For 10 students this past winter term, all it took to travel back in time was a trip to the second floor of Mudd Library. Large picture windows allow a peek into the second-floor room they used – a room plastered with posters of typefaces and full of gigantic wood and metal machines; stacks of thin, labeled drawers; and tidy shelves of organized black squares. This seemingly eclectic assortment of items is the making of a letterpress, which moved over the summer into Mudd, where it will be housed until permanent space is found.
Special Collections Librarian Ed Vermue, who was the driving force behind organizing the winter term project, noted that collecting all the materials needed for a working letterpress like this one was a long process. “We had to have some equipment donated. That was five or six years ago that we began to be offered tools,” he said.
In addition to getting proper equipment, Vermue organized for graphic designer Robert Kelemen, who had taught letterpress before, to teach the course with local artist Claudio Orzo helping out.
According to Nora Berson ’13, one of the students participating in the winter term project, Kelemen initially focused on learning about the equipment they would use. But once they began working on projects, “It was very tedious work because you have to be very meticulous. It went very slowly, but it was very exciting to do such a hands-on project that’s been around for hundreds of years.” Like others in the class, she worked on two individual projects. She began by setting metal type, using an excerpt of a poem by Theodore Roethke entitled “The Walking.” For her next project, she carved an image of hands holding blackberries into a block of linoleum. The linoleum block was then used to print the image onto paper.
Students also worked as a group with poet Sarah Green ’02, creating and printing 140 copies of an illustrated, 12-poem collection of Green’s work. The black-and-white images of fireflies that are scattered throughout the book are in part credited to Berson herself. Berson explains that the fireflies are “a theme in some of the poems. I was doing some little sketches of them and they ended up working from some of the drawings.”
Berson found the project to be a rewarding experience. “It was really cool to learn about both the history of printing and all the craft elements that we needed to know,” she says of the project.