June 10, 2009

Adventures in Letterpress: The New York/New Jersey Edition

Whilst killing time between the NSS and Renegade I made my rounds at various letterpress studios in New Jersey and New York. This has been a hobby of mine since I started Blue Barnhouse. The most awesome thing about touring letterpress studios is that you'll never see the same setup twice, and you learn a little something about your own studio in the process.

I feel like an idiot. I knew their Heidelbergs were run on windpower, what I did not know is that there was not a big fucking windmill on their property. A destroyed fantasy did not necessarily equal disappointment as much as it illuminates my propensity to make things very large in my mind. As it turns out, windpower is an alternative energy option from their energy provider. No such thing in the south, you have to do that sort of thing on your own dime. Which I may. In like a decade.

9spotmonk runs 2 Heidelberg Windmills and a Vandercook. Vivian moved her press home so she could take care of her two children, but is eager to move it out of the house as soon as they're both old enough to go to school. A home studio is a blessing and a curse. No overhead, no commute, free childcare, but also, never an hour you aren't sucked into being there when you really shouldn't be. The studio takes up a garage, a basement room, and a sundeck. Vivian's sister Tiffany was being a computer geek in the basement office, and declined a picture. If I had taken one that wasn't all blurred I totally would have ignored her request.

The Hermitage
By far the most unique letterpress studio I've paid a visit to. A very sparse and beautiful studio/bookstore, in Beacon, NY, which is about an hour from the city, and an odd but intriguing city.

Hermitage is located in Beacon NY alongside the Hudson River 60 miles north of Manhattan. The actual structure is a house nearly 100 years old. It resides between a Spanish church and two coal silos no longer in use. In the near background lies a defunct railroad track and a creek which empties out into the Hudson. Mt. Beacon stands in the background of all this-- Jon Beacham Prorietor.

The room at the entrance is long and narrow. On one wall various manuscripts and rare literary collections/chapbooks are thumbtacked to the wall in protective sleeves. The right the wall is lined with bookshelves. You know the authors, but there are many titles that seem unfamiliar. There was a heavy concentration of Beat writers, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Buroughs, but also a focus on American classics. I recall a first edition copy of a Melville book, in great condition, with Edward Gorey as the artist, which Kyle bought for $12. I drooled over a chapbook of Kerouac's with a shimmering silver cover, a first edition underground title that is not listed in his official bibliography, $10.

John Beacham files away "new" books. Hermitage feels like a very nice collection more than a bookstore.

Here is Beacham's description of his collection:
The bookshop focuses primarily on 20th Century, Poetry, Fiction, and Art. The context of the shop revolves around publishing, with important & influential Presses highly represented. The stock is carefully hand selected with each book being intentional as part of a larger collection. Small Press American Poetry of the 1950s and 1960s is given a special focus.

The store is a circle of three rooms, turn to your right, a small letterpress studio and gallery space. Beacham keeps vinyl playing on the turntable all day long. A Smog album played as we perused the Hermitage.

The Hermitage Vandercook (SP-15 if I remember correctly.)

Type and a pilot press.

One of dozens of ephemeral wonders hanging on the wall.

The stereo. Beacham would like to start a nice collection of Vinyl as sale items as well.

Next room, the gallery. Pictured here in the gallery is Thomas, a french filmmaker and friend of the proprietor.

On top of all the literary eye-candy, Hermitage has monthly outdoor events by the railroad tracks behind the house in which Jon shows rare 16mm films that he rents from various film libraries. (Jon is a filmmaker as well, and has a cutting room/film setup upstairs)

We had a thorough look-see at the Hermitage and then explored the main street of Beacon and had lunch at a wonderful restaraunt on Jon's recommendation called Homespun. As we returned to our car, Jon, who was hanging out of the upstairs window of the Hermitage house, invited us up to have a beer with he and his guest.

His guest, Thomas, turned out to be an interesting fellow, he had finished 2 years of teaching French in an Ohio university, and had just arrived for a night's stay in Beacon before he was to head back across the pond. He made a film while here in the U.S. and gave Kyle and I a DVD copy. Kyle's got first dibs on watching the DVD but I look foward to getting my paws on it soon.

The Hermitage seems to be a magnet for all the right kind of people.

Press NYC

Tim Chapman of Press NYC does a quality check. He's as picky as I am, lucky for me, we're the same kind of picky.

I've known the Press NYC kids for a little while now. What are they known for? High-end (read: HIGH-END) Manhattan wedding clients. They always have a cocktail party on the first weekday night of the Stationery Show- we attended one way back when and promised each other some sort of work exchange. My employees and I got a little training time on their Heidelberg Windmill while at the January Gift Show. This most recent Stationery Show, while at the annual cocktail party, I asked if I could work for them for a couple full days. I wanted to take a windmill novice's crack at the Press's "Wall of Fame."

15 Heidelberg runs or more in a 9 hour day at Press will get you on the wall, and maybe even laid. Seems like it would be a piece of cake.

My first day as their press monkey wasn't so bad--I knew I would not make the 15 run quota. By now I'm comfortable using a Heidelberg, but I've never actually have been responsible for a real workload with real client work. I fared pretty well as I reacquainted myself the machine's functions--and I definitely had my hand held, as well as given a few complicated tasks over the course of the day that required some new tricks that took a while to get used to. My total on my first day was 9 runs, which is apparently not a bad day. They work on metal plates. A half day of setup on something that takes me less than 5 minutes per run at BBH. I am trying to convince them the beauty of adhesive backed plates. Its fun to play by somebody else's rules, but I can't wait for Tim to play by mine.

Jerry French, Blockhead, Goo, and Gumby make up one of many peanut galleries at Press.

A week later I miraculously found Tim's apartment in the Village after having been a patron of 4 different NYC bars with my bud Buzz Poole. The following morning, which should have been a promising day to get on the wall, was met with bad weather in my head as I nursed a brain totally destroyed by alcohol. The machine requires a sharp mind, I was making mistakes most of the day before lunchtime, ran out of steam on a few occasions afterward, I also had to step away from the press to diffuse a situation back at the ranch for more than 45 minutes.I accepted defeat at 11 runs with 5 minutes to go, which considering my handicap, wasn't that bad.

It's getting better all the time.

I'm up for making another attempt next time I'm in Manhattan in August, though the bastard in charge is upping the minimum number of runs it takes on the wall. He thinks 15 is too easy. No problem. I'll make sure he gets the treatment at BBH.

The Arm

Once upon a time, Daniel Morris had a brilliant idea.

It's been a few years since I've been at the Arm in Brooklyn. During my first visit Dan had all of his presses crowded in the side room as he renovated the rest of the space. He had some ideas about what he wanted to do, but I never suspected it would become the thing it is now. The Arm has become Brooklyn's hotspot for learning the letterpress craft and a place for letterpress printers without a studio to get some press time at a reasonable price.

When I visited in 2005 these gorgeous doors had been recently purchased and leaned against the wall waiting to be installed. The portal had just been cut that week.

The press area at the Arm.

Dan was literaly a few blocks from the Renegade festival, so we were intent on paying an evening visit to have a few beers. I walked around the studio in shock of what the Arm had become. Dan showed us some great prints from the the flat file of various visiting artists. Then he encouraged us to go through his woodtype collection. When I found one that I really liked I asked him I could lock something up in one of the Vandercooks.

Dan served us a few beers. When I learned I was missing an E, I decided my broadside was better without it.

The highlight of the Arm tour was watching a Universal III in action. I'd seen pictures of frisket setups, I'd seen automatic carriages in action. The whole thing seemed too frilly. But seeing the automatic carriage work in conjunction with the friskets, I was blown away. The feeder stands at the table as the carriage rolls forward, the friskets keep the paper in place, the carriage rolls back to you and delivers a finished print to the feed table. WANT ONE!

Universal III in action at Hatch Show Print

Up next in Adventures in Letterpress: Colorado!

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