Pressing on: UIndy revives lost art form

Revival of lost art form is explored in University of Indianapolis exhibit and upcoming film

A guest stands under the Letterpress Hemisphere.

The rollers for ink, the miles of antique printing equipment in collectors’ basements, the specimen books of beautiful Victorian typeface – These tools and their owners are celebrated in a new documentary, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, which includes Indianapolis printers and their stories of friendship.

Visitors to the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center can meet the filmmaker, Erin Beckloff, during an exhibition of contemporary letterpress printing. Letterpress Hullabaloo is open at the University of Indianapolis.

Beckloff collaborated with Bayonet Media, which filmed and edited Pressing On, still under review by film festivals for a possible showing. Until Beckloff and the production team find out whether their work has been accepted, they can present just a few clips. Beckloff will share them during a lecture Jan. 23, 5:30 p.m. after a reception which is open to the public.   

The film explores why, in the digital age, the art of letterpress has survived. In the film, local printer Dave Peat says, “Maybe people have the same feeling I have.” 

The act of making an impression on paper is the source of his satisfaction. “I just enjoy seeing this happen. What else can you do as a hobby that is like that?” Peat says.

Erin Beckloff

Beckloff said she first thought the revival of letterpress signaled a new arts and crafts movement, but she now believes that people want to be connected to a physical process.

The exhibition helps to kick off the creation of Hullabaloo Press, the in-house printing force of the Dept. of Art and Design at UIndy, according to Katherine Fries, assistant professor of Art and Design. Hullabaloo will provide to art majors many resources, including the possibility of collaborating with external groups. 

The gallery show features hobbyists and professionals from the Midwest who keep alive the art of manual printing from woodcut typefaces. Scott Moore, a type cutter who says he is one of three people in the world still making such products, will display tools and give a lecture Jan. 31. He is also Beckloff’s father.

Print by Erin Beckloff.
Photo courtesy University of Indianapolis

Connections among the exhibitors are typical of overlapping circles in the printing community, Beckloff said. She is an assistant professor of Graphic Design at Miami University of Ohio, where Fries completed her MFA degree. Also, many exhibitors belong to the Amalgamated Printers’ Association. Samples from about 70 association members are included in a dome of prints clipped to printer’s twine.

This dome by Beckloff is called Letterpress Hemisphere, and the way to view it is to stand underneath and look up.

Beckloff’s journey began when her in-laws gave her a letterpress printer as a wedding gift. Later, while completing her graduate degree in graphic design, she embarked on the film project to preserve the legacy of the printers. The film is backed by 951 investors who contributed on Kickstart.com to raise over $71,000 in one month.