Hamilton’s Letterpress Studio is producing more than just pamphlets, posters and books. The studio hopes to reach past its cement encasement in Dunham basement, and into classrooms across campus.
The studio emerged from one student’s interest back in 1967. However, by the time Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature Andrew Rippeon arrived, the midcentury press had been damaged from years of storage in the basement of Root Hall.
Over the past three years, Rippeon gathered equipment to restore the damaged letterpress. Since then, he restored the original letterpress and added two more letterpress machines.
The Letterpress Studio is witness to an expansion that is both physical and intellectual.
One of the classes Rippeon teaches this semester is Unpacking my Library. Rippeon describes this course as “a critical and a creative exploration of the book” as it involves frequent visits to Special Collections in Daniel Burke Library, the Wellin, the Scene Shop, and the Letterpress Studio.
“My research deals with contemporary 20th century small press or avant-garde poets. Because the commercial market for experimental poetry is very small, these avant-garde poets have also been publishers and producers of text,” he explained. “In that sense it’s quite instructive, I think, to involve students in the process that the writers they might be studying had also been involved in.”
The professor-by-day, letterpress-printer-by-night, credits this to the College’s natural approach to “experimental learning,” a product of its commitment to an open curriculum.
Although letterpress printing is very much an artistic process, there is potential to develop a relationship with math- and science-oriented students who may find its ratiocinative requirement intriguing.
“For the students in the class who might not be Lit majors, this is a way to engage that manual, material, process-oriented, problem-solving side of the brain that may be more familiar in a scientist’s or economist’s,” Rippeon said. “Hopefully,” he adds, “that problem-solving approach then feeds back upon their literary analysis or their writing practice.”
Looking ahead, Rippeon would like to host summer research and independent studies in the space. He also hopes to offer credit-bearing semester-long courses, and to collaborate with Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of Special Collections and Archives and lecturer in History on the design and construction of working replica of a 19th century wooden “common press,” for historical demonstrations and workshops.
There are many opportunities for the Letterpress Studio, which already houses the Letterpress Club and prints the Honor Code with first year students on the Exploration Adventure (XA) trip.
The best outcome is to engage with students who have not worked in the studio before, and there are many.
“The more people you have in there, the more people want to try things,” Rippeon said.