Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Letterpress at Oberlin

For the past two years, students have spent their Winter Term immersed in art of printmaking in the library's own letterpress studio.  Established in 2011, the studio is housed on the second floor of Mudd Center and is the library's latest project to draw on its traditional collection strengths in the history of printing, book arts, and small and fine presses.  Directed and sponsored by Special Collections Librarian, Ed Vermue, the Winter Term sessions have offered intensive, experience-based instruction in the operation of two types of hand-operated pressed, moveable type, and linocuts.

Letterpress printer and graphic designer, Bob Keleman, demonstrates 
how to 'make-ready' on the Vandercook press during the 2011 Winter Term.

The first half of the Winter Term is focused on the basics: the history of printmaking, typography, papermaking,  and, of course, how to properly use the presses and other equipment in the letterpress studio.  Students work independently on short assignments to help hone their skills and allow them to experiment with different process, preparing them for their final projects. 

Each year a new and challenging assignment is presented for a final project.  During Winter Term 2011, students worked as a team to create an edition of 140 pamphlet stitch books for Oberlin alumna and poet, Sarah Green.  

In 2012, students agreed to a theme (materials from an underground printing house after the apocalypse) and then worked independently to create individual items for a shared portfolio.  The result was an edition of 50 evidence folders filled with postcards, text from banned books, newspaper clippings, children's books, missing persons posters, and other various items made to look as if they were confiscated during a police raid.

For those who have worked in the letterpress studio, whether through Winter Term, an Exco, or just a class visit, you probably know there are many, many drawers of type... drawers that have not necessarily been as organized as one would hope.  However, we have great news.  You will be happy to know that this summer 3rd year MJ Robinson spent hours and hours sorting type, organizing drawers, and creating a searchable inventory!  We has also added additional type to our collection of Garamond, making it possible to set longer passages of text.  A new work table and a new supply cabinet have also been moved into the space, giving students more room to work on projects and store clean materials.  It looks like Fall Semester 2012 is off to a good start!

Thank you, MJ, for all of your hard work!

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