September 30, 2002
McHenry exhibit showcases 30 years of book arts
By Ann M. Gibb
The discovery of an old printing press led to 30 years of fine-press
printing now celebrated in a new exhibition at the McHenry Library.
"Interpreting the Words," an exhibit of student work created
on the Cowell Press at UCSC, will be on display from October 2 through
December 20. The exhibit documents a 30-year tradition of typographic
study and exploration, and also includes later work by Cowell Press
alumni, including printmaker and author Tom Killion, miniature book
artist Peter Thomas, and fine-press artist Felicia Rice.
"The exhibit's title comes from the students' goal at the Cowell
Press: to take a text and present their understanding of it, typographically,"
said Gregory Graalfs, a UCSC alumnus who helped organize the exhibit.
"I took a class at the Cowell Press, and it opened up a world of
typography and bookmaking for me."
Graalfs, who graduated with an independent major in the art of the
book, has worked in many facets of publishing, incuding commercial printing
and graphic design management, and writes about the history of books
As UCSC's founding faculty and staff were preparing to open Cowell
College, the first of UCSC's 10 residential colleges, they discovered
an old printing press.
This press, most likely a relic of the Cowell Ranch, inspired the college's
1973 purchase of a modern letterpress proof press and a metal type case
with an entire family of Bembo type.
"Everything we printed was in Bembo, because that's all we had,"
said Peter Thomas. "The first thing I printed was a verse from
the Bible, because it seemed as classic as the typeface. We would spend
hours setting and justifying the individual pieces of lead type, getting
everything perfect, the laying it in the bed of the press. Once it was
all set up, the actual printing process, running the inking rollers
and paper over the type, went pretty quickly."
The Cowell Press, as it became known, was initially housed under the
Cowell College dining hall, and later moved to the garage of the Cowell
Provost's residence. The press was used in a Book Arts course
and for independent work by students who had completed the course. When
state budget cuts forced the cancellation of the Book Arts class
in the late 1970s, it was refunded through private donations.
The high quality of the students' work resulted in an exhibition of
their fine-press books at the University of Nebraska in 1981. The Book
Arts course continues, taught by lecturer in art George Kane.
"At the Cowell Press, students work with the basic typographic
tools, those used by printers since Gutenberg: metal type, a composing
stick, and the letterpress," said Graalfs. "This teaches students
the very principles of typography and printing in a tactile way that
focuses on the essentials. From these essentials, this exhibit demonstrates
how students challenge themselves and the equipment."
For exhibit hours and more information, call (831) 459-4000.
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