When local bookseller King’s Books needed help promoting their annual printing festival, the store turned to PLU students Rebecca Leaf and Roxanne Cooke.
Leaf and Cooke are currently enrolled in the independent study course, “Art of the Book II.” The course instructor, lecturer Jessica Spring, is a local independent small press printer who will participate in the festival this year. She assigned the promotional poster as Leaf and Cooke’s first project of the semester.
The poster will promote the bookstore’s third annual printing festival, called Wayzgoose. The event, held in recognition of Small Press Month, allows local letterpress printers and book artists to showcase their wares, while visitors can participate in free demonstrations.
Leaf and Cooke designed a 12-by-19 inch poster around the theme of alchemy and black magic because in the old days, letterpress and book making were considered black magic, Leaf explained. They are currently in the process of setting up the print run, a process that has taken hours.
The most tedious part of the process is setting a job up and then taking it down, Leaf said. Done completely by hand, “setting up” involves precisely placing and aligning each letter of the text, line spacers and illustrations inside a frame.
“It’s completely hands on. We’re setting the type down to the very last pica,” she said. “The actual printing will only take about an hour.”
The two will print 150 to 200 posters on PLU’s 1940 Vandercook proof press, which is mechanized and more modern than the university’s other letterpresses from the early 1900s. The posters will be placed around Tacoma.
The work of past and present students from PLU’s printing and publishing arts program will also be showcased at the festival. It will include work being produced by the 15 students enrolled in this semester’s “Art of the Book,” the program’s studio art course that gives students hands-on experience in letterpress printing, papermaking, marbling and bookbinding.
An English literature major, Leaf decided to pursue a minor in the publishing and printing arts because she wants to go into publishing. She doesn’t consider herself artistically inclined, but after taking “Art of the Book,” she was hooked.
“I loved it,” she said. “It’s completely your own creation, down to the paper you use and the color of ink you use.”
PLU’s printing and publishing arts minor is unique because it combines the history of the book with the “book arts,” the actual printing and professional side of the process, said Solveig Robinson, the program’s director. The minor attracts students from across the disciplines.
“It grabs people’s imaginations. There’s something so powerful about being able to realize and actualize your ideas and do this sort of physical thing,” Robinson said. “This is a powerful, ancient medium for them to work in.”
Students gain hands-on experience in the book arts through the Elliott Press, a collection of presses, lead type and related materials located in Ingram Hall. The press was named after T. Leslie Elliott, an editor and bookseller whose is largely credited with the success of the program.
Elliott began teaching an English course at PLU in 1974 called “The World of the Book.” It gave students insight into book publishing and caught the attention of people both on an off campus. PLU quickly gained a reputation for holding a special interest in the study of books.
The university received its first letterpress from a retiring printer who donated his equipment in the late 1970s. Since then, the program has received numerous gifts of type, presses and related materials.
Small Press Month highlights the importance of small, independent presses and showcases the diverse and unique voices being published today. Now in its eleventh year, the nationwide promotion takes place every March.
King’s Book Small Press Month Wayzgoose is on March 31 from noon to 4 p.m. The store is located at 218 St. Helens Ave. in Tacoma. For more information, visit www.kingsbookstore.com/wayzgoose.html.
To learn more about PLU’s printing and publishing arts program, visit www.plu.edu/~ppa.
Photo by Chris Hunt ’07.