Wednesday night was the Society of Printers' 39th Annual Dwiggins Lecture at the Boston Public Library, the first one I've missed since I began attending six years ago. It features a printer, type or otherwise graphic designer at the vanguard of their discipline holding court on their body of work and its engagement with the art of visual communication. Beyond one's level of interest in the evening's subject and speaker, in this instance David Lemon on Adobe's pioneering work in digital type design, there is invariably the social aspect to these occasions, when it seems like everyone in Boston is a printer of some description, at least for one night. I missed seeing friends and taking it all in, but my evening was not misspent. I did the next best thing by paying a visit to a printer and fellow SP member here in Newport, Ilse Buchert Nesbitt of Third & Elm Press.
With her late husband Alexander Nesbitt, Ilse founded Third & Elm in 1965, printing and publishing all manner of books and ephemera supplemented by Alexander's calligraphy and Ilse's lovely woodcuts. Her shop is an incredibly charming live/work space in the historic Point district, as John's wife Karen has it, an unpedaled bike ride down the street from the John Stevens Shop. Ilse now devotes most of her time to making rice paper, printing elaborate note cards directly from the blocks and depicting town and garden life in beautiful, large multi-colored woodcuts. The spirit of vivid whimsy unifying her work reminds me of Elisabeth Hyder, whose Brookfield Paperworks and collaborations with her husband Darrell's Sun Hill Press produce an amazing variety of paste papered boxes, journals, note cards, you name it. But while Elisabeth's sensibility leans toward colorful pattern making, Ilse's work evinces a childhood spent in Japan mixed with a linear vitality as distinctive as her German accent.
We arranged to meet at the end of the day, and by way of introduction I brought over some examples of recent work. She immediately seized on a decision I had made to justify text in a broadside that might have been happier flush left, saying philosophically that "Life isn't justified." I took her point, noticing the compromises in letterspacing I had allowed to get my desired shape. An important reminder that sometimes life just wants to be set loose rag.
It was fine English weather all day, not great for pictures so I didn't take very many on this first visit. But after a good conversation and a dime tour of the shop, Ilse encouraged me to stop by again before I leave Newport. Now that Paul Russo has given me a small block of endgrain maple and the engraving tools are at hand, perhaps I'll have something to print with when I do.
One of four make-readies for this particular print:
Taken on a brighter day.