Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Birth of the Wooroi Press

After a few busy days in Brisbane I travelled north to the Sunshine Coast, first stop Tewantin. Here I’ve been helping the Wooroi* Press get started. A group of book artists on the Coast had responded a few weeks ago to my search for papermaking opportunities by offering to trade papermaking expertise for my assistance getting their letterpress up and running.

I arrived at the Stagg’s art-filled home on the edge of Wooroi Forest after dark on Sunday night following an arduous journey from Brisbane on public transport (Noosa seems determined to keep its posh resort status by making it as difficult as possible to get here). The next morning I went straight into the print shed and after a quick glance at the unbelievably tidy and well-organised print set up I dived straight into showing a small but enthusiastic group of letterpress novices how to compose. That part was easy with a cabinet of lead type including plenty of useful sizes of Gill (my most favourite font, and yet not available at Te Kowhai), a few leads and reglets and plenty of wooden furniture, quoins and composing sticks.

Reglets in cabinet with planer and mallet

Di Tait had arrived with a beautiful little book which she wanted to print a title page for so we used her two word title as the demonstration. Once that was locked up in the chase we turned our attention to the presses: a Chandler Price New Style, a funny little Chinese table press and an even smaller Remington proofing press. The Remington’s bed was only big enough for a small galley and the Chandler Price has such a huge platen that the two word title would have been swamped, so we inked up the table press.

The table press had been cleaned up from the dreadful state in which it had come into Maryke Stagg’s possession, but it still needed plenty of work, so taking a half decent print took most of the afternoon (and it really was only half decent). Meanwhile Helga began composing another block of text to try on the Chandler Price.

Maryke at the barbeque cleaning station, working on the fashion plates with kerosene (Wooroi Forest in background)

The Chandler Price has a huge platen, easily big enough to print an A3 sheet or greater, and of course a correspondingly large chase. Unfortunately, the next day when we started inking up, the rollers turned out to be too small: sitting lower than their trucks and obviously worn out in the middle where two of the three remained stubbornly red despite running repeatedly over the ink disk. Sure enough when we heaved the heavy chase into place, the rollers didn’t touch the type, not even the one roller which appeared fully inked. They are either the wrong rollers for the press or have shrunk dramatically since they were last used! With that disappointment, the workshop split into two hives of activity: one group started on the Remington, pulling prints from the collection of fashion plates of the 1920s, and John and I got stuck into fixing up the table press.

After hours of happy fiddling with the platen, the frisket bar, the lays and the roller arms (oh how I do love to problem solve on printing presses, especially in the company of a bloke with excellent tool skills) the funny little Chinese table press was reborn to take effortless, near perfect prints. After a couple of satisfactory proofs in which we discovered Helga’s paper printed much better damp than dry, she swung into full editioning mode and started churning out dozens of cards with her Martin Luther King Jr quote. It was delightful to watch another person fall in love with letterpress and its inherent gift for multiples.

Meanwhile Di had been busy on the proofing press and finding out all the ways in which it still needed to be worked on. John applied his magic touch with tools and oil can and soon that corner of the print shop was producing satisfactory results as well. Our two days of learning, repairing and persisting through numerous frustrations was suddenly exhilaratingly successful and the Wooroi Press was born (and documented with some group photos).

Wooroi Press Gang, 15 April 2008, Meliors, Di, John, Desley, Maryke and Helga with Chinese table press

We hung samples of our first prints on the notice board and the flurry of activity continued: Maryke and Di rearranging some of the equipment for better work flow, Helga printing more and more of her cards, John setting and proofing ‘Wooroi Press’, Desley experimenting with embossing, and me sitting back and enjoying the sight of letterpress passion spreading like a virus.

The scariest thing about leaving Whangarei was the risk of loosing my access to letterpress for months or longer. Instead, I was immersed in letterpress within days of arriving in Australia. I have found another print home in the Wooroi Press, and though I may travel far and wide over the next few months, I know I will return here to print again. The lure of Gill type, the huge CP platen (once the rollers are working) and most of all the good company of the Wooroi Press gang will be impossible to resist for long.

The counter on the Chandler Price New Style press

*Wooroi means place of kangaroos- and today I saw several of these most beautiful and graceful creatures on the golf course across the road.


Jay Dee said...

Hi Meliors,
Still overseas at the moment so don't have access to my e-mail but wanted to let you know that I got your message via flickr and am happy to catch up with you on the 26th. Will e-mail you when I get back on the 22nd. So glad that the Wooroi Press is up and running - I know Maryke and have been wanting to try letterpress so now I might have the chance! Small world :) Talk soon, Jay Dee.

Carol said...

Meliors, welcome to Australia. It sounds as though you made a great start and your post made fascinating reading. I'm sure you have a lot to offer the Australian printing community and they will welcome you warmly. All the best, Carol in Sydney