[Alyson Kuhn] The Ladies of Letterpress conference in Asheville, N.C., last weekend was a resounding success. I rarely deploy unique (which I think of as the u-word) to describe anything, but the conference program truly was. Have there ever been so many practitioners and lovers of letterpress in one place to share stories and spontaneously show each other photos of presses on their smart phones? No. How was the conference for this non-printer? Fascinating (the good f-word).
Diversity of experience: The conference attracted printers and presenters with decades of experience … and people who’ve been printing for just a couple of years … and aspiring printers fairly freshly out of college. What I found even more interesting is the different roles of letterpress in their lives and careers — printers whose academic backgrounds are in creative writing, for whom letterpress is a way to tell a story and get it out in the world; a printmaker, calligrapher and design educator who’s learned that stamping (not printing) with wood type helps her college students discover some basics of typography; book artists, commercial printers, program chairs — all of whom affirmed the enormous appeal and empowerment of letterpress from convergent perspectives.
State of excitement: Two of my favorite facts came from Marnie Powers-Torrey, managing director of the Book Arts Program and Red Butte Press at the J. Willard Marriott Library, at the University of Utah. First, she mentioned that their print shop attracts students from three neighboring states — Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho. Second, she announced that — just the week before — her department had won approval to confer a Certificate in Book Arts.
Generosity of spirit: Attendees shared tips and sources, traded tales of tragedies averted, and — most impressively to me — offered great encouragement to new and aspiring printers. Professor emerita (and extraordina, we suspect) Bea Nettles participated in two panels, and twice she commented with delight on the number of young printers at the conference.
Laborers of love: Jessica Spring of Springtide Press and Chandler O’Leary of Anagram Press gave a presentation to a standing room only crowd at Asheville BookWorks about their Dead Feminists broadside series collaboration — to be the subject of a Felt & Wire feature this fall.
Times of change: John Sullivan of Logos Graphics masterfully moderated the Letterpress as a Business panel (based on the panel he had led last year at the SF Center for the Book, which we featured here). He started off with two very big-picture statistics: In 1962, for the first time, the publishing industry reported more offset impressions than letterpress impressions. In 2006, for the first time, the industry reported more digital impressions than offset. He observed that the times we’re in can seem a little too exciting … but that the conference was an incredible forum for exploring the diversity of “individual passions and destinies.” Got to love it.
Thrill of accessibility: Kelly McMahon of May Day Studio (and another creative writer turned printer) gave two “performances” at Asheville BookWorks of Getting to Know Your Tabletop Press (a Kelsey 3 x 5). Her fondness for this little-press-that-can was palpable, and her step-by-step demonstration was dazzling.
These are only some of my highlights from this year’s conference. Ladies of Letterpress co-founders and directors Kseniya Thomas and Jessica White deserve to lounge on their laurels … before starting to ponder how many more attendees their action-packed format can accommodate next year.
Earlier this week, we reported on keynote speaker Judith Berliner’s broad view (and her broadside).