Will Yamada holds a copy of a Pie Tree Press book—The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. The linocut image here offers a prime example of the colourful artistry involved in the contemporary Canadian letterpress printer's work. For information on this book and the rest of the exhibit on display at Okanagan College go to www.kalamalkapress.com

Okanagan College gets antique and fine press book exhibit

The writing and publishing diploma program at Okanagan College is exhibiting a rare collection of books until the end of March

  • Mar. 20, 2012 10:00 a.m.

Many an avid reader aspires to write the next great Canadian or American novel and publish it in story that runs through fame, fortune and the next love of their life, somewhat similar to J. K. Rowling’s plot.

The reality of the book publishing industry, of course, is a little different for most aspiring authors and, as those who attend the exhibit of antiquarian and contemporary, hand-crafted books being unveiled at Okanagan College will soon see, there are times when the book itself is a story.

“Lucie is really interesting because she commissions four or five different people to do each project. So she commissions an author, a printer, a binder and then she acts as director,” says Jason Dewinetz, the instructor behind the exhibit.

The “Lucie” is Lucie Lambert of Lucie Lambert Editions in Vancouver and she’s a fine book publisher who creates her books like one might create a film, building a cast of artisans. A visual artist herself, she once painted a series of alphabetical letters then commissioned a French and English poet to write a corresponding set of verse for each letter to publish a stunning book.

These fine press artists create one of a kind editions and very small print runs with each book worth thousands of dollars to collectors.

Dewinetz spent a summer hand-cranking his own press some 12,000 times to produce work for his own company, Greenboathouse Press. Next week, the students in his writing and publishing diploma program will unveil an interesting collection of books from printers with this same penchant for perfection.

From Jan and Crispin Elsted’s Barbarian Press to Will Reuter at Aliquando Press and Jim Rimmer at Pie Tree Press, the painstakingly built projects can see the printers make their own paper or build a press to exact specifications all to print a single book.

The college is about to renovate its Vernon campus to accommodate its own press equipment so students can get a hands on taste of the craft. Dewinetz is installing 40,000 pounds of press and 10,000 pounds of antique type into the school, to be ready for the fifth year of the diploma program.

While most of the students will wind up working for publishers who are entirely computerized, understanding the process and appreciating the steps which lead to the more automated printing processes helps students perfect their craft, Dewinetz said.

Students will be able to see, for example, why offset lithography produces an image that’s darker than intended—a phenomenon known as dot gain that all graphic designers account for in their designs.

The press should also introduce an element of appreciation for the craft these small, fine press publishers inspire.

“It’s really a labour of love,” said Will Yamada, a writing and publishing student who worked on the Pie Tree Press books in next week’s exhibit.

Each student took either a fine press publisher or antique book and wrote a very brief essay those who attend the exhibit can skim to better understand what they’re viewing.

Rimmer started Pie Tree after retiring and learned each printing process to create his stunning, colourful books, Yamada said. He uses a particularly impressive linocut demonstration known as a suicide cut, slicing away layers of image to be printed individually. There is no correcting a misstep if he makes the wrong cut in the linoleum—hence the name suicide cut—so there are few who use the process to his level aristry.

Yamada said the process of building the exhibit gave him a new appreciation for why these book are worth so much; although, as fellow student Joanne Carey found, the beauty of the work does make it very difficult to pick one page to display over others.

She spent her time working on books from Barbarian Press, a Mission-area publisher considered the cream of the crop in the field.

“It’s difficult because there are some really dramatic wood-cut scenes in the book, so we just have to choose our favourite,” she said.

Before every class, the students had to wash their hands to reduce the amount of oils hitting the page. There will likely be limits on what people can touch once the books go out on display in the library, the students said.

Dewinetz has a collection of exceptional books that date back to the 15th century to include in the display with some borrowed from other book collectors.

The opening reception run Monday, March 26 at 7 p.m. and will include a presentation from Dewinetz. The exhibit can be seen from Monday, March 26 to Thursday, March 29 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday, March 30 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.



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