[Kathleen Adele Fieffe] Kyle Durrie, proprietor of Power & Light Press in Portland, Oregon, is spreading letterpress cheer across North America. Her 1982 Chevy step van is a one-sto
p letterpress shop and lab, loaded with a 1873 Golding Official No. 3 tabletop platen press and a Showcard sign press. She’s recorded 13,000 miles since she started. A few weeks ago, Kyle made her NYC debut. Her first night she parked in Brooklyn for an evening of letterpress fun at The Arm. I had a pleasure of spending some time with her to find out more about her cross-country adventure.
But first, a little background: Moveable Type, aka the Type Truck, is on the road educating everyone willing to step inside to learn about the art of letterpress printing. After launching in her own hometown, Kyle has made stops in Sebastopol, Calif., Los Angeles, Bozeman, Mont., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Providence, R.I., NYC, and is now working her way south. (Felt & Wire reported on Kyle’s mid-August stop at Porridge Papers in Lincoln, Neb.)
Kyle Durrie and her 1982 Chevy van made a three-day stop in New York City, stopping first at The Arm letterpress studio in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
You’ve been on the road now for about four months. How are you feeling since you’ve taken?
I’m feeling really good right now. I was feeling a little bit exhausted. But mostly it’s been fabulous. The steeps and valleys will come and go as I try to figure this whole thing out. When I feel tired, I still feel excited about everything.
What’s driving you to do take this on?
It’s a number of different things … more things than I was even aware of when I first got started. The biggest thing that’s driving me right now is the adventure of it all. Every day is something new. I get to be in a new place and meet new people and it broadens my horizons and that’s the biggest driving force. And within that, the sharing and the experience of sharing something really cool with people. It’s the adventure and knowing that there’s going to be something new the next day and exciting to learn from.
What has the most surprising thing you’ve experience?
I think I’ve been surprised by how much hope and creativity is out there. Even the towns I knew nothing about, or maybe I had preconceive notions about, I’ve met such creative and interesting people. I feel like even in the tiniest, weirdest towns out there, there’s a community of people who are creative and who are interested in making their homes and towns better. It’s not just in the big cities where you find these communities. It’s all over.
The flatbed sign press was donated by the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum.
Three young students got a lesson from Kyle about how use the Showcard Press. It’s one of two letterpress machines she has loaded inside her van.
And what’s most rewarding for you?
I think it’s rewarding anytime I can feel that someone’s eyes has been open a little bit. I’m not trying to shove an agenda down anyone’s throat, but I find a lot of value in working with my hands and making things myself. It’s a really empowering thing that we’re all capable of ‘doing.’ There has been a number of times when I’ll see someone come in who maybe doesn’t think they have that opportunity to make something. And that’s very rewarding … to be able to facilitate that.
Kyle keeps a draw filled with typefaces she’s collected from flea markets and donations.
This adventure combines two of your passions: road trips and letterpress. Have you learned anything about yourself on this trip?
Everyday. It’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone. And I think anytime you’re push out of your comfort zone, you’re bound to learn something about yourself. And the biggest thing for me is that it’s pushed me to be more social and socially engaged. I have a pretty quiet life back home. I work in my studio. I’m not a party girl, I’m not out all the time, talking on the phone with everybody every day. I just have this very quiet, small life. And I really value my personal, private time. And this experience really pushed me to have conversations with people. This project wouldn’t be anything if I wasn’t engaged with people. It’s pushed me in that direction to be open to having conversations with people that I might otherwise avoid. The events that I do are so social.
Is your truck equipped with speakers? Do you listen to music while you’re driving?
For the first two months of the trip I didn’t listen to music at all while I was driving. I was so focused on driving. I just wanted total concentration. Then one day I told myself, “Alright, I’m pretty comfortable now. I guess I’ll put this CD in.” Now I listen to music a lot when I drive. There’s a pretty good stereo system in the truck. It’s just a CD player, not an iPod hook-up. But I listen to CDs or the radio. It’s funny, because I can’t listen to my iPod, I’m stuck with one big box CDs that I brought with me. And it’s like a time capsule. I brought it out intending to burn all the CDs to my computer and just sell the CDs. It takes me back to 2001 and 2002 because that when I was buying CDs a lot and before I was downloading music. So now I’m listening to all these albums I haven’t really listened to in ten years. It’s connecting me with this previous life, which is kind of a cool experience. I’m finding some I’m not into anymore, and I’m finding some of it that I love even more than I did the first time around. I feel like I’m 21 again!
Red thumbtacks mark the cities and towns Kyle has stopped in to share her passion for letterpress printing.
What factors into your decisions when you’re planning your trips and stops?
I started booking the tour in February. I spent most of that month with an atlas and calendar, marking places that, initially, I was interested in for one reason or another. That was my first round of plotting points. Then I started doing research to see what else is out there. Then started looking at schools and art galleries, craft shows, anything that might be a good fit for the truck. That was the second tier of plotting. The third was determined by Kickstarter and the people who pledged money to my project. A lot of people in addition to donating $15 or $20, would say, “Hey, I’ve got this community center and we’d love to have you.” And that opened up the door to places I might have found in my own research. And it was a very important part of figuring out the route.
Since you’ve started, you’ve met a lot of printers and artists and non-artists. Have you learned anything from them?
A lot of them were people I’ve heard about, but so many more I have never heard about. And it’s so excited to build this network of peers and friends all over the country. I’m learning from a lot them. Many of them, I had the good fortune of spending time in their studios. And that was really exciting for me to see how people work and how they use their spaces. But I find I learn a lot about the different ways that people make stuff. Letterpress is one thing, and within that one medium there, there are a ton of different techniques and styles. It’s interesting how people approach it differently. I’m also meeting musicians and painters, potters, chefs. And it’s so inspiring to see people making things.
How is the truck holding up?
Pretty well. Actually, really well considering I really wasn’t sure it would make all the way across the country. And it did. I had some troubles early in the summer, but I think was just working out kinks and getting to know the truck. And it seems to have worked through some of those issues. So I’m just keeping my fingers crossed right now.
Do you miss being in your studio?
I don’t. I’m sure it will feel good when I get back home, but I don’t actively miss it. I have an amazing intern who is helping keep things afloat while I’m gone. So I know it’s doing okay. I’m just so happy to be doing what I am doing. I really haven’t looked back.
If you were not an artist, a printer, you would be _______
I could not imagine doing anything else. I can’t imagine not working for myself.
In the last four months, have you had any celebrity sightings?
Here’s the thing, every time I go to L.A., regardless of whether I’m with a truck or not, I’m always really wanting to run into a celebrity. And I never have any celebrity sightings. This year when I was there (in July), I was at the Renegade Craft Fair. I was in the truck and this guy pokes his head in, I didn’t recognize him, but he was just asking a few questions. And he says, “Well, I’m a printer and I’m just in town for a couple months, taking a break.” Then introduced himself as one of the guys from Yee Haw Industries. And for me, that was the biggest celebrity sighting which is super dorky. They are just really amazing letterpress printers from Knoxville, Tennessee. I’m just a fan of their work that I felt like I was shaking hands with a movie star.
You’re out there sharing something that you love with someone else. What does community and sharing mean to you?
There are few different ways I’ve been learning about community from this trip. Like I said before, my practice back home is solitary. I do have a network of printer friends in Portland, but I don’t feel actively engage in that community. This trip has really opened me up to, not only broadening my own network, but it makes me feel that there is this close-knit supportive community out there. And it’s amazing to feel I’m actually a part of it. On a personal level community is a really wonderful feeling even though I’m driving around solitary. It opens your eyes. It’s such a powerful experience.
Is there an end to this tour?
It’s open-ended. But I do think I’ll probably go back to Portland in mid-April. That’s the way things seem to be shaping up. But I don’t know what’s going to happen after that. Only that there’s a very strong possibility there will be another adventure ahead.
To see Kyle’s schedule, arrange a Type Truck visit, or read her blog, or follow along, check out Moveable Type.
Kathleen A. Fieffe is a freelance journalist from Connecticut who still hand writes letters and notes. No piece of technology will stop her from sending snail mail.
Photos 1, 5 and 9: Kyle Durrie, Power & Light Press