All of us in our group have been busy with the various things we do, and we’ll next meet later in the month. For my part, I managed to squeeze in a towards-the-end-of-July week at the Wells Book Arts Summer Institute to learn a bit more about typecasting on Monotype machines. The course was not held on the Wells College campus as other summer-institute courses but instead at the letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler in Skaneateles NY. A pleasure each day was looking through volumes that Winifred would pull out, all of which she and Michael either cast the type or did text composition or both. In the pic for this posting is the title page from one of the limited-edition volumes for which they cast the type (here the face is Monotype Perpetua).The Bixlers have been involved in the bookwork of many top-drawer photographers and visual artists (Paul Caponigro, Minor White, Barry Moser, etc). The printed picture is a Robert Frank image printed as photogravure (hand gravure, I believe).
One of the treasures on my bookshelf is “The Printed Picture” by Richard Benson who was another character from the US Northeast. The book was published in 2008 by the NY Museum of Modern Art and was a revelation to me when I read it nearly ten years ago. I first learned of the title through an interview with Brooks Jensen published in LensWork, and that got across to me Benson’s dynamic and crusty character. Not only was he an innovative printer, but he was also a talented photographer, darkroom worker, and incessantly inventive human being. No wonder he got a MacArthur Foundation fellowship back in the 1980s. Nor was he shy of the rough-and-tumble of the world as he was dean of the Yale School of Art from 1996 to 2006 (which may impress those who know something about usual academic food chains). My shock was very real when I learned of his death not from an obit but from the NYTimes Magazine’s yearly roundup in January 2018 of important passings in 2017.
So I was over-the-moon to encounter an odd little website containing just over seven hours of talks he gave at MoMA to a small group of people in the galleries devoted to the “The Printed Picture” exhibition (2008/2009). His friend Alan Chasonoff had suggested that Benson have an opportunity to simply talk and talk until he got everything out of his system, to do so without concern for his audience, and where Chasonoff would arrange to have all this captured on video. If one sets aside some of the occasional infelicities with the way the cameras were aimed (and one simply has got to do this) then the whole result is wonderful. I learned more about why half-tones on letterpress could not get any better than they did; why photo-offset lithography took off; enough about collotypes to realize I will want to think twice before attempting that process; about the wonderful skill of wood engravers who created reproductions of photographs by hand using just a burin; and much, much, much else besides. Amongst his many other gifts, he was also a wonderful educator and an entertaining speaker. For me it was a glorious way to spend 7+ hours, and I recommend you dip into these talks as you can and as you wish.