The first logo for Greyweathers Press, a tiny linocut based on the view of a gnarled Scott’s pine through the gothic window in the studio. The tree has since died, and now we ponder a new press mark.
The question I most frequently get asked by astonished visitors to the studio, or to my booth at shows, is: “How on earth did you every get involved in… this!?”, meaning of course, letterpress, bookbinding, and creating wood cuts. More often than not, I respond by saying smart-ass things, like “kidnapped as a baby by traveling Romany printers,” or “abducted by aliens who may or may not have done things to me, and I’ve been feverishly compelled ever since to print.” The question is simply too vague, the circumstances too disparate, and those moments that seemed of no consequence at the time but in retrospect take on tremendous value, are never properly recorded. So it is with history and memory; it is easier to create fictions than try to grasp or pinpoint the moment I thought I would move a 2400 lb press and another tonnage of lead type into the studio. When did it happen? Was it sometime early in the 1970s, when I first read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which set me on a fantastic reading journey. One can take it to ridiculous ends, but certainly it began an intense love of books – both in the architecture of imagination created by written words, but also the in vessels of paper and glue and leather that contained them. Time passes. I change high schools mid-way through, and the new one has a Graphic Arts course. Flipping through my old yearbooks, I find just one photo from Graphic Arts. This young woman is printing on what I believe to be the AB Dick offset press. Another large offset press sat just behind her, but in the background, barely visible is the magnificent Heidelberg windmill letterpress, a machine that hissed and made sucking noises, pulled up sheets of paper and deposited them neatly printed in a jogged pile, whilst gripper arms whirled about in a steam-punker’s dream. If you were careless, even for a moment, the windmilling arms could give you a resounding crack on the head. It was a thing of beauty! My teacher used hot type from a Ludlow, the cabinets and trays of cold metal type removed in the ever-dawning realization that letterpress was dying. Was it then? Another decade later, after university and a few years in an office, I found myself variously employed, but able to briefly pass muster on an AB Dick in a basement shop with the most stressed and uptight Caribbean guy I have ever met…. proving that even the most laid back and self-medicated persons can be driven to near madness by commercial printing. After meeting Holly, moving to Merrickville, and becoming familiar with the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, my friend Wendy and I took a workshop from a traveling bookbinder named Gavin Rookledge of Rook’s Books, which proved to be fun and quite cool, but even as a freelance writer, how many blank notebooks could one man use? Perhaps it was in 1996, the centenary of the death of William Morris, and a rather stunning exhibition which came to the National Gallery and featured some examples from the Kelmscott Press. Holly and I were invited to Queen’s University Library to flip through their copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, a spread of which is shown here: By this point, I must confess, the inspiration to print books had me. I began to read Morris on printing, and those others who likewise were inspired by him to ‘romance the press’ throughout the Gilded Age and onward into the mid-20th century. In good order, I discovered that the tradition had survived to the present day, with dozens, even hundreds of private presses operating in North America, Australia and Europe. Sometime around the turn of the millennium, I saw the work of Barbarian Press (Mission, B.C.) in the CBBAG newsletter, and ordered one of their stunning books. Not long after, I met George and Michelle Walker at a book arts show, and purchased their treatment of Poe’s The Raven. Those books were really all the encouragement I needed. The Press, then unnamed, now existed in my head, and the search for an actual printing press began.