Archive for the ‘Private Presses’ category

A Joyful Collaboration: The Truth About Rabbits

May 2, 2015

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It is our great pleasure to announce the release of a book of poems by Winona Linn, The Truth About Rabbits. These edgy, intelligent and humorous poems have been set by hand in metal type by Thee Hellbox Press in Kingston, with wood engravings  cut and printed by Larry Thompson of Greyweathers Press — a joyous collaboration of word, type and image.

The Truth About Rabbits
Poems by Winona Linn
Wood engravings by Larry ThompsonJointly published by Thee Hellbox Press and Greyweathers Press
Hand set in type in the Garamond face printed by Hugh Barclay at Thee Hellbox Press
Wood engravings printed by Larry Thompson at Greyweathers Press
Dimensions: 10.5 x 10″ tall. 20 pages on St. Armand paper
142 copies

$75

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Ten Years: Pondering a Decade of a Press

February 12, 2015

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Last night I had the very great privilege to speak to the Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild on the origins of the Press.

In preparation for this, I realized that the topic is really quite vast, and could be broken down into several distinct topics. For example, every book printed off the press has its own story, worthy of an entire conversation. There is the business side, of showing and selling, pricing and marketing. And there is the whole messy matter of art. For CBBAG, I chose origins.

I set the start date of Greyweathers Press as 2005, the year that I printed the first book, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. However, the primary urges go back far earlier, rooted in a love of books and story. I loved comics when I was a kid, and still do although I do not collect nearly as much. In the early 1990s I took a bookbinding workshop but otherwise I just thought about producing books.

In 1996, an exhibit of the work of William Morris opened my eyes to the private presses, and it led me to the rich field of printing being done in Canada.

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I like Morris’ sensibility here, although it does grate a bit with the border and drop caps from his magnus opus, the Kelmscott Chaucer, in this keepsake created digitally some years ago then rendered into a magnesium plate: “a definite claim to beauty.”

From there, an understanding of letterpress came, but that’s a blog for another day.

Letterpress is an umbrella that that overhangs many differing motivations. Some are called to ‘old school’ printing for the romance associated with the history of printing. There are enthusiasts of the equipment, or those wild-eyed collectors of type of every kind. Commercial letterpress is still viable for high end printing jobs, and lino and woodcut artists love letterpress for its reproduction excellence. For myself, books brought me to letterpress and the desire to produce books keeps me printing. I’m also working in the so-called ‘fine press’ tradition, going to sometimes absurd ends to achieve  quality in printing, inking, impression and binding etc. In fact, there are elements of all these things built into my motivation to print.

 

 

Small & Private Presses at the Fisher Library, U of Toronto

September 22, 2013
Five flights of WOW at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Five flights of WOW at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. Taken at the exhibition level, and imagine turning another 45 degrees in each direction and seeing more of the same.

This past summer the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library ran an exhibition titled “A Death Greatly Exaggerated,” referencing the famous quote by Mark Twain who, one day, was amused to read his own obituary. For the exhibit, it refers to the printed book about which we have all heard dire pronouncements and grim prognostications. It featured examples from private presses and small presses from the past half century or so, culled from the Fisher’s own collections.

On the day that the exhibition was set to wrap, Saturday September 7th, the librarians decided to hold a show of private presses and small presses in the spacious room that literally lies at the bottom of a tower of books rising up five flights on almost all sides, these books being the Thomas Fisher Library collection — a collection that includes a First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, and a world-class collection of Alice books and ephemera. Yup, that’s Alice of Wonderland fame.

Greyweathers Press was very pleased and honoured to have been included in this fine show. My small table was nestled between Alan Stein on one side and Hugh Barclay (Thee Hellbox Press) on the other. Other notables from the fine press community included George Walker (who some years back illustrated a limited edition run of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass), Will Reuter of Aliquando Press, and Shanty Bay Press, amongst others. One thing I liked about this show was the presence of writers and publishers from the small press community. It made for a good mix, but reminded me how woefully ignorant I am of some of these presses, and of the important work they do to carry on a cultural and literary duty. Visitors to book arts show will know of Porcupine’s Quill, but also in attendance were poet-publishers such as Ottawa poet rob mclennan with poet-book conservator wife, Christine McNair.

In spite of inclement weather, a steady crowd streamed through all day, and everyone seemed to have a good time. But the real star of the day was the venue – the rare book collection all ’round us while we talked about and sold our books.

View from the show floor of the stacks, with Tintern Abbey on the left and Tenebrismo on the right, in the foreground.

View from the show floor of the stacks, with Tintern Abbey on the left and Tenebrismo on the right, in the foreground.

One visitor wondered if we (the exhibitors) had access to the books. I laughed, imagining the pandemonium that would ensue with two dozen crazed book fiends on the loose, were that ever to be permitted! No, the stacks are, very correctly, secured from public access. Requests are directed through staff who then retrieve the books to be – depending on the book – examined in a supervised reading room.

 

The Third & Elm Press

November 4, 2012

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Business and good fortune had us visiting Newport, Rhode Island a couple of weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy. The weather was extraordinarily beautiful and temperate, literally a calm before a storm. When I travel with Holly, I try not to schedule too much press activity, which can easily usurp a timetable. But destiny took a hand. While visiting a photography gallery called Blink, we learned that the owner’s mother ran a letterpress in the heart of Newport. On our last day there, Holly and I made sure to visit The Third and Elm Press, named (as you probably surmised) for the corner on which Ilse Burchert Nesbitt’s shop is located.

The home of the Third and Elm Press, located at Third and Elm in Newport, Rhode Island.

Ilse came to America from Germany in 1960, and set up the press with her husband, a calligrapher and book designer, in 1965. There are details and sample of her work on her website at www.thirdandelm.com. She is now 80 years old and not showing much sign of slowing down.

Isle has a very nicely organized studio. It is not large, but it holds an early 19th century “acorn” iron press, a good sized floor standing platin press, a cutter and several banks of type. While she has printed several books over the years, her primary focus these days is in making wood cut prints. In the long-established German tradition, she cuts her blocks using knives, as opposed to gouges and gravers.

A relief wood cut carved with knives on the plank.

The style of knives that Ilse uses for cutting her blocks.

Close-up of the plaque on the ‘acorn’ iron press.

A close-up of Ilse’s work-horse platin press, with a rainbow hue of inks on the underside of the inking disk.

I admired Ilse’s cutting desk, which folds down elegantly when not in use. Most print studios need space-saving solutions like this. (Mine certainly does!)

All the type drawers have beautiful calligraphy labels. Since I live with a calligrapher of some note, I have put Holly on notice that I would like this treatment for my type cabinets as well.

I make a habit of carrying samples of my books and prints with me where ever I go, so I was able to show them to Ilse and recieve a critique. She was refreshingly frank, or perhaps I should say refreshingly Teutonic. She thought my lines might “open up” and become more naturalistic if I abandoned gouges and gravers and adopted the knife as my principal tool, something I will certainly try when I turn my hand to cutting on the plank. She felt that my lines were too clean, that they followed each other too closely, that I needed to “loosen up.” All good advise, and in a sense, that’s the direction my linos had been going prior to my jump into wood engraving.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon visiting with Ilse, hearing her thoughts on the ‘business’ and dropped some money in her gallery upstairs on a book and two prints. Most of all, it was simply inspiring to meet a fellow printer and print-maker who is steadily pursuing her passion and not letting anything, least of all aging, get in the way.

Remembering Tintern Abbey

May 5, 2012

Tintern Abbey from inside the nave.

It all started with our trip to England, back in October 2008. Holly and I took a rambling jaunt around the English countryside that took us from Land’s End to Yorkshire. Along the way we dipped into Wales while following the Wye River, stayed in a village called Llandago and visited with Nicolas and Frances McDowall of Old Stile Press who live just up the road from the ruins of Tintern Abbey. About 10 years go they created a simply lovely book of the poem. All their books are stunning – hand printed sometimes on paper made on site. They have an image rich website worth exploring!

The lane way to Old Stile Press, mer-person sculpture at the hairpin.

I liked Nicholas’ idea of being a ‘book builder’,  of using letterpress, fine papers and bindings as an elegantly designed platform for presenting art – both in the design of the book, and in the overt and integral use of art as illustration. I think it would be over-wrought to say that the visit changed my life, but it greatly influenced the direction I intended to take Greyweathers Press. The trip to England came at a time when I was doing some heavy thinking about printing, books, writing, art and, not to be ignored, making a living! Not that I was planning to pack it in, but there are many applications for letterpress and I believe it helps to focus. The visit to Old Stile, and three or four other likewise inspirational destinations including Eagle Press, Strawberry Press and St. Bride Library in London, provided the needed inspiration to carry on printing books.

Contemplating books, printing and art amongst the ruins. The scenic Wye River Valley that inspired Wordsworth can be seen beyond the windows.

Unlike Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Holly and I didn’t walk “the sportive wood run wild.” Rather we stuck mostly to A466, and wandered leisurely through the roofless splendor of Tintern Abbey. The ruins of the Abbey served only to act as part of the title of Wordsworth’s poem, simply to locate him in context for his reader. However, for me they connected influential literary aspects of my distant past with present passions, forming a sort of conduit resulting ultimately in our take on Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, making it, I suppose, the press’ legacy of our England tour.

The smallest room in Tintern Abbey was the library, about the size of a walk-in closet.

Busy, busy, busy…. sweating.

July 7, 2010

I haven’t blogged overmuch in recent weeks because writing for pay or publication of some kind or another has sucked up most of my words. It’s been great, but I can’t really claim my heart’s been in it. The pull to the studio is too much.

I’ve been feeling blue about a lot of things recently, amongst them the lack of progress on Graven Images, which is almost finished. When I get into a state I have Holly to remind me of the things I’ve accomplished, all of which I seem to forget about immediately upon completion.

Now a heat wave has descended upon us, making productivity an even greater challenge. An portable air conditioner in the studio takes the edge off (about 27º C, or 80ºF) allowing us to work, but both Holly and I managed somehow to become dehydrated and badly affected by the heat. Part of it for me was sleeping one night too many in the upstairs of what we call “the old house” where the temperature must have arced up into the 90’s. We’ve now relocated for the foreseeable future to the studio loft, and easier rest.

I’ve just finished and filed an article for the Maine Antique Digest about an auction I attended on June 19. I’ve spent years writing about the antiques business, and have done hundreds of these coverages. If you blended sports reportage with stock market coverage, with a little bit of Siskel and Ebert, all thrown into an 18th century brass brewing pot, you’d end up with one of my show or auction coverages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing them, and after all these years I count it as something I can do very well, when inspired.

Obviously, I can’t give much in the way of details about the story, other than to say that the collection in question belonged to my dear friends Bill Dobson and Linda Hynes. Bill and Linda owned The Upper Canadian, the Canadian antiques trade newspaper, and gave me a job editing all those years ago when I first came to Merrickville. Eventually I went on to edit the newspaper, which was certainly a career highlight for me. I was a little surprised that MAD editor Clayton Pennington asked me to cover Bill’s sale, considering he must have known, as most people in the biz do, that Bill and I are good friends, and that I would have some trouble being objective. Hey, maybe it was a test. Sure enough, it proved a challenge to write.

The Dobson auction is just one of four lengthy articles I’ve had to produce this spring, with another one destined for The Upper Canadian (this past five years in the capable hands of new owners) due July 25. The July/August issue with my review of Henry Dobson’s (no relation to Bill) new book on Canadian Maritime furniture just arrived in my mail today.

Mix in with all this a small order of ornaments for our Big Client, and a few volunteer tasks, and we have a busy schedule.

In regards to fine press printing during these busy times, there is a printing opportunity pulling me away from Graven Images. Some time back, Canadian Notes & Queries contacted me wondering if the Press would produce a keepsake for its autumn issue. This keepsake would go out to their paid subscribers, so it’s no small quantity, and is intended to show off the finer aspects of the printer’s art in Canada. Just to make things a little more intense, I’m following in the footsteps of Greenboathouse Press, whose principal, Jason Dewinetz, produced a rather stunning reproduction of a page of Nicolas Jenson’s 1476 edition of Pliny’s Natualis Historiae. I have had the opportunity to examine Jason’s work, and it is, to my eye, flawless printing. I should note that Jason has been doing the hand printing gig for only a few years, but his well of knowledge in book design goes fathoms deep, as you will learn from his bio. Having recently acquired Jim Rimmer’s type founding operation, Greenboathouse Press will be a Canadian leader in private press printing, and  one to watch in the future.

So, not sweating in the least about following in Greenboathouse’s wake. Well, I am sweating, but that the heat. Really, it is. I’m doing a page also, a tribute to William Morris, although it won’t be full size. I’m starting to assemble notes for the article already.

Well, that’s enough rambling for now. For Holly and me, today is our 19th anniversary; we have no actual official date, so we just use the date we met. By mutual consent, we’re off to an air-conditioned movie house.


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