When I think about the printing press, I picture a room filled with beautiful pieces of machinery that literally documented history and wrote it into books. I found the film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film to be quite an inspiring account of the history of the letterpress and how it has impacted American history and literature. Perhaps most interesting about this film was how it demonstrated that the modern world was born on a printing press, but it is now in danger of being lost. In addition, I found it fascinating how the film explored why letterpress has survived in the digital age.
There are so many different directions one could go in exploring the significance of the letterpress, but what most stood out to me is how artists and printers involved in letterpress describe how letterpress feels to them. Earl Gee a designer, partner, and creative director of Gee + Chung Design says, “These amazing tools and techniques, which have survived for centuries, connect art and craft, designer and printer, and paper and impression. Letterpress has the extraordinary ability to make a lasting impression by enabling people to appreciate the artist’s craft in both a visual and tactile manner (Gee).”
The most intriguing characteristic of the printing press is type. I am completely fascinated by the process in which text can be transferred from movable type to paper or other platforms by ink. In learning about the printing press, I have gained a whole new appreciation for this system-both for its contributions to literature and its creative publication and evolution to the world.
I found it inspiring how many of the people interviewed in The Letterpress Film emphasized that printing presses are meant to be used, not just looked at in museums. In addition, they argued that the best way to preserve them is by actively using them, and I could not agree more with this statement. I believe that preserving heritage items such as printing presses are essential because they are a fundamental piece of our history that should not be forgotten or disregarded just because we have new advancements in technology.
Gee, Earl. “The Beauty of Letterpress.” PaperSpecs, 19 January 2016, https://www.paperspecs.com/spotlight/beauty-letterpress-art-making-impression/.
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, 2017, https://www.letterpressfilm.com/. Accessed 12 October 2021.
3 thoughts on “Pressing On”
I was also struck by the passion that the interviewees had for their work. They really helped the whole process come alive for me. Letterpress isn’t exactly simple, so we need passionate people to ensure its preservation, especially people in the younger generation.
I totally agree that these presses should be preserved to be used, not so much to be stored away for safekeeping over decades of time! If the letterpresses start to be put away in museums, what presses are left for artists and designers to make gorgeous and uniquely crafted prints for everyone to see? The idea of people being able to feel differently when using a press is interesting too, especially since it’s an art form that truly requires you to touch and move each and every piece in order to make your art; unlike photography where you can move around to find a new angle before snapping a photo, letterpress really requires you to feel your art before it’s produced.
I’m pleased to find that many agree that letterpress should be available for those who wish to explore it and see the value it can teach them to put into their own artistry. And as you’ve pointed out, there is certainly a sentimentality in how one feels operating a letterpress. Having used one myself, it does provide a rewarding sensation of physical exercise and the satisfaction of seeing what you have designed by hand printed in beautiful, smooth ink.