When I listen to the Anthology of American Folk Music on my iPod, I can hear the vinyl crackle underneath Chubby Parker’s frolicking King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O —one era’s technology audible in this one. Harry Smith, an eccentric and bohemian, was the man behind this unprecedented compilation of early American music. Smith, who was primarily bi-coastal with stints in New York’s Lower East Side and the West coast, also found himself for a time in Boulder, Colorado. A friend of the poet Allen Ginsberg, he lived in a delightfully small and utterly charming cottage on the edge of Naropa University, a Buddhist college devoted to contemplative education, founded by Ginsberg and the poet Anne Waldman. It was out the back door of my former office at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program that I could see Smith’s former house (he died in 1991), now renamed the Harry Smith Printshop.
Chandler and Price platen press
Although Smith’s legacy is situated within the musical genre, he was also a visual artist and filmmaker and the print shop honors his artistic contributions to the 20th century and his presence in Boulder. Inside the small shingled building was a collection of beautiful, but seemingly archaic equipment: a Chandler and Price platen press and a Vandercook SP-15 proof press. Against one wall was an immense wooden cabinet filled with metal and wood type – fonts big and small, symbols to be used in the letter press printing tradition. Each summer letter-press artists and writers would converge on the small studio and spend a week at a time designing, setting the type, inking the plate to make exquisite renditions of their poetry and prose – the letters making their indelible imprint on the paper. Letter press celebrates the word as object – from the design process through printing and in a technology festival it only seems right that we would find a way to honor that lineage as well.
It’s fitting, then, that Charles Bernstein, a 2011 CHF presenter (and longtime guest faculty at Naropa) has, not only written this year’s Secret Poem, but that the work will be reproduced in a limited run of letter press by Chicago’s own Spudnik Press which will be signed by Bernstein and awarded as prizes to a handful of lucky (and dedicated) Secret Poem participants.
If the Harry Smith Print Shop is quintessential Boulder, Spudnik is quintessential Chicago. A four- year-old artist-run community print shop, Spudnik is a hub for letter-press and silk-screen artists. Up until this spring it was run out of founder Angee Lennard’s apartment as a live-work space, but is now housed in the 1821 West Hubbard Studio Building just south of Grand in a loft space that recalls Chicago’s industrial past. Situated in a third floor corner, light from the west pouring in, the studio has a whole room devoted to the letter press with a Chandler & Price Pilot Press, a Golden & Co. Pearl Press (made in the late 19th century) and a Line-O-Scribe proofing press (cylinder press) available for artists who rent by the hour, month, or year. Local artists Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger print at Spudnik, along with Ray Noland (the artist responsible for many iconic prints including “Run, Blago, Run”), Lilli Carre, and Paul Nudd, whose work was just featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art this past summer.
Run, Blago, Run
Brandy Barker, the newly appointed Studio Assistant, sat with me and my colleague Julia, to discuss the design for Bernstein’s secret poem. Surprisingly, visiting the drawers of type was not the first step. Brandy explained that she is now able to do mock-up designs digitally. From there a photo-polymer plate will be made from the negative. In short form, the plate will be attached with an adhesive to a gridded, cast aluminum base. This base is locked in to the chase, which is a metal frame, placed in the press, then inked, registered and printed. As Julia, Brandy, and I went back and forth – tweaking fonts – a little narrower here, bolder there – the benefits of digital design became apparent, but knowing that ultimately Brandy will be hand-cranking the Chandler & Price to produce the special 25-print run of Charles’s poem is, like the Carolina Tar Heels through my ear buds, a harmonious blend of technology across the decades.
Spudnik Press is committed to providing accessibility to its facilities to the greater community. Visit them for
Sunday, November 20 at its 1821 West Hubbard Studio Building. Artists can sign up to have their work reviewed by three local artists and curators, including Dawn Hancock of Firebelly Press, Mark Pascale of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Columbia College’s Jessica Cochran or, catch them as a part of
What’s Your Art
, hosted by WBEZ at the Cultural Center this December.
At all CHF venues and online: until 5:00 pm, Nov. 14
Tags: letter, press, letter-press, poetry, naropa, poem, bernstein, spudnik, print, artist, font, type