APHA’s Chesapeake Chapter is an active group of collectors & letterpress printers sponsoring monthly lectures, field trips and other opportunities to connect on an informal basis. Generally made up of members from within 90 miles of Washington, DC, the Chapter enjoys close-by access to a variety of major APHA-related collections, such as the Library of Congress & the Smithsonian, along with a large number of museums and libraries with important book and printing history holdings.
The Chapter also has an active group of letterpress printers with a variety of equipment and varied missions, producing a variety of work from ephemera and keepsakes to posters and books. Often one of the printing members will produce a keepsake for those attending the events.
We will eventually get most of our Chapter’s past history transferred to this main APHA site, but in the meantime you can visit the Chesapeake Chapter’s website.
February 28, 2014 / Part 1 of 2
An exhibition of original prints & printing blocks cut by José Guadalupe Posada from the collection of the Library of Congress
At 10:30 the Chesapeake Chapter met in the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress to see the original printing blocks cut by José Guadalupe Posada that are held in the collection of the Library of Congress.
J.G. Posada (February 2, 1852 – January 20, 1913) was a Mexican political printmaker and engraver. Working at the turn of the last century Posada specialized in lurid, sentimental and comic images with satirical acuteness and social engagement for the popular press. His chapbooks and broadsides sold for a penny or two and, in a way, were the tabloid press of the day. Politics, crime, fashion, fairy tales, prognostications and social satire were his subjects.
He joined the staff of a publishing firm owned by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo and while at this firm he created a prolific number of book covers and illustrations. Much of his work was also published in broadsides depicting various current events.
He died largely unknown and was buried in a pauper’s grave about 1913, but his work was rediscovered by the Surrealists, and later generations of artists have embraced his melodramatic graphic works. Today he is something of a cult figure.
The opportunity to see this work firsthand strengthened the need for students of design and the book arts to see things in the flesh so they can see techniques and textures that just cannot be understood from a printed image or a website.
Also it is worth pointing out that belonging to a diverse group such as the Chesapeake Chapter often pulls one into experiences one would never have on one’s own and which can become important milestones in one’s education and career.
Chris Manson (shown above left) is a letterpress printer & woodcut artist whose personal interest in Posada instigated the plan for this meeting. Chris is shown talking to Martha Kennedy of the LoC.
Chris (above, not below) addressing our Posada-starved group.
Sara Duke (above) provided us with the history of the collection of J.G. Posada work which is part of The Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon. The Swann Collection contains 2,085 drawings, prints, and paintings related to the art of caricature, cartoon, and illustration spanning the years 1780 to 1977. Most of the images are cartoons, comic strips, and periodical illustrations reflecting such aspects of society as political and economic conditions, social mores, employment, domestic life, families and children, relations between the sexes, and superheroes, drawn by American artists between 1890 and 1970.
The image below is of the J.G. Posada print shop taken circa 1900 by an unknown photographer. Used with permission of Wikimedia Commons.
You can read more and find links to Posada’s life and work through Wikipedia by clicking here.
Bill Roberts and Donald Farren take a close look at the engraving technique of several zinc printing plates.
A nice view of one of the zinc printing plates. Posada drew and handcut approximately 20,000 illustrations of all sizes for printing. Many of those were done for penny sheets from the publishing firm owned by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo.
It was definitely a day for skull sightings.
Posada’s work is almost always woven through with skeletons.
Pat Manson, Martha Kennedy, and Manon Theroux look at some of the research in the exhibition catalog, Posada’s Mexico.
Jill Cypher and Tray Nichols check out details in a child’s game (left) and a religious icon (right) from the LoC collection.
Bill Roberts and Ray Nichols discuss some issues in how the metal type must have been locked up as the movement in one line would often impact the lines around it, indicating that it was likely set solid. Might be worth investigating the issue of the problems of setting solid and the time cost that editing adds and the need to be as efficient in the use of space as possible. As both Bill and Ray work pretty hard to print well, it is fun to see someone really ‘banging’ out these penny sheets and the sense of history that comes with them.
Just for the record, I tried looking around for some explanation of penny sheets and couldn’t find anything. If anyone knows anything about them, I’d like to know. Email Ray.
Ray Nichols and Jill Cypher checking out details of the construction of a clamshell box which contained one of the printing plates.
A nice view across some of the 12 tables of goodies.
Chris Manson and Jill Cypher discuss technical details of wood / zinc engraving. It is this kind of moment that being a Chesapeake Chapter member really comes alive.
Whitney Conti, currently interning with Chris Manson to add to her knowledge of printing via letterpress, gets excited talking with papermaker / printmaker Patterson Clark.
Donald Farren could be heard reading to himself in Spanish as he worked to dissect the rules of this child’s board game.
Afterwards we adjourned to the LoC cafeteria for lunch and some great discussion about what we had seen.
As we were finishing lunch we happened to see Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books, leaving the cafeteria and he came over to our table. It had come out that Ray Nichols and his traveling companions were going to take the opportunity to visit the Rare Book Reading Room to view a selection of Ken Campbell’s artists books.
Immediately after lunch several of us needed to renew our Reader’s Cards and a couple were first timers. It is a good feeling getting that first card.
February 28, 2014 / Part 2 of 2
An intimate look at the books of Ken Campbell and Historia Naturalis
So, in addition to Chris Manson’s Posada event, Ray Nichols had been wanting for several months to visit the Library of Congress, which holds a complete collection of work by British letterpress printer and bookmaker, Ken Campbell. The original idea was to just stop by the Reading Room after lunch and request a few examples for a few of us to look at.
Earlier in the week Ray listed the five Campbell books that most interested him in an email to Mark Dimunation. Mark sent back an email stating they were on a cart behind the desk waiting on him.
Having seen the size of our hardcore lunch group and our excitement at seeing Campbell’s books, we guess he went back and set up an intimate presentation for us in the Rosenwald Room.
The LoC has the best service anywhere.
Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books at the Library of Congress, wrote a compelling article on book artist Ken Campbell in Parenthesis, a magazine published by the Fine Press Book Association. Ken’s work often has a large number of overprintings which creates a dense, textural quality and gives the production a spontaneous feel.
This is our gathering in the Rosenwald Room. Note Whitney, who looks like she really, really wants to be the first one to have eye contact with the next page Mark is going to expose. From the left is Bill Roberts, Tray Nichols, Casey Smith, Jill Cypher, Whitney Conti, Herschel Kanter, Pat Manson, Mark Dimunation and Chris Manson.
Mark walked his way through each of the five books, providing personal thoughts and stories about the printer and his process. Ray’s main interest in Campbell’s work was to see The Word Returned, shown above. The book was a massive undertaking requiring dozens of overprintings to accommodate the repurposed zinc stencils. The 40 or so copies required a staggering 66,000 impressions to complete.
The book lived up to its reputation. Photos cannot convey the physical and visual weight of each page, the tactile nature of the surface, or the subtlety of the color.
We needed to show one photo of Ray taking a slow and quiet page-by-page look.
Jill Cypher and Pat Manson look through Ten Years of Uzbekistan (1994). The following description is from Mark’s article in Parenthesis.
“Ten Years of Uzbekistan takes the aggressive physical gesture to the level of metaphor, as the faces of people who vanished during the Stalinist sweeps are obliterated in Alexander Rodchenko’s album. Here layers of overprinting obscure and censor the faces of the missing victims, each of them bordered by a zinc frame. The framing device proved recalcitrant as printing progressed; the zinc plates consistently popped and lifted. Campbell attacked them with a barrage of staples, leaving the frame with a menacing texture that translated to the page.”
Below is a closeup showing the texture resulting from the staples. [Make a note to try this on our Vandercook at Lead Graffiti.]
Mark even went back and brought out another couple of Campbell’s works. He seemed happy surrounded by Campbell devotees.
As an added story, Ray Nichols had also been reading the history of the Doves Press which mentioned that the Doves type had used a 1476 printing of Historia Naturalis by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) printed by Jensen in 1476. An ex-disciple of William Morris, T.J. Cobden Sanderson had purchased a copy of the book from the estate of William Morris. Cobden Sanderson used the type, the first example of roman type and simply a beautiful page of pure typography, as the basis for the Doves Press house font and design style. Commissioned in 1899 by Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, punchcutter Edward Prince’s single-sized 16-point type was used in all of the Doves Press publications and was a key element of the Press’s influence on modern book design.
So, Ray also wanted to take the opportunity to see Historia Naturalis. As another example of Dimunation’s enthusiasm, he brought not one copy, but two, for us to look at.
”Why two copies?”
”Because I can.”
Bill Roberts, of Bottle of Smoke Press who had ridden down with the Lead Graffiti group, owns a page of the Historia Naturalis and took a bit of his time to search through the book, looking for his page which started with an initial capital “H.”
“Ah, there it is.” Every so often a day comes by when you wish you could read Latin.
An aside: When you go to the Library of Congress bring a sharp 10x loupe with you. Looking at things close is nice.
You can almost imagine Chris Manson, who was watching, asking, “You going to try and sneak that out?” To which Bill would probably have replied, “No, not today.”
And then Chris saying, “Well, I’m going to take a shot at it.”
Mark explains some touches in SKUTE AWABO [AWABO SKUTE] (1992) to Jill and Pat.
It was a really, really special day.
On the way out through the Library of Congress’ atrium, the group from Lead Graffiti got some ideas for a new entrance-way for their studio.
A few words to anyone who loves really nice books. Get a Library of Congress Reader’s Card (free) and spend an afternoon every month soaking in the beauty found in books.
Text & photos by Ray Nichols, Jill Cypher & Tray Nichols