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UIndy celebrates the art of letterpress

Posted on 02.08.2017
Cody Coovert and Auna Winters, junior art majors at the University of Indianapolis, aid members of the community with print making.

Cody Coovert and Auna Winters, junior art majors at the University of Indianapolis, aid members of the community with print making.

The University of Indianapolis held the opening reception of the “Letterpress Hullabaloo” exhibit on Jan. 24 at 4 p.m. The exhibit showcased a culmination of the history and modern expression of printmaking located in Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center Gallery.

The exhibit opening gave visitors a chance to try their hands at printmaking and bookbinding, along with the opportunity to chat with Indiana-based printmakers about their work. Assistant Professor of Art and Design Katherine Fries arranged the exhibit including a guest lecture from Co-Director of  “Pressing On: The Letterpress Documentary” Erin Beckloff.

“Hullaballoo means an uproar, ruckus or joyful commotion,” Fries said. “That’s why we named the UIndy Press Hullabaloo—we wanted to create an uproar and joyful commotion as we celebrate the unique history of letterpress.”

Letterpress printing was the normal form of printing text from the time of its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th to the 19th century. It was the first medium of mass production for printed work and is the reason why we have books, historic documents and photocopied material today.

Fields like graphic design, printmaking and archiving have their roots within the art of Letterpress. Up until this event, sophomore graphic design major Darin Sills said he didn’t realize how similar letterpress is to his major.

“I basically perform the same functions to create these designs, but on a MacBook instead of by hand,” Sills said. “After exploring the gallery, I have so much respect for people who learn this craft.”

The exhibit also is a prelude to further campus developments. The university recently announced that Fries will spearhead the return of printmaking courses at UIndy.  Students will be able to declare printmaking as a major, or as a concentration underneath the umbrella of studio art. Four students already have declared printmaking as a major and are eager to get their hands on the three presses UIndy recently purchased.

“Re-introducing printmaking classes back into the university curriculum will demonstrate that there is no one way to do things,”  Fries said. “This isn’t just about printmaking. This is also a learning experience in craftsmanship, preserving history, problem-solving and critical thinking.”

The first press purchased by UIndy is a Proof Press nicknamed Elvis Presley by the department and purchased from a printmaker in Ohio. The second is a Platen Press nicknamed Prescilla and the last is a Platen Press nicknamed Betty. Betty weighs 2,600 pounds and was purchased from Red Door Press in Des Moines, Iowa. Betty will help in the creation of large-scale letterpress projects. According to Fries, nicknaming the presses is a tradition that is almost as old as letterpress itself.

Rachel Gravens, a junior art major at the University of Indianapolis, admires the work on display at the gallery.

Rachel Gravens, a junior art major at the University of Indianapolis, admires the work on display at the gallery.

The first “letterpress only” course will be offered during the spring semester of the 2017-2018 academic year. Students will learn functions such as creating a lockup, inking the type and creating an impression.

“This did not happen because of my efforts alone,” Fries said. “Thank you to my department, staff, student volunteers, the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences Fund, The National Library Bindery Company of Indiana and the Talbot Street Art Fair Inc., for all of their help and support on this project. Together we brought this vision to life.”

The upcoming exhibit will showcase “artists who are working in themes inspired by Latin American Heritage,” in “Herencia,”  according to the exhibit description on the UIndy Events link. It will open Feb. 20 with a reception from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will close March 15.

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