Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Visit from a friend

I have enjoyed sharing this experience with family and friends (and beyond?) through the blog and my Flickr photostream (handle: Elwyn Brooks), both of which have generated a lot of welcome positive feedback. But it's a special treat to have a visitor stop by the Shop for a closer look. Elton "Toby" Hall made the trip today from his home in South Dartmouth, MA, occasioning a fine lunch at Belle's Cafe at Newport Shipyard. In addition to being the proprietor of Brookside Press, Toby is a seasoned sailor and tool historian who can size up a marina with a glance. John Benson, Newport born and raised, is also an inveterate boat man, and the conversation at Belle's sparkled with brilliant nomenclature as it went soaring over my head. When he was affiliated with the Early American Industries Association, Toby wrote an article for The Chronicle about The John Stevens Shop, and the Bensons both feel it is the best survey of the Shop's long history to see the light of publication. I remember reading it sometime last year with great enthusiasm, not yet imagining that my path would pass through Newport. As a printer and collector of ephemera I've enjoyed Toby's friendship, support and generosity for the last five years. As if on cue, it just so happens that he's in the market for a press sign.

Lunch made for good society, but the pleasure was earned. Everyone was either finishing a project or starting a new one, while Nick directed traffic. Paul was on head-shaping duty, sawing an 18th-century profile out of a slab of slate, an exhausting but inevitable chore in the fabrication of gravestones. Josh hauled his work out into the sun for a good rinse and to put a chamfer on the stone, which I learned generally mirrors in breadth the size of a plane in the v-cut. If Nick is the JSS pace car and Paul the shop professor, then Josh is the roving eye, quietly capturing the action with his Olympus E-420 in elegant black and white. As a Brit, he's also the tea master, with an inner bell that rings every two hours. He took this picture with my little Canon point-and-shoot:

For my part, I wrapped up the rest of my alphabet, roughing out the Z as the day struck beer o'clock. I turned in probably my cleanest letters yet. This picture pretty much tells the story of a week's worth of improvement:

This was taken after I gritted off the transfer carbon with water and a sanding stone. If this were meant to be a finished project I would have been devastated to find scrape marks left by harder grains trapped under the sanding stone, but in this case it was merely unfortunate. Now begins the thorough going over, correcting wobbly terminals, flat spots and the occasional chip. I'll also shave down a lot of the chisel marks evident on the planes of ABC. When you erase the carbon outline you're confronted with a letter that no longer relates to an ideal, giving you what you have instead of maybe what you wanted. But the careful carver will have left enough material to make minute adjustments once the carbon is washed off. We'll see tomorrow morning just how careful a carver I have become.

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