Friday, March 26, 2010

Letterpress Printing

Sara McCoy & Connie Wilson's
Presentation and Demonstration
Letterpress Printing
Tuesday March 23, 2010
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Third Floor Carnegie Hall
Drake University; Des Moines, Iowa, USA


Lecture notes:

To begin her presentation, Sarah McCoy provided a handout with information about the terminology for letterpress printing. The handout included terms related to letter blocks and a diagram of a California drawer, where blocks are kept and shelved in a cabinet for printing.

Sarah briefly outlined the history of early type, including the Gutenberg metal movable type. Germany, France, and Italy were countries where the publishing industry began. Early European printers introduced the possibilities of editing by printing machine-made editions. From this early printing industry modern publicity was developed. With the invention of movable type came the spread of knowledge.

Sarah McCoy also described the development of wood type, and how it came from Europe to the U.S. Two major figures in the application of this technology were Darius Wells and James Hamilton, whose type creation and collection are now housed in the Museum of Wood Type in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The Hamilton Museum has a collection of 1.5 million pieces of wood type.

During her presentation, Connie Wilson spoke of her family tradition in printmaking beginning with her grandfather, who used to work as a typesetter for the Fort Scott Newspaper in Kansas. Newspapers used to publish prefab pages and local communities would add the local news. Her grandmother also worked in the advertisement industry making calendars using offset printing for graphics and adding booklets for the monthly calendars.

Connie also distributed a handout and passed around the audience (of about 20 participants) pieces of metal types. The participants touched and appreciated the metal type. Connie's handout included links to websites about letterpress printing.

She also talked about the history of the Hatch Show Print in Nashville, TN and showed a book with samples of the work done by the Hatch printing house. Connie mentioned that the use of manual or mechanical printing presses was dying because most of the publishing work is now done digitally. However, she said that there is a revival in letterpress printing due to the appeal of the raised letter marks that adds texture to the paper.

After Sarah's and Connie's presentations, they demonstrated the use of the composing sticks for letterpress printing. Their presentation was followed by a hands-on printing of a poster with big red and brown wood type letters that reads "Spring Time in Iowa!"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Illuminated Manuscripts

Paula Curran's Lecture
Creating Illuminated Manuscripts During the Middle Ages
Tuesday March 2, 2010
2:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Medbury Lounge
Drake University; Des Moines, Iowa, USA

Image Source:
Lindisfarme Gospels
British Library Online Gallery

Lecture Notes:

Paula began her presentation by saying that she takes a graphic design perspective rather than a historical approach in her study of Medieval Manuscripts. She outlined the history of the development of the materials used in manuscript writing, as well as the printing and illumination of texts using those materials.

Papyrus was made using reeds that were open and laid horizontally and vertically to make paper. One problem posed by the use of papyrus was the material was less durable. Parchment was made from the hide of calves and used for writing. There are several steps in the process of preparation of the parchment for writing. First, the hide needs to be washed and scraped to get rid of hair, then the hide is stretched and left to dry in a frame. Parchment is very durable. Parchment was cut in rectangles and then scored with a nail or sharp object to be lined. Quills were made of goose feathers from the left wing; feathers were specially treated for writing. Gold leaf was used in illumination. Silver was also used but it tarnished.

Before the 11th century, only members of religious orders did manuscript writing. During the 11th century, there were changes in the church writing policies, and secular scribes were allowed to write manuscripts. During the 13th century, paper was invented in China. Paper was not used at that time for manuscript writing in Europe. It took 1000 years for the invention of paper to make it to Europe.

In 1436, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing process with replaceable/moveable wooden or metal letters. At that time the printing press and manuscript writing worked side by side. The Gutenberg Bible was printed on paper made out of rugs. Initially, the printing press was seen as the "work of the devil." Paula mentioned the book "How the Irish saved civilization: the untold story of Ireland's heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe," by Thomas Cahill, as a good source of information about manuscript writing during the Middle Ages. Paula also showed pictures of pages from the “Book of Kells” to illustrate the high level of artistic content and execution in that manuscript.

During the 5th century Irish Celts were missionaries who also copied manuscripts. In the 9th century, manuscript copies of the "Book of John" were believed to bring protection, cure disease, and they were carried to battle.

In terms of type style, “uncials” were used and in Latin they mean letters of "one inch high" for majuscules (capitals). Then, ascenders and descenders were developed. For the binding of books, the most elaborate designs were called "Treasure Binding" and they include precious and semiprecious stones incrusted on the book covers for decoration.

Paula finished her presentation by mentioning the contemporary use of illumination techniques such as the ones seen in the production of the Saint John's Bible commissioned in 1998 by the Saint John's Abbey and University in Minnesota. A video about the illumination of the St. John's Bible is available from PBS, and pages of the St John's Bible can be seen in an exhibit next year in Des Moines, IA at Westminster Presbyterian Church April 1 - April 30, 2011