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Women press on in goal to share historic hobby

 

Kyle Durrie demonstrates printing in her mobile print shop  Wednesday in Columbus. At right are Mississippi State University students Kate Hill, left, of Jackson Tenn., and Morgan Stewart of Madison.

Kyle Durrie demonstrates printing in her mobile print shop Wednesday in Columbus. At right are Mississippi State University students Kate Hill, left, of Jackson Tenn., and Morgan Stewart of Madison. Photo by: Kelly Tippett

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

Letterpress printers are asked to print all kinds of things. Greeting cards. Marriage proposals. Wedding invitations. 

 

So when 7-year-old Paxton Garrard strode into Jessica Peterson's shop Wednesday afternoon and coolly asked to make a print of Godzilla, she didn't blink an eye.  

 

No monsters today. The theme of the Letterpress Showdown print demonstration was Mississippi -- in all its crooked-letter, crooked-letter, Faulkner-loving glory.  

 

Paxton and his mother, Jennifer Garrard, were among a handful of people who gathered at The Southern Letterpress and Job Printing at 516 Main St. to try their hands at an age-old craft that became popular around A.D. 1450 and is experiencing a resurgence today.  

 

Peterson opened the shop on Labor Day and has had monthly demonstrations since then to introduce people to letterpress printing.  

 

It's something she's passionate about, and she hopes, by giving people the chance to touch the lead type and make a free print to take home, they'll become passionate about it as well.  

 

"I really like that I can publish a sign or book on my own," Peterson said. "Whatever I want to say to the world, I can produce immediately." 

 

Wednesday's showdown was special for Peterson, though, a rare treat for her to combine her passion, talent and equipment with another letterpress printer, Kyle Durrie of Portland, Ore.  

 

Durrie, a literal one-woman show, has spent the past seven months traveling the country in a custom-retrofitted 1982 Chevrolet step van, hauling a sign press and individual letters, numbers and characters made of wood, lead and iron. At one time, these tools were used to print everything. 

 

The nostalgia-infused demonstration found an unexpected audience -- graphic designers who spend their days creating their own magical worlds with computer pixels and fonts.  

 

Steve Steckler, 22, is a student at Mississippi State University pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts. He said watching the tedious, labor-intensive process of hand-setting each individual letter made him more appreciative of the ease with which print products are now made.  

 

The reaction was similar for Emily Mabry, 26, of Starkville. Mabry, who has been freelancing as a graphic designer since 2006, said she had always been interested in letterpress printmaking but she never had the opportunity to explore it.  

 

"I think it's great," she said, after making her print. "It's a lot of fun. I'm so much about electronics that to do something so hands-on is a really nice experience." 

 

Durrie still has seven states to complete her tour of the lower 48, and she's looking forward to putting those final pushpins in the U.S. map that hangs on the wall of her truck. 

 

As for Peterson, she's busy planning upcoming demonstrations to spur more cultural arts events downtown. Her next open house is Feb. 2, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., when both the young and the young at heart will use the letterpress to make old-fashioned valentines.

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

 

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