I think the coolness factor of a city starts to expand exponentially when you start to see several things. First, when former citizens return home; second, when former citizens return home bent on sharing their acquired knowledge with their hometown and third when former and current citizens work together to launch new concepts with the goal towards creating something truly Tulsan.
I feel like those types of things are happening at an increasing rate in Tulsa. Currently under construction in the old Candy Bar next to Dilli Deli, is Letter Press of Tulsa. Letter Press of Tulsa is a letterpress collaborative that will be sharing its space with a new bar in the Blue Dome district.
But wait, what is Letterpress?
First the technical, letterpress is a relief printing process. Reverse raised type is inked and pressed into paper. The result is only the raised portion of the printing plate is transferred to the paper and the paper is left with an indention from the type. Historically the invention of the printing press by Johannesburg Gutenburg of Meinz, Germany in 1450 is considered one of the most important if not the most important invention in history.
Now the fantastical. Letterpress is cool. Really cool, it is everything old is new again. It is the celebration of the artist, designer or typesetter’s hand in their work, multiple times over.
It is industrial-revolution-machinery moving in a ballet of massive gears, wheels and metal parts that together in unison can create powerful words and ideas on a single delicate piece of paper.
It is a close to 600 year old mechanical art form and come the weekend of the Blue Dome Art’s Festival it will be available for all in the Blue Dome District.
I recently had the chance to visit with Sharon Braun Hutton and Rachel Ann Dennis of Letter Press of Tulsa, and what was immediately apparent was the excitement and passion each had about the possibilities of the collaborative as well as the art and history of letterpress.
The space exudes a turn of the century aesthetic at every turn, exposed brick walls, joists and industrial furniture and fixtures all serve as a reminder of the era from which this technology came.
The first thing we did was visit the printing press, Beatrice. Named after the famed female engineer and motorcycle racer Beatrice Shilling, she is an 127 year old, 2800 lb. Chandler & Price printing press from Cleveland, Ohio.
She was initially part of the St. Louis Globe Democrat, which was lauded by President Lincoln as a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. Sharon purchased the fully restored Beatrice from the History Channel, yes that History Channel, and the story of the restoration will be told on an upcoming episode of “Sold” shown April 11th appropriately enough on…….The History Channel.
Sharon is a former Tulsan who left for the west coast years ago with no real intentions of returning. When she suddenly found herself back in Tulsa, she realized the kind of people she had been looking for in L.A. were here all along. Her desire to give something back and attempt something a little more risky than sitting at a computer all day resulted in the formation of Letterpress of Tulsa. She envisions Letter Press of Tulsa as Tulsa’s only authentic letterpress collaborative producing custom letterpress items like cards, invites etc. while also affording local artists the opportunity to use the equipment and sell their goods in the spaces small retail shop.
Undoubtably one of those artists will be Rachel Anne Dennis. Rachel’s enthusiasm for letterpress and typography was refreshing. I am used to over-geeking out about design in even the most mundane of objects, so to see someone who was as equally passionate was a welcome sight.
Rachel ran us through the basics of how to operate the press, and then it was time to print something ourselves. We inked our type and put it in place. Now the dangerous part…. In order to press our print the press needs a considerable amount of pressure, this is accomplished by two steel plates smashing our paper and print plate together, get your fingers caught and you lose your fingers. For this reason Rachel set our paper in place for us. Once that was done, we got Beatrice in motion, pulled the lever and just like that, the ink was impressed upon the paper and letterpress was imbedded in our hearts.
Letterpress of Tulsa will be opening the weekend of the Blue Dome Arts Festival, May 18th – May 20th at 412 East Second Street. You can currently find them on Facebook for information and updates.