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.