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Volume 24, Number 4 — April 2017

The Renaissance of the Letterpress: The Henderson

Catherine Poole and Dan Elliott use the letterpress to create workshop signs.
Catherine Poole and Dan Elliott use the letterpress to create workshop signs.

School offers letterpress workshops

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 27, 2016

The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts in Marion, Virginia, was resurrected from a 1908 schoolhouse slated for demolition. In turn, it's resurrecting the art of the letterpress. The school is named for Wayne Henderson, a world-renowned guitar instrumentalist and luthier from nearby Rugby, Virginia, who has become an international ambassador for the music, heritage and culture of the Southern Appalachians.

The Henderson's letterpress shop is dedicated to preserving the history and craft of letterpress printing and wood type. "It is a resource for designers, artists, historians and educators," says Catherine Poole, executive director. "We are proud to say that we are now listed on The National Letterpress Trail."

The print shop is home to two floor presses: one platen press, a Chandler-Price 10x15, and one vintage Cylinder Proof Press, a wall of type cases filled with wood and metal type as well as a variety of printmaking equipment.

The vintage letterpress shop is named in honor of the Joe Burke family of Abingdon, Virginia, who gave the equipment on permanent loan to The Henderson.

"They have been — and still are — in the printing business for over 68 years," Poole says. "The family profession began with Joe Burke Sr., and the business was passed down through his son, Joe "Buddy' and then to his grandson, Joey. Joey Burke, in memory of his father, has graciously given a portion of their vintage print shop on permanent loan to The Henderson to establish our letterpress program. This generous gift allows us to have a fully equipped studio ready for workshops, demonstrations and studio rental."

The town of Marion got together with James McNeil of McNeil Furniture to move and set up the equipment. The Town of Marion sent their truck for the press, 3,000 pounds of metal. Tony Muncy coordinated the effort. "This could not have happened without their help," Poole says.

Poole says that when Professor Scott Mann of Coastal Carolina University heard about the "rare opportunity to re-assemble an entire vintage letterpress shop, he proposed that he oversee the re-assembly process as part of his sabbatical research project: Form + Press: The Beauty of Letters. Mann was co-founder of Tangent Design Group, a creative solutions company providing design services in product development, corporate identity, business-to-business and consumer communications. There he spent seven years working with such clients as American Express Publishing, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia 300, Baxter, Hannah & Friends Foundation and Family Support America, among others.

Prior to Tangent, Mann spent four years as a senior designer at Pagliuco Design Company, a strategic branding and design agency in Chicago. He also spent several years teaching graphic design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Illinois State University.

Mann has been assisting The Henderson in establishing the letterpress shop as an educational resource center in which students will be able to participate in experiential learning endeavors. This has allowed the center to offer workshops, demonstrations and training much sooner than anticipated. They will be offering their second workshop the weekend of Feb. 27-28."

Two faculty members from The Hamilton Wood Type Museum will be visiting instructors this year. Dan Elliott is a professor of graphic design at East Carolina State University. He is a seasoned letterpress artist and produces work for major clients, including Crate & Barrel. Paul Brown teaches letterpress and book arts at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He runs the Brown Trout Press and has been a faculty member at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum of Two Rivers Wisconsin for the past eight years. Poole has known Brown for 30 years. "He was a welcome visiting artist when I taught at The University of Notre Dame," she says.

The Henderson offers classes and workshops, as well as letterpress studio rental for the experienced letterpress artisan. David Winship has been instrumental in helping organize and set up the shop. Mann and Elliott will bring students from Carolina Coastal and East Carolina to Marion for demonstrations and workshops.

"The community is excited about the establishment of this letterpress program and its ability to attract talented established letterpress artisans to Southwest Virginia," Poole says. "We also received a project grant from Virginia Commission of the Arts which has allowed us to move forward quickly with workshops and demonstrations. The grant will allow us to offer four workshops with Professor Mann and Professor Elliot, each one focusing on specific themes. One theme of particular interest will be the literary works of Sherwood Anderson, an American novelist who lived in Marion, Virginia, and owned both newspapers in this town.

"There is a revival in the interest of book arts, letterpress, typography, paper making, paper marbling and calligraphy. It is so exciting to be part of this return toward the traditional arts and crafts, and I am honored to be part of this resurgence and am proud to be part of a community that honors and supports these endeavors. It makes my work such a joy and so rewarding," Poole says.

Educated as a graphic designer, Poole taught color theory and graphic design for more than 15 years, including nine years at the University of Notre Dame. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Indiana University.

Poole became a pioneer in color theory and the integral role color plays in our emotions and behavior. This research led to her being dubbed, "The Queen of Color," and she remains well respected in the medical, corporate and educational communities throughout the United States and Europe.

As an artist, she began showing her unique bold style of watercolor painting, described as "more color than water" this past year. She is the executive director of The Henderson and teaches painting classes at the school.

The Henderson is located at 203 North Church Street Marion, Virginia. More information can be found at www.thehenderson.org.

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Topics: Achievements, Art