Ladies of Letterpress 2012 conference: Highlights, lowdowns & asides

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[Alyson Kuhn] Judith Berliner (far right, above), founder of Full Circle Press, was the keynote speaker at the first Ladies of Letterpress conference in 2011. This year she brought her crew with her from California’s Gold Country: (from left) Ethan Cameron, Briana Reijnen and Liz Thiem. She also made fast friends with the 2012 keynote speaker, wood engraver and printer Abigail Rorer, proprietor of The Lone Oak Press. After Judith caught her breath from the whirlwind, she shared with us her thoughts about what makes this conference so great.

This year’s conference was titled “Use It or Lose It: Preservation and Innovation in Letterpress Printing.” Except for the keynote address, all presentations were in panel format.

The party bus conveyed conference-goers to four letterpress shops in residential neighborhoods in Asheville, N.C., and to Asheville Bookworks. Photo: Kseniya Thomas.

Judith Berliner comments, “The volume of chatter when you have that many women in a vehicle together is amazing. And what were they all talking about? Their printing presses.” Photo: Kseniya Thomas.

What inspired you to bring your team with you this year?
I wanted them to have the chance to be amazed by what other people are printing with the equipment they have acquired — the unique ideas people have and how they present them on paper. I realized there isn’t anywhere better I could take them to have this experience. Bev Dittberner, our prepress expert, offered to stay behind and keep the home fires burning.

Nicole Monforti of Headcase Press (Wilmington, N.C.) got a souvenir tattoo in Asheville. Talk about minding your Ps and Qs, or your Ds and Bs. Nicole also makes typographic jewelry. Back in March, she delivered a custom order of cufflinks for the cast of the Disney musical Newsies. Boxcar Press featured Headcase Press in a great studio spotlightPhotos: Peter Laywine.

I’ve been to print conferences, but that’s not at all the same as being at a conference with people who run presses. And at most printing conventions, the women are basically posed at big presses to hand out brochures and printed samples. Our Ladies of Letterpress conference addresses a very different aspect of print.

Artist-papermaker-printer Karen Hardy of Hardy Art (Philadelphia) printed this. The tagline on her blog is “I made this stuff. Check it out.” Love the line, love the stuff. Photo: Anne Lewison.

And do you think the conference gave your crew new perspective?
Absolutely. Full Circle Press is geographically remote. We have ample space and a good amount of equipment. My crew hasn’t had the opportunity to see other printers’ shops. Many are set up in their guest room or their garage. Also, many small printers at the conference work solo — it’s easy for any of us to become isolated. One of the joys of working with a team is that we can share our successes and also our “learning experiences.” Connecting as a group creates an experience that allows us to grow together.

For sale at the Printers Fair: Pencils stamped by Briana Reijnen of Full Circle Press on a Kingsley foil stamping machines (the print shop has two of them). Photo: Anne Lewison.

Isolated in what way?
Many of the women attending the conference have not had the support I was given — I’ve been aroaund this all my life. If I have a problem, I have resources I’ve developed — technicians and printers I can call. It is really nice to be able to encourage other attendees to pick up the phone and find that special person in their town — perhaps someone who has retired, or who still runs letterpress equipment. The passion is shared by more than the printers in our little niche. I believe that, when asked, people like to help. I told several Ladies, “When you have a problem on press, try to take a little video with your phone, and e-mail it to me … and I might be able to help troubleshoot the problem.” We tend to show each other what is working, but not the problems. An arena where we can share our problems is really helpful.

Sarah Almond (far right) of Shed Letterpress (Durham, N.C.): “The conference was absolutely wonderful this year. Talking with everyone between sessions was the most interesting aspect for me, as the panels seemed to have a more theoretical bent this year than last.” L to R: Emily Wismer of Lady Pilot Letterpress (Wilmington, N.C.), panelist Peter Laywine of Laywine’s Pens & Organizers (Toronto), Alec Ferrell (Sarah Almond’s husband). Photo: Anne Lewison.

And were you aware of Abigail Rorer’s work before the conference?
I had not seen Abigail’s work. Her talk was so interesting. She also spoke of her isolation, and that she is almost like a hermit. I can relate. Usually, at a conference, I will bring food-to-go back to my room and watch TV. At Ladies of Letterpress, in the two rooms we had for Full Circle Press, we never turned the TV on once. We were too busy.

Ladies in the lobby (L to R): Ladies of Letterpress co-founder Jessica White, Heroes and Criminals Press (Asheville); 2012 keynote speaker Abigail Rorer; 2011 keynote speaker Judith Berliner; Ladies of Letterpress co-founder Kseniya Thomas, Thomas Printers (Carlisle, Pa.). Photo: Scott Smith.

Jessica White publicized her book, Letterpress Now: A DIY Guide to New & Old Printing Methods. Publication date is Jan. 1, 2013, but you can pre-order on Amazon.

Panelist Perspectives
“The Ladies Room” panelist Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress (Baton Rouge, La.) was trained as a printmaker. She says, “I loved the conference! It is fantastic to get out of a small studio and ‘talk shop,’ from problem-solving to business. Abigail’s keynote speech was a delight. She is so easy-going and engages in her medium — engraving and printing — with such grace. I love that she revealed that her engraving material is now Corian, and I enjoyed seeing her progression as an artist. Also, I took away some good info from Harold Kyle’s panel about sustainability.

The Blackbird Letterpress table at the Printers Fair. See the little motor vehicle road touring through the goodies? It’s a DIY letterpress-printed 3D station wagon and companion camper.

“I think people are drawn to the station wagon and camper cards more for nostalgia than for actually wanting to cut them out and glue them together, though they do work! I was honored to have Amos Kennedy pick them up for a friend who collects paper models. [Proceed and Be Bold!, the acclaimed documentary about Amos Kennedy, screened at the conference; he was also a panelist.] And it was great to meet Allison and Daniel Nadeau from Ink Meets Paper. We ‘know’ each other from Instagram and Twitter etc, but it was great to meet them in person!”

Allison and Daniel Nadeau of Ink Meets Paper have organized a Letterpress Hotline, a free service for the letterpress community. Volunteers sign up to answer the hotline to answer questions and provide moral support. Photos: Peter Laywine.

“Designing for Letterpress” panelist Craig Malmrose of Trade Union Press is a professor at East Carolina University (Greenville, N.C.). He has taught graphic design at the university for over 25 years; in 2008, he and his colleagues created a class in letterpress printing. To say Craig collects presses and type (both lead and wood) is a heavy understatement. He sums up his conference experience as “stupendous! I met a lot of people, collected a lot of business cards, certainly I’ve made some connections that will be beneficial in the future. I also enjoyed meeting so many young women in their early 20s, just beginning their letterpress endeavors. They were all ears; they couldn’t get enough information. It was wonderful.” We will feature an interview with Craig — who sang the praises of Mohawk Superfine from the dais — in September.

The Mohawk table at the Printers Fair included a display of cards and envelopes freshly printed by members of Ladies of Letterpress on various stocks … and the New Mohawk product selector.

Lead photo: The Full Circle Press gang takes a breather on the porch of the historic Old Kentucky Home boarding house at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Photo: Ethan Cameron.

You can listen to the major presentations of the 2011 conference (for a modest $2) via Dropbox. The Ladies of Letterpress are delightfully tech savvy. We hope the 2012 audio proceedings will likewise become available soon.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Judith berliner on 08.14.12 at 12:20 am

    Thank you for the continued and dedicated support of the letterpress community. I wish i was back on the bus.

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