, his Poco Proof Press in the foreground
Rick’s shop is in the basement of his handsome 19e century farmhouse, with high ceilings and solid brick walls form rooms filled with type cabinets and book shelves. It’s common knowledge in the typography community that Rick has one of the most drool-worthy collections of wood types; he estimates about 2,000 combined type fonts.
“I was trained in the world of graphic design which migrated from real life to final print production, so I didn’t have much of a chance to be creative. Along the way, I traded in a chewing gum machine for some typefaces and a small press,” Rick explained. “I’ve also studied typefaces and type designs over these four decades and I’m pretty much the go-to person for people who need to identify typefaces.”
Its encyclopedic memory not only for the name of the font, but also for the designer, manufacturer and other details is renowned. Mail a request for a combination type ID to Briar Press and there’s a very good chance Rick will respond.
APA, Amalgamated Printers’ Association, piece of bundle nailed to shop wall
Thinking of itself as “a fool with a proof press and a few typefaces”, the Surefire Press has been going strong for 40 years, hand inking bold and often pun-based posters with a brayer on its trusty hand press. Poco tests.
Rick loves typography: “It’s terribly moving and romantic. It has a smell, it has a sound, it gives rhythm to these machines when they work. What I think is what draws people in and just fascinates them to see the wheel turn, and the pistons come and go, and the paper go in and out, and it’s just the kachunk, kachang, kachang and the hum things .”
I smiled throughout his interview; his energetic gestures and his enthusiasm are contagious.
.918 original t-shirt representing 0.918 inches the height of the print type
He reflected, “People can do things digitally now and this and that, but it’s not quite the same thing. Again, it all comes down to physics, the smell, the feel, it’s just cool stuff. I’ve come to the conclusion that people like me are all just gatekeepers at this point.
Typography keepers like Rick care about passing the gear on to the next generation. “I want it to go to others one day,” he says, “and it’s my job just to grab what I can and keep it from being melted down or scrapped and somehow pass it on to other people. I’m formulating a plan now where I’d like to see my entire collection dispersed. There’s a saying that the good printer begins where the careful printer begins stopped.
Rick is a great guy in every way; he’s actively involved in the typography community, and you can find his nifty posters hanging in almost any Midwest typography shop you visit.
Posters for the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgoose 2014 and Pressing On Kickstarter
We had an entertaining, character-filled day on set with Rick von Holdt and still got to capture the magic hour in the Iowa countryside.