The Library Arts Center has exciting news to share—we have installed a Letterpress Studio to boost our creative offerings and studio programming, with help from Newport artist and former LAC board member Ann St. Martin Stout. The new space is located in the former photographic dark room within the existing studio space on the lower level of the Arts Center. The project began when two things converged: the fact that there was a dormant letterpress in need of repair that had been stored away for many years in the basement of the Arts Center; and Stout’s participation in a free letterpress workshop at Dartmouth Book Arts Studio (DBAS) in Hanover. Using her burgeoning knowledge of letterpress and love of the printed word, Stout sought out the mentorship of the instructors at DBAS, as well as drawing on her local connections to initiate setting up a letterpress room in her local community. The seed equipment for the studio—a manually operated “Young American Secretary No. 7” letterpress, was manufactured in the late 1800s. The letterpress was donated by the English family during Doris Nelson’s tenure as director of the Library Arts Center.
In an effort to fill out the needs of the emerging Letterpress Studio, the owners of Newport’s former Barrett Press – Keith and Sylvia McElreavy – were contacted. Through their generosity, the Library Arts Center obtained another, larger press: “Chandler and Price 9” x 12”, manufactured in the early 1900s, as well as a donation of thousands of dollars’ worth of letterpress equipment. Rollers, a chase and a treadle were purchased and installed by the Arts Center in late 2018 to ensure that the studio’s presses were fully operational and ready for use. It is fitting, and particularly of interest to Kate N. Luppold, executive director of the Arts Center, that Newport’s historical resources, i.e. items from Barrett Press, est. 1946, be put to use in the Library Arts Center Studio.
Along with the donations of the English family, the McElreavys, and the time of Bob Metzler of DBAS, other community members have assisted in the setting up of the press studio, in particular Bob Dombroski, professional (semi-retired) painter who generously donated his time and materials to paint the completely black darkroom a very pleasant shade of white. The Letterpress Studio is currently outfitted with close to 100 plates with images, more than 24 trays of type, and lots of ink, along with other necessities. Two sets of wooden type have been generously given by donors Deborah Stone and Cathryn Baird.
The mentorship of folks from the Dartmouth College Book Arts Department has been a source of guidance and information for Stout, as she has spent countless hours giving thought to the best layout for the small space, as well as determining and obtaining all the parts and pieces necessary for the space to be operational from locations all around New England.
Stout was pleased to host a Letterpress Open House in November of last year to debut the newly renovated space and give community members and donors to the program a chance to see the presses in action. Attendees were given the opportunity to tour the new space and create a letterpress coaster to take home as a souvenir.
Now that the Library Arts Center Letterpress Studio up and running, an introductory class is being offered that will prepare interested persons to use the studio’s presses—a pre-requisite for planned upcoming supervised open studio hours. Informal tours of the Letterpress Studio are available with Stout—LAC Letterpress Studio Coordinator—upon request. To find out more about the Center’s letterpress offerings, or to find a schedule of classes being offered, see the link HERE.