Mosaic / February 15, 2017

Clare shares passion for letterpress

Post-baccalaureate Kelly Clare adjusts the wood type on her letter press. (Mitch Prentice/TKS)


During her years at Knox, post-baccalaureate Kelly Clare ‘16 tackled a double major of Creative Writing and Studio Art. Now, during her time as a post-baccalaureate, work with the Art Department, Clare hopes to share one of her first artistic passions: the letterpress. Though the technique may seem to be outdated to some, Clare is enthusiastic to be working with the medium. She sat down to describe the process and explain her vision for the studio.

The Knox Student: What are you using the letterpress for?

Kelly Clare: Big question. Letterpress is how books were once made before the advent of the digital printer, going all the way back to Gutenberg in the 15th century. Nearly all books and print media were made this way — everything from copies of the Constitution to Virginia Woolf’s first editions to information on circus posters. … Think about it this way, maybe, at its simplest: every letter is on a piece of lead. You arrange the pieces of lead with letters on them into words, and these words into sentences and then you tighten it all up. It’s easier to understand it when you see it.

TKS: What does letterpress mean to you?

KC: As a double major, I come from a background that’s interested in written language and the visual — in both the linguistic play and the pure spatial delight of color and line. To have the opportunity to hold a word made of lead in my hand — for language to be given an actual weight — is very exciting. Setting type is a slow, slow process. You have to pick up every letter. The point of learning letterpress isn’t expediency. Rather, it’s spending time with language … I become aware of how many times the letter a appears in a poem because my hand has to literally reach for the a, and turn it to face the right direction and check to be sure the type isn’t damaged. It’s about care and attention.

TKS: What kind of letterpresses are available at Knox?

KC: We have three, or kind of four. We have two Kelsey Tabletops that kind of clap closed and a Vandercook One. And then we have a Gravity Proofing Press, a type of setup where you can put your lockup in the press bed really quickly and check it to make sure it’s alright before locking it up in a Vandercook or Kelsey. My favorite is Vandercook. I’ve always liked Vandercook. The big Vandercook Fours and Fives are what I learned on at my internship at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. They had Vandercook Five. It’s this beautiful, elegant machine. It just pulls the paper, presses it against the type, and then loops it back. It’s really stunning. Our Vandercook One is more like a flatbed press, like it has the bed and it has the roller. And because I come from a printmaking background, that’s the process that I’m most comfortable with.

TKS: How did you become involved with the letterpress studio here at Knox?

KC: My first art class that I took at Knox was printmaking. I was a studio art major, so I’ve been jumping around between drawing, painting, and sculpture-making. It’s actually not specific, I’ll just make anything now, but I spent a lot of time printing. I got very, very lucky. Hal Keiner ’67 not only donated all of the beautiful equipment that the art department has over in the Box, but also drove across the country multiple times to help set things up. My time at Knox happened to coincide with his generosity, and faculty enthusiasm. I’ve had internships with letterpress shops before and had taken a few night classes on the side at Prairie Center of the Arts in Peoria. I dearly love the production of broadside … a limited edition print that combines both letterpress text and visual art.

TKS: Who is helping you with the letterpress studio?

KC: Outside of the wonder that is Hal, there is an incredible amount of generosity in both the Art and English Departments. Faculty across the board have spent time, energy, and enthusiasm on this project–from helping unpack the type to building tables for the presses to sit on. I owe them many thanks, especially Mark Holmes, a professor in the Art Department who runs and owns The Box. So many people, Nick Regiacorte, Andrea Ferrigno, Monica Berlin, Tim Stedman, Tony Gant.

TKS: Where can students find the letterpress studio?

KC: It’s in The Space in The Box. If you don’t know, The Box is where a lot of art shows are hung. It’s right on Kellogg and Simmons. … The letterpress is in a corner in this great back room area.

TKS: What do you hope to do with letterpress in the future?

KC: I’m currently working on a broadsides series, and have a few of my own projects on the back burner. Mostly, though, I’d love to help facilitate student work. The letterpresses are incredible resources. We have a lovely collection of wood type and the capacity to produce everything from political postcards to broadsides to self-published chapbooks. Should anyone be interested in letterpress, they should get into contact with me!


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