By John Burton
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS — It was a step backwards for those old enough to remember and a peek into the past for younger people who gathered outside the Painted Frame shop last week to see a demonstration of letter press printing.The print shop was set up inside a 1982 Chevrolet step van owned by Kyle Durrie, whose visit to the borough on Tuesday, Oct. 25 was sponsored by the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council.Durrie and her traveling companion and life partner, Dustin Hamman, take the van around the country, allowing the public the rare experience of learning about moveable type.In letter press printing, wood or metal engravings are covered with ink and then pressed on to paper to create words and images.
That process predates computers by many centuries, going back to ancient China, expanding in popularity with the invention of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440.
Durrie “kind of took the concept of the touring band and adopted it for the print shop,” Hamman explained, saying it was his experience of being on the road with his band, Run On Sentence, that struck a cord with Durrie. “On a personal level,” he said of Durrie, “this is what she loves to do.”
The retro thing does resonate with people, evoking a time gone by, Hamman said. He compared it to the continuing popularity of vinyl records in the digital age.
People are impressed by what they are able to print and how it looks, with Durrie advising people to “kiss the paper” with the type and engravings, Hamman said. “You get a sense of the age with the artwork,” he said.
Durrie, who like Hamman, is based in Portland, Oregon, spends much of the year touring with her letterpress demonstration.
This year, she started in June and expects to stay on the road until April.
Lynn Fylak, the arts council’s vice president, discovered Durrie by accident when she received an e-mail about her from a business networking site. Fylak was intrigued and decided to recruit Durrie for an arts program the council regularly sponsors. Letterpress printing is a means of physical design “that is not happening in a box that pulls you in,” she said, referring to the computer.
“It’s not digital, which is a real rarity today,” observed Robert O’Connor, who owns The Painted Frame and is a council trustee. “It’s a real hands on event.”
The arts council sponsors about 15-20 arts-related events over the course of a year, including a monthly open mic, local film festivals and live musical performances.