Letterpress posters for MLK Day

On the cold Friday afternoon of January 18th, students met under the leadership of Professor Kathleen O’Connell to make letterpress posters celebrating the life and words and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The posters were to be used the next day for The March commemorating Martin Luther King Day.

on the press

Unlike the outdoors, Todd 350/351, home of the letterpress print studio, was warm and inviting. Work on the first prints was already underway when I arrived, and work on a second was beginning. The letterpress process is quite intriguing. Though technically, any variety of materials can used to create type and images, only wood blocks were being used for these posters. Each line of type of is first laid out in a composition stick, used to make sure the lines are of a consistent length, then transferred to a galley tray, where the entire text is collected and before being moved to the press. This preparation, the arrangement of letter and spacing blocks, looked both fun and painstaking. I suppose you get the knack of reading things backward.

When complete, the galley of type is moved onto the bed of the press and locked into place using compression. The type is then inked—using an automated roller system on the presses used Friday—and an initial galley proof, a test-print, is run.

After that, the process becomes more methodical…and physical! Pieces of paper are attached one at a time to cylinder and literally pulled through the press using a geared crank. Finished prints/posters are then placed in a drying rack, and the process begins again. Having a team of workers helps speed the process and sharing the more physical aspects reduces fatigue.

It didn’t take a lot of coercing to get me to pull a print, and as with past art department events I’ve gone to as a documenter, I found myself wishing I could be more involved with the creative process taking place. I’ll be watching the Todd Art Gallery Facebook page, hoping for a future opportunity!

Text and photos by Alvin Knox