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Letterpress Workers 2016

italian wooden type spelling FEAR backwards

This year’s LPW theme – really though, anything but. Love letters all around.

I’m just back from two weeks in Italy, the first in Milan, the second at Tipoteca Italiana and then Venice. I am sitting here back in New York feeling a little sad, missing all the lovely new friends I made and knowing I won’t see them for quite some time. Oh time. But what a time!

Letterpress Workers (LPW) is a group artist residency organized by Oficina Tipografica Novepunti in Milan, Italy. First and foremost, it’s about the work. In its fifth year, LPW is growing steadily, by invitation only with a keen eye toward diversity in every respect and balance of old and new year to year. I’ve been to a number of letterpress-related events, many wonderful “wayzgeese” (printer’s gatherings) here in the States. LPW is very different. What stood out to me most is that the whole focus is on the work. It’s not a conference (you can’t register for it), though there are talks and workshops. It’s not a vendor’s fair either, though some work is available and sold. It’s a residency where people come together to share ideas and produce new work.

LPW workshop setup at Leoncavallo, Milan

When you walk in you are handed an apron and a name tag and thenceforth referred to as a Worker for the rest of the week. The setup is rather simple and makes for an incredible leveling of the playing field. It’s housed at a graffiti-infused self-organized artist squat called Leoncavallo, which has been in continuous operation since the 70s. The workshop was held in one big open room, next door to an in-house cafe, and also there was a barebones dormitory on site which all of us newcomers elected to stay (free lodging with shared rooms, rickety old cots, one shower, Che Guevara always looking on, and the clock stuck at 5 till 3). Proof that you don’t need much and anything’s comfortable with so much good work to do and so many excellent people to share it with.

Italian typecase with layout map

Culture shock – the lay of the Italian typecase.

We represented 13 different countries, mostly European. Netherlands, UK, Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Belgium, France, Armenia, Denmark, Iceland, Brazil, Italy of course, and for the first time this year, USA. And what wonderful people! Printers, publishers, designers, calligraphers, typographers, paper makers, screen printers, bookbinders, artists of all kinds sharing a common love of letters. We worked in groups of three, rotating each day, at workstations built from pallets, each with a table top proof press. Armed with ink, paper, brayers, brilliant minds, ready smiles and serious type considerations, we built print after print from the wood type lining the walls. This year’s theme was fear, and each day we were asked to consider what we are afraid of: first personal fears, then group fears, then universal fears.

Each group produced at least 30 prints a day, all swapped at the end of the residency. Folks were open and kind and hilarious and really above all, interested in the work. Some of us have shops at home and piles of emails and clients to return to, others just started printing in the past year or so and are only beginning their collections. Each day there were also workshops open to the general public, taught by one or another of the “Workers,” and talks given in the evenings, and movies and music and drinking all night with equal parts political and artistic discussion.

dinner in courtyard, evening, artists in Milan

Dinner together in the courtyard.

I was honored to be invited to participate in LPW, and even further honored to be asked to give a talk about my shop and work. I learned a greater context for my work, and am so thankful to have experienced how it fits in internationally. Bigger than me, bigger than my community, my country. The work continues to grow and I am so thankful to find like minds and commitment to the craft I live for.

There is so much more I could say, but then just this. Compassion, kindness, searing attention to typographic detail, openness to experimentation. Rocket salad and prosciutto pizza, cold beer, international spirits, espresso at any hour. Couldn’t wish for more. Except to return next year!