The film Pressing On (linked here) explores the method of letterpress printing and all the people behind it that are painstakingly working to preserve this medium. It was these people running the presses who stood out the most to me throughout the film because of their evident passion for the craft. The organizers of these small print shops run out of basements and garages are completely devoted to the entire process of letterpress—from the physical process of printing to the design of the type. Because of this, it is clear that both the physical and design components are necessary for letterpress printing; a thorough understanding of one enhances the other.
The film’s interviewees also discussed the importance of preserving the legacy of printing. Letterpress is a trade, and as such, it must be passed down from generation to generation by teaching and experience. Because of the physical aspects of the press, it’s not something that can be entirely taught in school, and without the hands-on aspect of legacy printing, it will ultimately become a lost art. Having members of younger generations who are excited to learn from skilled older generations works to preserve the intricate innerworkings of the press that are only learned through experience.
Like older technology, printing presses are often tucked away in basements because many people don’t know how to use them. One of the small independent printmakers in the video explained that many of their presses are from people who had them but weren’t sure what to do with them. So, instead of letting the presses go unused and forgotten, they rescued them to be used. Technology such as these presses should be preserved in a way that grants them use so as to preserve the art of letterpress. If presses continue to be left in basements or stored in museums, the method of letterpress publishing will find itself obsolete. Letterpress is an important part of printmaking that shouldn’t be forgotten about, and it’s up to our generation to preserve it.
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, 2017, http://www.letterpressfilm.com/. Accessed 12 October 2021.
The Paper Assembly, http://www.thepaperassembly.com/blog/2015/4/12/letterpress-type-fact-and-fiction/. Accessed 12 October 2021.
4 thoughts on “Preserving Letterpress- Pressing on: The Letterpress Film”
I agree that presses (and other vintage technologies) do need to be used to preserve not just the object, but the craft. When we stop using something like a press, we might remember how it was supposed to work– the theory behind it– but we risk losing the intricacies of working with a machine. Without some experience using a letterpress, we don’t know how to troubleshoot it, what conditions it runs best in, what materials it likes best; we lose the personality of the machine.
You’re so right that letterpresses shouldn’t be tucked away in museums or basements to rot and rust away; if they’re able to be worked to create beautiful art, then they should be out and about doing their job! It’s also one of those activities that should all of the letterpresses be put away or placed on a pedestal, the craft will slowly begin to dwindle as well, until no one remembers how to use one or create prints ever again. We really need to be careful when we consider “storing them away!”
Something I also relate to in your blog is the perspective that the print shops featured in the film are run out of basements and garages. I think this is interesting because it in a way, this shows the beauty in letterpress and how it is centered around the idea of “coloring outside the lines” and the unformal ways that letterpress is this undeniably unique and beautiful process.
The eventual way the art of the letterpress will fade to time that you mention here reminds a lot of. . .human history in general, I suppose. It reminds me of the way that we know ancient civilizations had techniques to create materials that are more advanced than what we have now, and yet, we cannot replicate it. Their secrets have been lost to time. The decline of the letterpress strikes me as another technique that will eventually see the same fate as the ancients: the knowledge that it was used, but the technique entirely lost. I suppose, on a lighter note, the ephemeral nature of such human knowledge is part of what makes it so beautiful and so sad once it’s lost.