Sunday, June 24, 2012

JSS Open House

I returned to the John Stevens Shop this Saturday for the Open House which marked the culmination of our grant from the Institute for Community Research. It's been over a month since I was a live-in apprentice and with one visit in between, so it was exhilarating and a little strange to show up to my own gallery opening, or so Nick's very handsome but slightly misleading invitation would have you believe. Graphic design such as this usually heralds the exhibition of mature work, whereas my lettercarving is still very much in its infancy. Fortunately I had the wit to bring along some printing samples to show the range of work I've been doing over the last few years.

To my mind the occasion called for a keepsake, and as a printer I figured I might as well play to my strengths, since I have so little in the way of lettercarving to show for my efforts. A friend of mine had brought to my attention an early Robinson Jeffers poem called "To the Stone-Cutters", which after eight lines of solemn and rather despairing observations about man's and eventually stone's very perishable nature follow two lines of spiritual uplift which redeem the poet's brooding vision: Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found/ the honey of peace in old poems.

First to arrive to the Open House was my friend Toby Hall, a historian, sailor and printer who has shown his support by commissioning a press stone for his shop, The Brookside Press. He came just in time to approve the transfer of my layout onto his stone.

Slowly friends and neighbors of the John Stevens Shop began trickling in, glad to have any excuse to visit what is in effect a lettering museum. Lynne Williamson from the Institute for Community Research stopped by to see what she and her organization had made possible, interviewing Nick and me about our respective roles as master and apprentice. Somewhat out of the norm whenever I'm on camera, I rather enjoyed expanding on the humanizing nature of these allied crafts, printing and carving. It was a chance to try out the articulation of various syntheses of process and purpose as I attempt to combine the two into a single lifestyle. At any rate, I suppose it's easy to be generous of spirit to a person who has changed your life. And of all the people who have helped to do so in the last few months, it was Lynne who got the ball rolling in the direction of the JSS. While it might be argued that I could have found another, more circuitous route there, I'd rather not speculate. The memory of what actually happened is still too fresh and sweet.

There were never more than maybe a dozen people at the shop at one time, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I certainly did, though not without a twinge of embarrassment knowing how many truly great practitioners of lettering have passed through the shop in its long history. To say nothing of the gentlemen who work there everyday, although about them something should be said. Nick, Paul, Josh and of course Fud. I could not imagine working with a more supportive and constructively critical band of masters. The work may be hard indeed and there is no substitute for doing the work. But never has hard work been more fun. To quote Paul Russo: Tools are toys and work is play. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Printing Fair

I printed a stack of these blog tickets to hand out this Sunday at the Printing Fair at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, and if you're reading this because I gave you one, thank you kindly for stopping by. I've been going to the Fair for the last sevens years as a printer and volunteer factotum, but this time I tried out a new capacity, literally hanging out my slate shingle as a lettercarver.

In the background here you can see the tent belonging to fellow lettercarver Tracy Mahaffey, a quite remarkably talented sculptor and lettering artist who made the trip from her home in northwest Rhode Island. For a while now Tracy and I have had a lot of friends in common in the small but fairly tight-knit carving community in New England, so it was only a matter of time before our paths crossed. The circumstances could not have been finer. It was great to have another carver on site because then if you were to call me crazy you'd have to call Tracy crazy too. And Tracy is not crazy. But she is very cool.

So were all the people who passed by my booth on the way into the museum. I take a lot of pride in playing an ambassadorial role in presenting letterpress and now lettercarving to people who either aren't aware that these crafts exist or have been allowed to forget by the unsentimental sweep of technological advancement. So it was quite a thrill to see the look on the faces of children and adults alike at the notion that you can put letters in hand! I may even have managed to convince some people that it's the only way to do it. Hard not to feel optimistic about the prospects of opening a printing and lettercarving shop when people respond so enthusiastically to your work. Thanks to everyone who made it such a fun day.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Memorial Park in Franklin, Maine

This here is a galamander, a modified wagon used for hauling stone back in the Old Days. This particular galamander dragged its last slab of quarried granite in the 1950s and spent half a century gathering dust in a Mainer's barn, until it was donated to the Memorial Park in Franklin, ME, a few clicks down the road from my family's cabin. We were having dinner with our neighbors Charlie and Mary on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend when Charlie asked if we had ever been to Memorial Park. It's not even a mile from the end of our road but it's in a direction we don't usually go in, favoring Acadia and the Blue Hill area when there's time for a drive. When I told him I wasn't aware of a Memorial Park he said, "Well, if you're going to carve stone you need to know about it." He then took matters into his own hands and basically ordered us to get in the car. Meg and I gladly obliged. I've always known we were in granite country, thanks to a well-conditioned climber's eye. But I hadn't realized that Franklin and neighboring Sullivan were home to major quarries in the late 19th century, stone from which curbed the sidewalks of New York City, Washington, DC and beyond. At the Park there's a display of various iterations laid out on the lawn.

There's also a blacksmith's shed on the property that houses a permanent collection of stonecarving tools with helpful descriptions and a rather impressive diorama of quarry life. I'll have to call the Franklin Historical Society to find out if it has visiting hours.We've been coming up this way for years and of course at least the quarrying legacy if not the Park itself has been here all along. I find it amazing and rather serendipitous that as my attention has turned to stone carving, here's a local repository waiting to be researched and explored. Timing, as they say...