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Hullabaloo hosts celebration of letterpress

Posted on 09.27.2017
Assistant professor of art and design  Katherine Fries demonstrates on a platen press at the Hullabaloo Printmaking and Letterpress Festival in CDFAC on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Attendees had the chance to create their own prints with the help of current printmaking students. Photo by Juliana Rohrmoser

Assistant professor of art and design Katherine Fries demonstrates on a platen press at the Hullabaloo Printmaking and Letterpress Festival in CDFAC on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Attendees had the chance to create their own prints with the help of current printmaking students. Photo by Juliana Rohrmoser

The University of Indianapolis hosted its second Hullaballoo Printmaking and Letterpress Festival and debuted the documentary “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film” on Sept. 20.

The celebration of  the 500-plus-year-old art form was in collaboration with the National Library Bindery Company in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. The open house was held from 4-6 p.m., and the film screened at 6:15 pm.

“The first [Hullaballoo Letterpress Celebration] was a way to introduce to the UIndy community, our students and the local community that we have a new print program. We had a big exhibition where we invited letterpress artists from around the country to show their work”, assistant professor of art and design Katherine Fries said.

Through contributions from outside donors obtained during UIndy Day last year, the Department of Art and Design was able to buy two new presses, according to Fries.

“We invited all the donors to say: look, we have them, and they’re up and running,” Fries said. “It was just a way for us to say ‘thank you,’ [and] show off the film and the progress we’ve made since the first event.”

During the open house before the film screening, the department had three presses set up where anyone could make their own prints, while a presentation of the two newer presses was put on by Fries. Students were able to debut and sell their prints to those who attended.

“It’s really rewarding showing my work off and letting people know what letterpress is because most people don’t know,” junior printmaking major Lauren Raker said.

The University is currently in its second year of offering printmaking as a major and now has seven presses, including five letterpresses. Each of the presses is given a nickname. One of the department’s presses is named “Elvis Pressley.”

“[Letterpress] is unlike anything we’ve experienced,” Fries said. “We grow up with computers where you can push a button and print something out, with this you have these really unique and beautiful machines that make these prints, and I think there is something special about having to put all the pieces of this crazy puzzle together and see it work and be realized right in front of you,” Fries said.

According to Raker, even if most people aren’t familiar with letterpress itself, it has its roots in graphic design and craftsmanship that most people can recognize.

“One of the wonderful things about letterpress is that it is equal parts familiar and unfamiliar… Everyone has dealt with some type of printing and font base or design, but it has typically been digital, so in that way it’s familiar,” Fries said. However, most people have never done actual letterpress before, so students get to come in and experience this new old thing together,” said Fries.

The documentary “Pressing On: The Letterpress Film” used character narratives to show how the out-of-date equipment is still used to create art and community. The film showed that the art form is not only practiced by professionals, but is used and enjoyed daily by amateurs and hobbyists.

“There’s a very communal aspect to it which appeals to our UIndy culture,” Fries said, “That idea of being part of a community and working within a community.”

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