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In Vermont Until I Die

The Kalamazoo Years - 1973-1988
AFTER WORKING as a production editor for a publisher of college math and chemistry books in Boston, and by now finding that I had some talent for design, I moved to Kalamazoo where I could study with Jon Henderson, then head of the Graphic Design Department at Western Michigan University. I had heard about him from a friend who was a monumental bronze sculptor in the the mid-West. My portfolio consisted of books speced and designed by me, and several pieces created with wood type in addition to my limited presswork. The move to Kalamazoo was accomplished in a U-Haul Econoline van that I way overloaded with the double type cabinet, three presses, a couple of lawn chairs and that was about it. Over the next 15 years I continued to study and accumulate type. I learned to buy type only from composition houses, where it had not seen runs of 10-20,000 impressions. I even got a job where one of the points for hiring me was that I could set type in a circle. This was at Kalacraft where they did a lot of production work for Cardinal Foods. The setting type in a circle was for the tops of cottage cheese tubs, and similar products. I used a Vandercook once at the university and loved it, but never managed to put together enough money to buy one. In 1974 I published a book of poetry by Sally L. Lillie, a local poet of some note. This was nothing spectacular, but it did turn out well. I had it perfect bound in Grand Rapids and quite a few copies sold. However, this experience, combined with my relative inexperience at presswork, left me dissatisfied with the quality of my printing. I decided to take a look at the press, disguised as a lump of rust, that I had brought with me from Massachusetts. It was a Kelsey Excelsior. There were no rollers, no trucks, no springs, and no gripper bars. I wrote to Kelsey in Meriden, describing the press, and asking if they could help. Mr. Mosher told me it was built in 1893 and while they no longer had parts, he could give me the specifications for the rollers, trucks, and cores. I had the cores and trucks machined by a foundry in Kalamazoo. I sent the cores to Ohio Roller for a set of composition rollers. Because the part of the grippers that attached to the gripper bar were still there, I had a friend weld some uprights onto them. I messed with an assortment of springs until I got something that worked. Well, when I pulled my first impression with that press, I knew I was I was in love. That old feller repaid my love and attention and hours of scrubbing with steel wool! It printed like the proverbial knife through hot butter. I sold the Monarch.

ONE OF THE most delightful finds in my Kalamazoo years occurred as I was driving down South Street. Having a lead foot, something orange flashed by in my peripheral vision and I put the brakes on before the image had even fully materialzed. There, next to a pile set out for refuse collection day, was some kind of press. And, it was in front of the house of a friend of mine! She was a lithographer and papermaker. Having ascertained that this was some kind of proof press, I raced into the house and jumping up and down, asked her if I could have it, and why hadn't she called me, etc. It turned out that someone had given it to her thinking she could use it, but after messing with it, she found that it was too low for stones, and too high for paper pressing and so had dumped it. Basicially, she didn't have the slightest idea what it was. Well, it turned out to be a Poco proof press in perfect condition except that it was missing its little name plate. I left her guarding the pile while I rounded up a husky friend and returned with him to claim my treasure. At a printing plant in Grand Rapids I managed to get a set of brass rule, a number of old cuts, a beautiful set of Dutch Initials, a set of Monograms, a case of Goudy Handtooled, a full California job case of 12pt Underwood Typewriter, and a case of Broadway. When Kalacraft went entirely to cold type, I bought two single tier type cabinets and several fonts of Melior, Optima, Helvetica, and Garamond. I also picked up Gallia, Legend, Orplid, Newport, Cooper Black, and a case full of piece borders and various ornaments. I was well on my way to a fine shop. A local journalist had gotten in touch after Lillie's book was distributed and the Kalamazoo Gazette did a full page spread on Fairfax Press. Another journalist picked up on this and a small piece appeared in Ms. magazine. In the midst of all this, the man I had come to study with, left teaching. (He eventually took the position as head of the research library at Hallmark.) Dissatisfied with his replacement, I moved into printmaking, and then back into English, finally taking an Honors M.A. and going on to do Ph.D. work at the University of Western Ontario in London.

The London Interlude - 1977-1980
I WAS ON full scholarship, plus a teaching assistantship. And, in my seond year was asked to teach the graduate course on Bibliography for the Department of English. The second half of that year, I was offered the assistantship attached to College of Arts to which was attached a 19th century press room. During my short stint (about four months) I tried to bring some order to a completely disordered print shop. The official work consisted of printing posters for events sponsored by the College of Arts. These were printed on a Washington flat-bed. It was an absolute joy! My only regret is that my official studies required so much time! It was certainly a rare opportunity, and I would have loved to have been able to do it full-time. The shop certainly could have used the help!! My favorite piece from that time was a plain, simple, broadside for a reading to be given by Alice Munro, the famous (and really good) Canadian short story writer.

Back in Kalamazoo
RETURNING to the states, I set up my own graphic design studio. This lasted for a number of years, during which my favorite client was The French Paper Company, a family owned papermill in Niles, Michigan. I did several presentation pieces for them, and redesigned their entire sample line. That was a designer's dream come true. I also designed a number of books for Mediaeval Institute Publications, and covers for various faculty members. It was about this time that I met Harry Bollinger, proprietor of the Talponia Press in Alden, Michigan. He was at the time a rep for The Village Press, a printing firm in northern Michigan. We became fast friends through our love of type and printing. We never did agree on Bembo vs. Perpetua! I spent a weekend with him and his wife and Harry and I cast a small font of 10pt Baskerville on his Monotype. That was one of the highlights of my printing life! I was instrumental in his being able to acquire a complete set of The Fleuron and he gave me the one volume that he already had--Volume VII. Still one of the prizes in my library. Another printer's rep walked into my studio one day with three enormous type catalogues and gave them to me. He said that they were just lying around the shop, that nobody cared about them, and they would probably just get ruined or dumped. My jaw dropped. They were the 1908 and 1923 ATF catalogues, and the No. 25 catalogue of BB&S. I have been very careful not to drool on them as I have referred to them over the years. What truly magnificent productions these books are. I also have a 1945 or 1947 ATF catalogue. I have often contemplated on the idea of "progress" when I view the "new" ATF beside the old. I began doing work for U.S. Robotics, a maker of modems. The background research I did in the early 1980s for my design work for them led to my understanding that the PC was here to stay and not to be avoided. I took a couple of years hiatus from design to study programming, and of course got involved in early desktop publishing efforts. I worked with a local small printer, A-1 Printing, to get them up and running with Pagemaker software and a Postscript printer.

THROUGHOUT the Kalamazoo years, I gradually added more to my Sans Serif family and finally started acquiring some Bembo. I also got some "Narrow Bembo Italic", more correctly known as Fairbank Italic. I also bought a couple of reproduction faces--Argent and Antique Tuscan. In the early eighties, through Harry Bollinger and Paul Duensing, I joined the Typocrafters just before their 1982 meeting in Kalamazoo. I worked very hard on my little contribution to that meeting, and it is still the work I am most proud of, slight though it is. That weekend was very exciting because I met and joined for dinner, Mac and Laura McGrew. I was already familiar with his work through my membership in APA. I always tore open the bundles looking for his little publication "Let's Talk Type". It was during this weekend with the Typocrafters that I learned about his work on the 20th century American typefaces. We ended up corresponding for quite a while, and I contributed the Hunnewell specimen for the book. That is one of the things I am most proud of having done. But, to this day, I do not remember where I acquired the Hunnewell. It drives me nuts that I can't remember. Mac was also able to find and acquire for me the whole family of Neuland, in practically mint condition. It was during this period I learned Compugraphic typesetting with a local typesetter, and started to get seriously involved in the study of calligraphy. Eventually this interest led to a partnership with a woman who enjoyed getting the design work, and I, in my cellar, would do the typography and typsetting. I was no good at getting business. I would call on the Chamber of Commerce and end up getting in a fight about "Reaganomics" with whomever I was talking with! Before this partnership, most of my work came from printers who had worked with the output of my studio and liked the fact that I was careful and accurate, thus cutting down significantly on their makeready time. This new partnership was a perfect blend of skills and talents and we did some great design work together for Kalamzoo businesses. In 1986 or '87, I acquired my last piece of necessary equipment. I paid $250 for a 19th century Paragon guillotine. Its design fit right into my fin de siecle shop. And, that was the shape of my collection and my progress in 1988 when both my parents became seriously ill and I moved to Vermont to care for them. In Vermont Until I Die
© 2001-2008, Clair Dunn.