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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Workshop preserves art of book making

Tucked away in the lower level of Baker Library, in a corner few students have ever entered, lies one of the College's lesser-known treasures -- a room dedicated to the art of traditional book making.

In this room work a handful of artists dedicated to the craft of book making. Through a special program called the book arts workshop, students are given the opportunity to learn the letter press process and use authentic iron hand presses.

"It lets students see what goes into producing a book," said Brian Miller, a teacher of photography and design who directs the workshops on Tuesday nights. "In one night you can set a small poem on one page and make it look really nice and make a final print of it."

Miller said students are able to produce a product which is different from the way books are printed today. When students participate in the workshop, they are able to magically transport themselves to the past.

"It's a more traditional way of setting books," Miller said. "Words have a different feel on the page as the letters are actually pressed into the paper. Reading becomes a multi-sensual experience."

Miller said the book art workshops have been offered sporadically since the 1930s. In 1936, Ray Nash started teaching and offering classes to Dartmouth students in printing.

A number of Nash's students have gone on to pursue careers in the printing and press industry, Miller said. With Nash's retirement, the shop went into disuse. The equipment was dismantled and returned to his family estate in Vermont.

In 1990, more than 50 years after Nash began teaching, a group of Nash's former students decided to bring their teacher's passion back to life.

That group, after receiving an endowment from the College and the library, recovered machines from Nash's estate. The former students then were able to reassemble the equipment and reopen the shop.

This term, there are book arts workshops offered two days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m., students can come and learn to use the machinery first-hand.

Miller said students can print almost anything they want, and students often choose to print their favorite poems.

First, students work with the workshop directors to decide upon a layout for their page. Then they decide what kind of type casing to use.

"We have several hundreds of drawers of type," Robert Metzler, the director of the Thursday night workshops, said. "We also have a good collection of Hebrew type, which is very rare."

After the type is chosen, it is set by hand one letter at a time. Then everything is proofed and checked before the final product is made, he said.

"Most people can have a finished product by the end of the three-hour session," Metzler said. "Most students frame their work and use them as gifts, although some who do more pages actually get into binding."

Recently, the directors and students have been experimenting with new ways of printing.

"A lot of photography students have been working down there but not setting type," Miller said. "We are now able to print pictures using sheets of film which have been soaked in different chemicals."

Both Metzler and Miller said they hope more students become interested in book art.

"A person can come in for the night or stay as long as they want," Metzler said. "We want to keep the workshops going and continue to offer it to anyone in the student body who wants experience in the process of printing."