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Letterpress arts kept alive by Southeast collective

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Archie Archambault inks up this 100-year-old Chandler & Price manual printing press at Em Space.In this age of “desktop publishing” and digital reproduction, traditional print shops have all but gone out of business. One that hasn’t is the “Em Space Book Arts Center”, started by a group of letterpress and book artists in 2008 to share moveable-type printing and binding equipment – and more importantly, to share their knowledge of the craft.

Bicyclists who ride the north end of the Springwater Corridor near the Willamette River have probably seen their studio, but probably have not given it a second thought. It’s tucked in between S.E. 4th Avenue and S.E. Grand Place – just west of the 99E Viaduct on S.E. Ivon Street.

Their open door was an invitation to THE BEE to explore their studio.

Archie Archambault had just finished his lunch, and walked back to a turn-of-the-previous-century treadle -powered Chandler and Price hand-fed platen jobbing press.

After he inked up the press, Archambault resumed what he had been doing – printing greeting cards by carefully putting a blank card on the platen and, after the impression, swiftly removing the printed piece and slipping in another blank.

“I took a letterpress printing class before I graduated from college,” Archambault remarked, as he maintained his rhythm of feeding the press. “I made my own graduation announcement. Then, I realized that I could change the name on it, and make custom graduation announcements for everyone in school. I could make some money from it; an attraction to the entrepreneurial side of things!

“I moved here from Colorado after school,” Archambault continued, “and didn’t have a lot to do with my days. So, I started printing here. This is the best place I could’ve ever found, because everyone was really encouraging, and answered my questions.”

Letterpress printing is far different than just pressing “print” on a computer and watching the page slide out of a digital device. “What makes it fun are the unexpected things that happen. You’re always looking for that ‘perfect print’. But often, there will be variations, making for fun surprises.”

Members of the collective produce their own products by themselves, or in connection with other members. Some, like HYPERLINK "http://www.bedouinbooks.com/" Bedouin Books, publish prose and poetry books. Others create gift boxes, greeting cards, or broadsides: Those are large sheets of paper, printed on one side only.

Near the front of the shop, Robyn Ward was seated at a worktable, precisely gluing together pieces of cardboard to make tiny boxes she would later decorate.

“I am a librarian at Lewis & Clark College, in their Special Collections,” Ward said. “I started making custom enclosures for the library in 2006.”

But, she comes to Em Space, Ward said, because of the unique printing presses. “Here, I started printing broadsides for poets under the name ‘Lofthouse & Cole’.”

In addition to providing a workspace for the collective’s members, Em Space also offers workshops teaching letterpress printing, silkscreen printing, binding, and bookmaking – and, yes, gift-box-making.

Or, members also provide job shop custom work, such as wedding invitations or other social stationery.

Em Space is located at 407 S.E. Ivon Street. Its online presence is at: HYPERLINK "http://www.em-space.org" www.em-space.org