Normally at this time of the year I start to get excited about a trip to Two Rivers, WI. for the annual Wayzgoose at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. Having now attended three years in a row, it’s become a cultural life-line to me, a small-town Western Canadian printer geographically isolated from the letterpress community. There I found I already had friends and colleagues and it has become a staying force in my daily practice as well as my belief that what I’m doing is important. This year, for a variety of reasons, I found myself looking North of the border at the Gaspereau Press Wayzgoose; a humbler sized gathering of my fellow Canadian printers. Though it’s even farther away as the crow flies, it’s a part of my own country I’ve never visited.
Gaspereau Press is a legendary Canadian publishing & printing house, located in the (what I assume to be) scenic Annapolis Valley–Kentville, Nova Scotia. While I don’t do a lot of literary printing myself, whenever a book project has come across my desk it’s always to their books that I look for inspiration. Gaspereau, along with Nova Scotia in general, have long been on my ‘to visit’ lists with the only real barrier being the 5500kms (give or take) that separates us. This year, however, was the year.
I had committed in my mind to go, and was starting to look at flights and hotels in the area, when to my surprise Gaspereau’s hand reached out to me in the form of an email from Andrew Steeves (one of the partners), inviting me to present at this year’s Wayzgoose. I weighed my options for what must have been several seconds before accepting wholeheartedly. The double bonus is that my co-presenter is a friend and colleague; Myrna Keliher of Expedition Press in Kingston, WA.
I recently spent a wonderful 24 hours with Myrna visiting her studio and collaborating with her on a project that rose out of our discussions. It was my first collaborative piece that included a collaborative poem. I haven’t written a lot of poetry since my sullen teen years, which nobody misses myself included, but when I do it’s normally a quiet introspection rather than outward expression. In this case, however, we talked a lot about our process, where we are at in our artistic lives, and the struggles we feel hold us back. I found Myrna to be an open and engaging conversationalist and our dialogue organically distilled itself into a few succinct phrases about how we find ourselves working (or not). It’s about process, it’s about inevitability, it’s about hard work and it’s about space to think and grace with ourselves. There is no real ‘how to’ when you’re talking about art, but it seems like as artist we all have these things in common.
In a great feat of trans-continental travel, I fly directly from Nova Scotia to Vancouver to attend the annual Vancouver Alcuin Society Awards, where I will be part of a post-awards panel about how analog book arts have been engaged in digital age. I’ll be dialoguing with fellow panelists Sylvana D’angelo, Erika Wilk, and moderated by Jon Bath of the University of Saskatchewan.
The more I find my way into this community of letterpress printers, book artists, typographers, and print makers, the more I am struck with wonder at being part of such a community. At the risk of adding pressure to careers that are already full by way of mere survival, these are the people that will save the world, if it is to be saved at all. Anywhere I look around in my life and find humans that value success not as a factor of growth and profit, but as a matter of fulfilled calling, community involvement, and long-term sustainability, there I find people who will save the world. They save the world not because each book book or broadside literally holds the world together, but because each of these pieces become symbols of shared values systems that allow them to create work that represents the underlying need for humans to be in good relationship with one another. This desire for relationship teaches us all what it’s like to be human, to be understanding and helpful and kind. These books are touchstones to those culture-saving values.
As I embark on this coast to coast epic, I am grateful for all the printers and book arts practitioners I’ve come to know and love, and I’m looking forward to know more of you–you’re all important in so many ways.
To my friends at the Two Rivers Wayzgoose, have a pint at Berzerkers for me… I’ll miss you all.