In April, I brought home an insanely beautiful iron handpress. (Iron = made of cast iron. Handpress = a printing press, operated using your hands.) Remember Gutenberg? Old school. My first major goal for this beautiful behemoth is to print a short book of my own writing. But before I start talking about that – here’s how I came to own this press. I think it’s a pretty great story.
It all started with a listing on Craigslist.
Did you know you can find printing presses on Craigslist? It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time something magical appears. In the 4 years i’ve been involved with letterpress in Seattle, I’d never seen an iron handpress come up for sale. Then there it was, across the border in Vancouver… calling my name.
I wasn’t serious at first. I flirted with the idea. I mentioned it to Brad (husband) in an off-hand manner. And then I talked to Carl. Carl is my teacher and my friend. He’s got 50 years on me, but we’re kindred spirits. He helped me find and move my first printing press a few years ago. Since January (and a super generous birthday gift from Brad), he’s been teaching me about wood engraving every Friday. Carl is a master engraver, and letterpress prints nearly all of his beautiful work on his iron handpress. Since starting classes with Carl, my appreciation for iron handpress printing had grown and grown. I told Carl about the press, and he was so excited that i’d been considering it.
When Carl tells you to do something, you do it. Carl knows everyone and has done everything. (Or at least it looks that way from where I sit.) And more than that… he really cares about your best interest. He’s both honest and kind. I came home from class that morning with plans to talk to Brad about seriously considering buying the press. Money was the only obstacle. But it’s only money, right?
Later that same day, I got a phone call from Brad’s mom. She’d heard one of my off-hand comments about the press, and was calling to offer us a long term loan to buy it! I was stunned. I still am. It was so generous and timely.
Money may be a part of attaining goals in this life, but it really isn’t everything. It’s just money. There’s so much that goes into our dreams – hard work, planning, hope, foresight… Money is just a tool that we use along the way. If you put your dreams out there, the money problem has a way of solving itself.
So we went to visit the press. We hopped in the car, left the country, and drove to Vancouver, BC. The press was more beautiful in person than I even expected. Perfect size, great condition, ready to print. I’ve done my fair share of refurbishing projects, so I know the value of a well cared for press. I came home with a huge smile on my face and a brain busy with planning.
I figured out the logistics and we were on the road headed North again a few weeks later. Carl leant us his van (the same van that we brought his iron handpress home in!) and we made the road trip.
The four of us: myself, Brad, my dad, our friend Ben, (with the seller’s help) loaded in the van with few complications. Stopped for Tim Horton’s (an important Canadian pit stop), and headed South.
And then we got to the border. This part of the day had me nearly in hysterics, so i’ll paraphrase. It took a long time in line to talk to someone, as it was late in the day on a Sunday. When it was finally our turn to cross, we were asked to pull off and get out of the car. We spent time in an office, and were told to “get comfortable” and “be glad there are snack machines” because we’d “be there all night.” I don’t know about you, but I never pictured myself being held by my own country overnight in a dark office. It was an issue with entering the country with machinery, despite my research. Importing American made goods of over 100 years age should have been fine, but they asked if I owned a business, and I said yes. It was a mess. I was a mess. But eventually they took pity on me, and did the appropriate paperwork to let us through. (Lots of lessons learned there.)
We finally made it back to the studio around 7 pm, and met up with some additional muscle to help get the press up stairs. Did I mention our studio is on the second floor, and we have no elevator? Well, it’s true. That part is always really stressful for me. I’m a DO person. If I could lug the thing up stairs myself, I would. But instead, I need to depend on people who love me. Did I mention that I am well loved? I am.
At (literally) the end of the day, the press (and the people moving it) made it up the stairs in one piece. Celebratory beers were had.
And then? The fun part! Carl and I worked on an inaugural broadside (poster) together, to celebrate the new press, and so he could start to show me the finer points of iron handpress printing. I’ve been printing on the platen press for four years, but this is a whole new beast! I am so blessed to have Carl’s help and guidance. This press is capable of so much more than I expected.
And you know what? I might be capable of more than I expected too. It’s been so much fun discovering new methods of problem solving with the iron handpress. I’ve been sneaking away from my computer and other work often to play and practice and create. It’s inspired me to do art work that’s all for me. I love working with my clients (I really really do), but I was an art school kid. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have an idea (inspired by my life, my relationships, my struggles) and DO it. Right then. Just to get it out.
I’ve been going to wood engraving & printing on the iron handpress often – as a place to express myself, to experiment, to create. My platen press is a finely tuned piece of machinery for production. But my iron handpress? It’s forgiving, welcoming of trial & error, user friendly. I almost can’t remember what we did before “Wendy” came home.
So there’s the story. I didn’t have an iron handpress, and then (amazingly enough) I did. I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time – and now I can’t imagine writing anything without also printing it on this beautiful, inspiring press. I’m working on a few ideas – and i’m excited to share my progress with you.
How cool is Go Mighty? :)