On Saturday, April 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Pacific Center for the Book Arts will present the 31st Annual Printers’ Fair at the Fort Mason Conference Center in San Francisco. “The letter, the word and the book, from the romance of calligraphy to the integration of letterpress printing and digital technology” will be the theme of the fair, with some 40 exhibitors. The event is free to the public.
While desk-top publishing has been commonplace since the early 1990s—“printers” with a dizzying plethora of typefaces and photographic processes complement most computers whether in the office or at home—it’s easy to forget that 50 years ago things were very different. Electric typewriters (with a correcting key) were almost unknown; the fax and xerox unavailable. You could type or handwrite a text. Then, that document could be handed or mailed to an individual.
For a mass-circulation, it could be printed off-set or re-typed on mimeo-graphic stencils (remember the messy blue-notices, “spirit-duplicated” from the school and churches of the l950s?). In most cases, if you wanted to circulate your writing, it was still letter-press or “relief” printing, that is the letter-press technology developed in the 1500s whereby warmed lead was shaped into individual letters (“foundry type”), and then arranged, by hand, into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books (or newspapers, pamphlets, etc).
At this fair, you can access all of that historical technology. In most cases, these technologies have been deemed antiquated, but capable of great artistic resonance. So, for the last 15 years, as the ink-jet or laser printer has dominated our daily work, the feel of relief printing (either by ancient lead or recent plastic plates) has come to play a crucial part in both artistic and avant-garde printing. The “kiss” of the type into the paper (itself often a marvelous confection) has become prized. If we hear of “slow” cooking, there is, as well, “slow” printing: that incorporates the oldest techniques with current practice. So the computer screen of today may tangle with the traditional “hand” whether by pen or lead or plastic.
Various East Bay artists and printers will be exhibiting their skills and displaying their wares in the fair. Karen Switzer, of artnoose, has just letterpressed the 50th issue of her anarchist-oriented ‘zine, kerbloom. Kim Vanderheiden, of Painted Tongue Press, will be showing her prints; Mary Kay Josh will demonstrate her intricate marbling—the beautiful patterns of ink floating on water that, transferred to paper, are used in various decorations such as the “endpapers” of well-bound books. Sharing a table with Patrick Reagh, master-printer of Sebastopol (who sells type and the Pac-Mac, the magnetic base for polymer-plate letterpress), I will be showing the book-works of poet Paul Vangelisti with whom I’ve published Invisible City & Red Hill Press (out of San Francisco and Los Angeles) since 1970.
For those who enjoy the romance of the handwritten letter or postcard, Atelier Gargoyle will exhibit their custom-made seals and wax as well as fountain pens and other supplies for the discerning scribe. Groups such as the Book Club of California, the American Printing Historical Association, the Mills College Center for the Book and the San Jose Printing Guild will have tables. As usual, Jim Heagy will sell tons of lead type and lots of type cases and antique printing equipment.
It’s a delightful day on the water at Fort Mason. Don’t miss the vegetarian chili and pastries next door at Greens Cafe.