The excursion to Meshwork Press provided a glimpse into the heart of letterpress. The bright little shop, tucked away in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania was inviting and colorful, filled with artwork and makeshift supplies. The room had a feeling of authenticity, creativity, and craftsmanship – a playground for the imagination. Haylee Ebersole, the founder of Meshwork and the artist who so graciously gave us free-range of her studio, welcomed us warmly and shared her knowledge of letterpress with us without hesitation or complicated language, which made learning fun and easy.
Experiencing the ins and outs of letterpress first-hand – touching the many pieces and working the press – was more valuable than anything I could have read in a book or watched on a screen. Although reading and hearing about the craft of letterpress is always insightful, actually experiencing it for myself – the adventure of finding the pieces, the frustration of fitting them all together with furniture, the joy of finally seeing the letters pressed onto the paper – was certainly a richer learning experience. This experience at Meshwork urged me to have a deeper appreciation for typesetting and the incredible hard work and talent it takes to simply preserve this art form, an art form that changed history and exhibited the power of imagination.
These words from Anais Nin, “You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness. You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing … Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved “, some up my overall experience with typesetting. And, I think, through Nin’s words I better understand why letterpress is so valuable to small poetry presses. Firstly, letterpress is a way for small press poetry to have and keep creative control of their work, which they have labored over and poured themselves into. Secondly, letterpress creates a way for a poet, or any artist, to become that much closer to their work. Through letterpress the artist uses their whole self, not just their minds, but their bodies too. Thinking back to my own small understanding of letterpress after visiting Meshwork, I can see why this is so important – it brings together the abstract and the concrete, the mind and the body, and the poet with their poetry. I am grateful that my time at Meshwork helped me to see this more clearly, and I greatly appreciate Haylee’s efforts to keep letterpress alive and flourishing.
The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971)