This time of COVID-19 during our #stayathome orders* has afforded me an enormous amount of solitude, thereby a substantive amount of space for art. All this to note a very circuitous route to re-creating a letterpress broadside printed in 1995. It has taken me months to get to the point where I feel satisfied with this last reincarnation (which is good, as I am running out of prints!)
Credit is given to staying home, but more importantly to a book published in 2000 that I cataloged this year for a small art library – Picture This: How Pictures Workby Molly Bang. For those of you who recognize the name, yes, she is the children’s book author.
In 1995 I wrote this short poem, made the paper and using a Vandercook proofing press, printed about 50 copies. I was never satisfied with the results.
In March of 2020 I pulled out the remaining copies to re-design. Below are some of the additions and attempts; some never panned out:
The point I hoped to reach is one where I can say to myself, “I can live with this.” It took two months of off and on viewing and re-making. It was Bang’s book that give me direction.
*Let me say this straight out – I know how fortunate I am during this time of COVID-19. I am currently reading Madeleine Albright’S memoir, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948. My sets of grandparents both escaped living under fascism in Czechoslovakia and Italy; my parents and in-laws lived and fought in the U.S. during World War II. I get how fortunate I am even during this pandemic during 2020, living where I do; being who I am.
The love of calligraphy, type design & letterpress combined with reading Gutenberg’s Apprenticeshould create literary joy on any given day. It should be impossible to put down.
Unfortunately for me, an experienced calligrapher and letterpress aficionado, it is the opposite. Several times I have tried to read this to its end. I want to like it more than I do.
Ms. Christie’s first novel, so well documented, is extremely well written as she is an erudite author on this subject, and a letterpress operator herself. Additionally, the hardback copy is beautifully printed with detailed maps as endpapers and decaled edges on pages that are exquisitely printed.
Nuts! What is not to like, you ask?
Not unlike the historical time period in which Gutenberg lived and stealthily developed type in mid-15th century Mainz, the story is dense. And dark. And moves slowly with a heavy tale of intrigue and deceptions. It is about power and money. Yet with all this – ALL this – I feel weighted down by the narrative. There is no reprieve from the heaviness whether it is with humor or tenderness; no space for a breath. Perhaps the only area that resonates personally is Chapter 8 where Peter discovers the unmitigated power of type – the drawn and carved letter he has created after he sees it pressed for the first time. It is the closest feeling to pure joy.
“None of the arts he’d learned could remain unchanged. None of the ways of his fathers and their fathers, the familiar rhythms of their lives, would be the same. The genie was released from the bottle.”
So, what to do?
While I am grateful to the author for her work, which intellectually I appreciate, I just cannot read more. There are others who are “better” than I with this style of writing; others, who love type, letterpress, art, and history. And, I know just the person – Dr. Schiller!
Christie, Alix. Gutenberg’s Apprentice: a novel. HarperCollins, 2014.
Winter months are a time when I hunker down, emotionally and physically. Like the cycles of seasons, this time of quiet and stillness lends itself to reflection. Reflection without judgment or guilt. Reflection giving room for a personal Spring.
This piece was done in 2007, and remains relevant.
Printed in Summer, 2007 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center located in Maryland. Handmade paper, image design, initial woodblock letter (hand pressed and hand coloured) and text are by Tina Hudak. Letterpress on a Vandercook Proofing Press* using original Optima Sans Serif typeface; printers, Tina Hudak and Beth Schaible.
Dedicated to Delia Neuman, Ph.D, and Sarah Pillsbury Ph.D., two remarkable women.
Hudak, Tina. ” The Keyboard.” Not-to-be-Eaten Editions, #2, 2007.
Twelve prints with four AP; Please contact me regarding availability if you are interested in purchasing a print. Note that colors may vary slightly with each one.
*Alas, the documentation for the press is elusive, but the image was found here.