Day and night we read and write on shiny, flat screens. It’s inevitable; so who even considers the contrast to printing as it used to be, 500 years ago, metal type, handset, pressed into soft fibrous handmade paper that begs to be touched?
For people who love book arts, paper, writing, and the artful making of just about anything, these are the best of times in a very long time. Book and paper arts and printing are flourishing across the nation and have taken hold in New Orleans.
I recently visited The Southern Letterpress, Jessica Peterson’s newly opened print shop at 3700 St. Claude Ave., where she, Tyler Harwood and Fredrich Kerksieck were busy working on a collaborative broadside series that featured award-winning student poets from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
(A broadside is a big sheet of paper printed on one side only,
forming one large page, like for the Gettysburg Address).
The bright space is filled with huge, old-fashioned hulking metal printing equipment that forces type down into the paper. The effect is tactile and handmade — because it is handmade, each letter hand-placed in a composing stick and then locked in the bed of the press before concisely biting into the soft paper.
Jessica moved here from Birmingham only a month ago, to work in the city’s growing letterpress community. The storefront at The Southern Letterpress sells the work of most of the letterpress printers in New Orleans, as well as book arts supplies. In addition to her limited edition artists’ books and ephemera, Jessica also offers custom design and printing for invitations, cards, letterpress printing and design services for invitations, announcements, and business suites.
Planetary Magnetics Corporation is exactly what it doesn’t sound like, a letterpress studio specializing in letterpress and screen printing. Check out the company’s posters, coasters, calendars, and poker decks. King of Planetary is Tyler Harwood, who works on beautiful machines that “create work with character.”
Tyler also runs Baskerville, which is a great place to take printing classes.
Fredrich Kerksieck of Small Fires Press also was on hand. Small Fires Press offers workshops, custom boxes and journals, edition binding, and any short-run letterpress projects.
Matchbook Magazine, created in 2004 by Small Fires Press, is an internationally curated magazine featuring tiny poems and images bound within a matchbook cover. So far, there have been three volumes printed in editions of 500 each. Each cover is unique and every matchbook is lovingly made by hand.
If this kind of thing sounds fun, don’t miss the Second Saturday Art Walk on St. Claude Avenue, when you can walk into The Southern Letterpress and participate in a bookbinding and letterpress demo.
Yuka Petz of Studio Ippiki shares the 3700 St. Claude space with The Southern Letterpress. I took a class from Yuka a year ago at the JCC and have been making books ever since — not lofty books, but little blank books made from junk mail, envelopes, wrapping paper, etc. to carry in my purse. Simple, uniquely mine, beautiful little books that beat the Walgreens variety by an aesthetic mile.
Yuka is a master bookbinder and box and portfolio maker. I kept wanting to open and close the lids to these exquisitely made boxes, so perfectly weighted and balanced. I’d get Yuka to make me one to contain something precious, like family photos … or love letters, if I had any.