On Tuesday 31 May, a rhyme of poets and an impression of printers/artists descended on the Keith Murdoch Gallery at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) for ‘Printing the Page’, a special workshop conceived and coordinated by Marian Crawford (artist, lecturer and PCA committee member) on behalf of the Print Council of Australia and in partnership with SLV (with special thanks to Suzie Gasper) in celebration of poetry and letterpress printing.
As well as forming part of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary program, and acknowledging the important relationship between the PCA and SLV, which houses a complete set of the PCA’s Print Commission archive, there was a particular emphasis on the social dimension of print culture.
In setting the tone of the day, Crawford observed that ‘printmaking as a fine art practice is often extremely sociable, and this is observable both in the way a printmaking studio runs, in the sharing of equipment and of practical tips in process, and in the social nature of the printed image itself.’ She also cited this line from Alberto Manguel’s from The Library at Night: ‘Knowledge lies not in the accumulation of texts or information, nor in the object of the book itself, but in the experience rescued from the page and transformed again into experience, … In the reader’s own being.’
Indeed, this spirit of creating new experiences and discovering a greater range of creative possibilities infused the atmosphere of the day. Workshop participants were invited to bring along a three-line observational poem to set and print. To help out throughout the day with inspiration, typesetting and printing, Marian invited Carolyn Fraser (printer, writer and founder of idlewild press), Richard Harding, Rosalind Atkins, Andrew Gunnell and Greg Harrison (all artists, lecturers and printers); Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison (artists with a special interest in artist books); and Francesca Sasnaitis (poet and founder of Ratas Editions).
Carolyn Fraser sharing her typesetting skills with attending poets.
Following the setting and printing of poems, the space was opened for public letterpress demonstrations, where many curious punters circulated and experienced the setting and printing of their names, or observed Francesca and Louise compiling and hand-binding the results of the earlier poetry workshop in a single edition of ‘Printing the Page’.
Rosalind Atkins displaying type locked up in a chase with one of the participating poets and her freshly printed poem.
Rounding out the day, Marian Crawford spoke about her relationship to the printed page, explaining that her ‘most insistent and persistent fascination within fine art is centred around the printed image, and includes the fine art print, the printed page, and the relationship between text and image on the printed page which then extends to the book and literary studies, poetry and writing’. She then invited Carolyn Fraser and Francesca Sasnaitis to the stage. Francesca explained the collaborative process that lead to her and Crawford’s beautiful publication The Unstable Edge, and performed a reading from its pages. Later, Marian and Francesca also performed readings of the poems produced in the Printing the Page workshop.
Carolyn Fraser gave a short, but tingle-inducing, presentation on the history of letterpress and amateur journalism finishing with a point that cannot be emphasised enough in this time of constant commercial pressure:
‘Rare today is the use of the word “hobby” (other than pejoratively). People have “projects” these days; the pursuit of pleasure has been supplanted in almost every area of life by economic imperatives. We may be witnessing the very last generation of amateur printer/journalists, but the influence of their activity has been vast. Gutenberg‘s press augured the beginnings of the Enlightenment. The toy press gave voice to America’s youth. Experimentation breeds expertise, amateurism breeds passion. America would be as equally impoverished had Thomas Edison not published the Grand Trunk Herald as had he not invented the phonograph, the telegraph or the electric light bulb. The word amateur comes from the Latin – amator – lover. This is what lasts – that which we love. Our culture depends on it.’