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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Philadelphia Prints

So lately I've been going around and meeting older printers that used to do letterpress , just kind of talking with them. If they still have any equipment left it's mostly being used for die-cutting and perfing. Some of these folks are trying to move with the times and some are just biding it. It all come down to that though, time. I feel like there is a missing generation of printers out there. There are all these young folks learning book arts/letterpress as art but, not in a real vocational sense. Same goes for litho, with the consolidation of newspapers and the move to digital books. They aren't learning how to convert Heidelberg's to die-cutting for punching envelopes, they're learning how to hand stitch and stuff.

All of that is well and good but, these folks that lived this haven't really been able to pass their knowledge on to anyone and when I meet with these people there is a sense of extinction. They mostly don't even know that letterpress is a living breathing thing anymore or that anyone is excited by it. I feel like the younger generation could benefit from these dudes and the older folk could gain a sense of legacy by sharing with them.

So I'm looking into starting a non-profit.

I'd like to make a foundation/collabrative work space to kind of bridge this generation gap among printers. Stuff like:

-Get the mechanical know how out there on how to fix a Miehle or a Kluge from someone who has fixed them, not a manual.
-Gather up stories about getting your hand bitten by a C&P when you were 10 and not breaking any bones because you were so little.
-Have lecture series about how type was made, from guys who made it.
-Learning how to kern with hand tools instead of computers.
It would also let these older folks see where this stuff is going; deep impressions, photo-polymer and maybe have the old dogs learn a new trick or two. It would be awesome for me to see old dudes who scrapped their type 20 years ago handling type again. Maybe I'm a romantic.

The whole thing is comprised of three major components

1. The collection of older printers stories and knowledge. This would be accomplished by interviews and invitations to teach regular classes. I would put out a general call in the surrounding areas, in news papers and on social network sites, in addition to my (and whoever else is down) continued visits to these old shops.

2. The younger printers teaching vocationally to future printers, most likely high school students, through arts and vocational programs in the city as well as college students. The focus should be a complete one that includes commercial as well as artistic production. I would like to offer classes to the general public but, that will not be the initial focus. I feel like this is the main purpose of the organization, to not let this sort of gap occur again. This will insure that fad movements and whatever's in vogue won't cause a loss of knowledge because it will create a knowledge base in the young.

3. The creation of a collaborative work space with collections of equipment spanning Litho, Screen, and Letterpress. This should be comprehensive in it's approach, including the tools for fine art production as well as commercial work. These facilities would be either free or charge a nominal fee for members of the organization. People from outside the organization with demonstrated skill could rent time and customers could come and bring jobs to the shop for whatever really and we could use those jobs to teach classes.

All together it's a pretty simple but, a pretty complete idea.

I have had a couple of meetings with folks in the print world about this and am meeting with a friend again this coming wednesday to go over the mission statement and draft of the by-laws. I'm working on the business plan. I bought the website. It's all coming together but, help would be awesome.

I'm posting this everywhere because I want the feedback of printers, bookmakers, graphic designers/typographers in philadelphia or anywhere really. Thoughts, concerns, Ideas for funding, offers to help, etc. Leave comments here or contact me at If you read this and it doesn't apply to you please forward it to someone you think will be in to it.

Thanks again,


  1. It seems like you're looking for response?

    Mine initial thoughts are: instead of venturing out on your own (which is not only scary, but generally unsuccessful for NPOs) have you considered talking to/trying to partner with someone within the Print Center or Fleisher? Both organizations really seem to have their shit together most times and might be really into someone actively taking the lead on a new venture.
    If your heart is set-set-set on letter press, you might limit yourself. It's obvi a great scene but there can be a danger in being too specific?
    Do you have a place/equipment/location/financing in mind? I mean, there's certainly a lot of grants/etc you could apply for, but they will want to watch you and how you work before they drop dat rain on you.

    As far as involvement, (you said mostly students?) That seems like a great idea, but I think the way to do it is to get into existing after school programs (for HS) or a Special Studies Studio Class (with Tyler or UArts, etc). YOu'd be surprised at the nuts who teach. Just an idea: bc as a current student (albeit grad, not HS),

    THis is turning into drivel. You hsould have seenb the last paragrpah I deleted. Anyway, I think it's very nice ideas, and If you want, we can talk about it IRL sometime. I just doesn't make sense to me to start from scratch.

    Must go to bed immediately.

  2. @Bangs Thanks for the concern and I'm already thinking about this. As this process moves forward I plan on exploring partnership/sponsorship options or even integration with existing organizations. I'm going to do this but, I don't have to do it alone. That's something I'm just figuring out at 34 :)

    As far as printing I want to focus on all the traditional mass-production methods so, Letterpress, Lithography, and Screen in that order. They are threatened in that order so, I want to get the knowledge that's at the greatest risk first. Kind of like we should save the great panda first and then the red panda sort of deal.

    With schools, yeah that's the plan but instead of after school programs I was thinking more like internships. like 3 to 6 month, half day immersive program for seniors. With weekend programs for slightly younger (10th and 11th)and older (college)kids.

    Yes, lets get together over coffee or something after wednesday next week. I'll hit you up on the facebook