Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Shop

I think that the first private press shop that I ever visited was Kay Kramer's in St. Louis. At that time, his shop was in a large room at the rear of the first floor of his home. It was spectacular! His gorgeous large Albion dominated the room, with his Vandercook SP15 nearby and a beautiful little pearl with a wooden base as well. He had his type in beautifully finished cabinets, with the cases all uniform oak-fronted. He had many of his books in the room, with a nice sitting area, beautiful prints and broadsides on the walls - it was to die for.
I later visited with Phil Metzger in his Crabgrass Press shop in a suburb of Kansas City. Again, although it was located in the basement, it was a truly beautiful shop, with (as I recall) a table-top Albion, a platen press of some description, many beautiful books and wall decorations. Phil showed me some truly awe-inspiring bindings that he had commissioned from Fritz Eberhard - incredible leather inlays of illustrations from Fritz Kredel - and I left feeling quite thunderstruck.
When I visited Leonard Bahr's Adagio Press in Detroit, I got a different feel, but I was equally impressed. Leonard's home was quite modest, and his shop was in the smallish basement. But it was so unbelievably meticulous that I just couldn't believe it (anyone who knew Leonard would agree that he was a remarkably meticulous person in everything that he did). Much of Leonard's library (that I purchased after his untimely death) was arrayed along one entire wall of the basement. His large C & P Craftsman press was in a tiny room in the rear of the basement, with a few type cabinets to keep it company. Leonard had a very fine collection of European foundry type, with Palatino being his "house face."
An astonishing place to visit was Carolyn Hammer's Anvil Press in Lexington, Kentucky. She used a tabletop iron handpress (I think that it was a Washington, but it might have been an Albion), and she worked in a small porch-like room at the back of the house. The shop was imbued with the aura of the craftsperson, and was almost like hallowed ground - of course, her home was like a museum, with many original works of art by Victor Hammer hanging on the walls (my wife nearly fainted when we walked into a bedroom and were confronted with Hammer's oil portrait of Thomas Merton - Carolyn casually talked about frequent lunches with Merton, as we sat with our jaws dropping to the floor. The original Merton portrait was actually destroyed in a fire, so this one was a later version).
I mention these various visits (and I have visited other beautiful shops over the years as well, and some not so inspiring) as a way of contrasting them with my own shabby shop, which is pictured above.
I do my composing in the basement, in a crowded room that shares space with pieces of corrugated board that I use in packing book orders, shelves with over 50 cartons of periodicals that I will probably never sell, and miscellaneous junk. One of the pictures shows a few of the blank cases opened to show how I store my collection of composing sticks.
As long as I was taking pictures, I decided to also show a couple of the rooms upstairs where I keep my book inventory. My wife and I actually own a duplex, with two apartments (one up and one down). We basically live in the first floor apartment, and I have filled most of the second floor apartment with books (although Ellen has a meditation room upstairs where she practices and studies Buddhism). My office is also on the second floor.
Fortunately, the basement is almost at ground level, so it stays very dry, and I store much stuff down there - it's a wonderful full basement with high ceilings, so I have lots of room for lots of stuff. I have a framing shop down there where I frame fine prints that I sell at a local antique mall.
Finally, the press is out in the garage, and you can see that it is not a place of beauty. People familiar with Vandercook presses will notice that my press has extensions on the legs that raise the press about 6 or 8 inches higher than most presses sit - I guess that this was an option that the original owner wanted. It does help keep me from having to lean over to operate the press, which is pretty nice, actually. In the wintertime I put the press in mothballs, moving everything from the other side of the garage so that my wife can park her car in there - it's too cold to do any printing during the winter, unfortunately, which is why I hope to one day move to a house with a walk-out basement that I can put the press into. The press weighs about 2,000 pounds, so bringing it into the house and down the stairs to the basement is out of the question. The temperature extremes in the garage mean that I have to keep the rollers in the house, and bring them out to the garage every time I want to do some printing. I also have to schlep the type forms and various other stuff back and forth between the house and the garage (which is probably 40 or so feet behind the house) every time I go to print - it's a pain in the ass, to be blunt about it.
Anyway, that's it. I work in this crummy space, but I still love it! I have CD-players around to listen to music (I have about 4,000 music CDs, which is crazy, but true), and there's nothing quite like putting on some nice music, getting an adult beverage, and distributing type! Heaven!

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