Young people have a new appreciation for things made the old-fashioned way. People in their 20s and 30s are exploring endeavors and hobbies like craft brewing, artisanal baking, blacksmithing, woodworking, beekeeping and … letterpress?
“The new generation is fascinated with obsolete technology,” says Jim Sherraden of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, which was famous for creating a visual identity for country music with its big, bold show posters.
Letterpress, the process of printing text and images by mechanically pressing ink on paper, was the main technique for mass producing books, newspapers and most other published works from the 15th century through the first half of the 20th century. Letterpress was eventually replaced in large commercial operations by offset printing and digital printing, and the meticulous process of typesetting by hand was replaced by a clicks of a keyboard and mouse on a computer’s graphic design program.
Thanks to a community of retired letterpress workers and a growing number of young people taking up the mantle, the tools and techniques of letterpress printing are being preserved. The documentary Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is an in-depth and personal look at this community of craftspeople who are ensuring that this art form endures.
“People really appreciate the fact that our process is something that takes care and time, and isn’t just clicks on a computer,” says Adam Winn of The Red Door Press in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Look at that printing press,” says Dave Churchman, pointing to a machine in his printing shop. “It was made in 1886 and it’s still running like a pickle seeder.” Churchman, a hobby printer in Indiana, is one of the more colorful people interviewed in the film. Churchman passed away in 2015, and his son also discusses his legacy and how it will go on.
As one who has worked in publishing (and also happens to be the spouse of a graphic designer), I’ve been to visit both Hatch Show Print and the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wis., which appear prominently in the film. Pressing On delivers the sensory experience of stepping into those print shops, as well a greater appreciation for the history of and artistry of the printed word.
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is available June 19 on DVD and blu-ray, and all major VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Vudu, Fandango Now, InDemand, DirecTV and Kanopy.
— Pressing On (@letterpressfilm) June 2, 2018