To Speak Through the Letterpress: An Excursion

Last Wednesday, I took a trip with my small press/publishing class to the relatively new Meshwork Press print shop in Wilkinsburg, PA. Despite its small interior, it was a welcoming environment with an affable staff. Most of the tools and resources used for their work were kept close to the entrance, rather than blocking it off with a cold or gimmicky front. Now would be as good a time as any to address the founder, Haylee Ebersole, and her contributions to local youth help organizations (1). Seeing her in person as she hosted our excursion, I’m sure we can all agree that her love for the letterpress craft, and her desire to teach young people and children the value of creating something to make people happy is prominent.

Being near a real letterpress, let alone getting to use it was like embracing the past, utilizing a skill that had been lost to time. Unsurprisingly, it was intimidating at first (especially being around it with the motor in action), but likewise, it was rewarding to develop a judgment and instinct for which prints to use and how many spacers to place between and around them. It also accentuated the value of teamwork. Physically looking around the room for resources for our teams’ projects provided a sense of accomplishment not too common in the world of graphic design today.

A print a fellow student and I constructed with letterpress tools as a logo for her Dungeons & Dragons party

If there was one thing I would’ve done differently on my visit, it may have been to make more than one design through the large press, or to take up more than one line of print. Granted, there was a much smaller press that was much easier to use with a star pattern already prepared. The professor advised us to ease ourselves into the process by using one line of print, but seeing all the extravagant designs the other students printed, I still believe I could’ve, at least, tried to make some more. If I could take anything from that, it might be to think more critically of instructions.

Our class’s teaching assistant printing her design on the letterpress. As seen from the motion blur on her hands, it takes a bit of elbow grease.

Now that I’ve gotten a good taste of the work that goes into the letterpress, I can confidently say that if I was offered a job in this business, I’d gladly take it and contribute to the community with a smile and a grin. Every young student looking for a career should understand that any job will come with stress and heavy emotions, and that’s just the reality of it. When you have an idea of what you want to do, you have to consider the problems that will come with it, but you’ll soon realize that this stress you feel is over something that inspires you, and you truly have become apart of the community, and that ought to motivate you to do what is needed to maintain balance once again. In the words of Mister Rogers “What a good feeling to feel like this, and know that the feeling is really mine.”

Work Cited

Meshwork Press, https://meshworkpress.com/. Ebersole, Haylee; Bushaw, Kirie, 2021

2 thoughts on “To Speak Through the Letterpress: An Excursion”

  1. I like that you mention that letterpress is a team activity! We currently stress teamwork a lot in school and work, yet when I think of a collaborative process, letterpress is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind (it would probably be Zoom). And the letterpress is itself a collaboration between print and printer, creating a product that dialogues between reader and author as well. Such conversation lends itself well to the element of “community” that you speak of, and letterpress products themselves can often bring together members of a community (such as through event posters, etc.)

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  2. I find it fascinating how you describe what it feels like to be in the presence of a real letterpress. In addition, I also had a similar experience while working with letterpress for the first time. I also found it a little intimidating at first, but working with my peers made it a valuable and rewarding experience. In addition, I like how you explore the concept that prospective students looking into future careers should understand that any job will come with stress and heavy emotions, but you should never let this discourage you from trying something new or persevering forward.

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