For many last-minute shoppers, tomorrow is a boon for florists, candy-makers, and the greeting card industry. But at the end of last month, Dartmouth Library’s Book Arts Workshop turned back the clock with a class in letterpress valentine card-making, open to all members of the College and Upper Valley communities.
Book arts instructor Robert Metzler, an experienced printer and the owner of Green Mountain Letterpress in North Thetford, Vt., gave the five participants a head start by pre-printing cards with an ornate border, leaving space in the center for them to print personal messages, using the workshop’s vintage presses.
Metzler began with a brief history lesson about the workshop in the basement of Baker-Berry Library. “It was started in the 1930s by a faculty member named Ray Nash,” he said. When Nash, a renowned book designer, calligrapher, and historian of graphic design, retired in the 1970s, the studio went into a hiatus. It re-opened in the 1990s at the request of students and faculty. “It’s really grown over the years,” Metzler said. “Letterpress is by no means a dying art. There’s a lot of interest in it these days.”
Next, Metzler showed his students how to choose lead type, letter by letter, and form words in a shallow, long tray called a composing stick. From the stick, he transferred the lines of type to a larger galley tray to be inked and sent with the card through one of the workshop’s presses.
Bridget Connolly, an administrative assistant in the office of development and alumni relations at the Geisel School of Medicine, came to the session knowing what she wanted to say to her husband on the card. But she asked that it be kept secret.
About the workshop, Connolly said, “I loved the experience of being a student again, with a dedicated time and space to just learn and not focus on outcomes, costs, or deadlines. I find that letterpress fits right in with everything else that I love about other forms of printmaking—the conversation with the materials you use, the physicality of the art, and the repetitive process in general. I fully intend to be a regular in this space, now that I’ve started.”
There will be plenty of chances to return, either for another kind of workshop, or open studio hours. Meanwhile, Connolly is happy that she didn’t have to resort to a store-bought valentine.
“I’ve always been a crafty DIY sort, and I don’t really like overly sentimental cards, or ones that try too hard to be funny. It’s always better and easier for me to just write it myself. My husband loves that I’ve started printmaking regularly again, so I know that he will be pleased to see what I made him.”
Kariann Ketcham, senior immigration adviser to international students and scholars in Dartmouth’s Office of Visa and Immigration Services, had never tried letterpress printing before, and as the card says, she was happy to spend three hours getting the typesetting, spacing, and inking just right.
“Creating a card by hand is a challenge for me because I tend to have a black-and-white legal mind,” she said. “We’re going to be at a wedding in Florida on Valentine’s Day, so it will travel well.”