A significant equipment donation to the University of Arizona School of Art has led to the creation of the Jack Sinclair Letterpress Studio, one devoted to centuries-old and contemporary printing.
Years ago, Karen Zimmerman communicated with Sinclair about donating some of his letterpresses to the school. Then she had difficulty reaching him.
Zimmerman later learned that Sinclar had passed away, but his wife, Nancy, decided to bequeath about 15 tons of equipment to the UA.
"When I met his wife, she decided it was the right fit for the UA," said Zimmerman, an associate professor in the UA School of Art.
The donation includes three Vandercook letterpresses and 10 cabinets full of type, ink and other materials essential to the letterpress printing process.
"It was really amazing. All of these people came together and volunteered their time to do this. And it worked out well. We are lucky," Zimmerman said.
The school is hosting an April 30 grand opening of the letterpress lab, 1035 E. Mabel St. The 4-7 p.m. event is free and open to the public and will include an exhibition and letterpress demonstration.
Sinclair, who had a well-established history of community involvement and has long supported up and coming artists, last lived in New Mexico.
"The dream is to make the space really viable for book arts and letterpress printing," Zimmerman said. "There is growing interest in letterpress printing and book arts."
Just as Zimmerman has spent years working to expand the would-be studio from the two lettepresses it previously maintained, UA School of Art students also have been devoted to the reemergent art form.
With additional letterpresses – and the widely popular and expensive Vandercook presses, no less – the opportunities for expanding program offerings is now very real.
"This is kind of impressive," Margaret Kimball, a graduate student studying visual communications and creative writing, said about the school acquiring the Vandercooks.
"I think a lot of people who are interested in language are also interested in making objects," said Kimball, also a founding member of the UA Book Art Collective.
Kimball noted that more institutions are introducing programs that merge creative writing with book making and students are taking a greater interest in printmaking.
"It's a way of making ideas accessible to people," she added. "The School of Art has really come through to renovate the space, so I think it's important to know about it."
Zimmerman said two letterpress courses will be taught at the studio during the summer and spring, with others – such as an honors colloquium – being held during the fall, along with other activities.
The next step is to garner a photo polymer platemaker so that students and faculty members will be able to expand the study of traditional printmaking, book art and graphic design techniques, said Zimmerman, who teaches graphic design and typography classes.
"We want to allow students to use their digital skills and the letterpress," she said, adding that the work of those at the studio acknowledge both the foundational and contemporary forms of printmaking.
"The new studio is particularly important for the students whose practice has been primarily digitally based," Zimmerman said.
"The letterpress process shows directly the relationship to historical printing terms and methods and the letterpress process brings the terminology and processes to life," she added. "This makes things more tangible. We're trying to tie together both the digital and the analog process for the students."
Jessica Gerlach, a master's of fine arts student who has volunteered with the Book Art Collective, said she originally decided to pursue graduate studies at UA because of the opportunity to work with letterpress printing.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for students to get experience with an old format that has been utilized in processes for many years," said Gerlach, a designer.
"The art of printmaking through type setting is really a hands-on way to get back to the letter format," she added. "To see it grow and expand to become this wonderful facility for student use and a way to reach out to the community is going to be a wonderful opportunity for the School of Art."