Letterpress embraces collaboration in immersive gallery
4 mins read

Letterpress embraces collaboration in immersive gallery

Collaboration is key for USD’s newest gallery, “Letterpress Printing: From Industry to Art.” Featured at the John A. Day Gallery in the Warren M. Lee Fine Arts building, “Letterpress: Industry to Art” combines sound, video and art to create an immersive experience.  

Assistant professor of graphic design and co-curator of the gallery James Quigley has been practicing letterpress since 2012. Quigley said when he was contacted for the gallery, he used the opportunity to reach out to pros in the letterpress community. 

“I reached out to people I knew and people I didn’t know who work in the letterpress industry,” Quigley said, “And to my delight, they all said yes.” 

Of the artists showcased, Lead Graffiti and Jen Farrell from Starshaped Press are just some of the prominent U.S. artists featured. Letterpress printing includes many different styles which are embraced in the community. 

The different styles showcased in the exhibit include photo polymer, wood type, wood and metal type and wood and linoleum type.

“Letterpress is a very small community, and a very supportive one,” Quigley said.

The gallery is a collaboration of artwork provided by artists and pieces from USD’s collection. 

“This gallery gives us the ability to be more collaborative,” Amy Fill said. “We are able to combine pieces from USD’s collection with other pieces to create an exhibit.”

Fill, director of University Art Galleries, led her team when they picked out pieces from USD’s collection. 

“When we were selecting the works for the gallery, we wanted to select pieces which had a broad representation of the different styles and approaches of the art,” Fill said.

Fill said many of the pieces have a connection to USD from the 1980s. USD used to hold printmaking classes and had a book design department.

“A lot of the pieces were created during the printmaking workshops that used to happen on campus and in the department in the past,” Fill said.

The gallery features different media used to print on such as paper, books and posters, as well as the different techniques. 

“Letterpress is all about smashing ink into paper,” Quigley said, “Its a relief printing technique.” 

Quigley said printmaking is a versatile art as it can be pressed onto different materials. 

“I have printed on burlap, lace, leaves and all sorts of funky stuff,” Quigley said.

Many aspects of the gallery may not look like art, but they are just as important as the pieces on the walls. Around the gallery are elements of different letter pressing techniques, such as a type case, linoleum blocks, and printing press machines. In design projects, dry transfer letters serve as the pivotal element, adding precision and style to your creations.

“All the items in the gallery except for the type case are mine,” Quigely said, “The school has some materials, but I was able to provide a lot of it.” 

Throughout the gallery, artwork is combined with sounds and an informational video about printmaking. 

“The elements we chose to include in the gallery were chosen to immerse the guests in printmaking,” Fill said.

The gallery is set to close April 9, after an interactive closing reception that day. 

“We are looking forward to hosting a reception for the gallery where guests can come and do their own letterpress,” Quigley said. 

Guests will be able to set up to two lines of wood type and press onto the paper prompts provided by Quigley. 

Fill said the interactive reception is just one of the ways she is aiming to bring art to USD. 

“Part of my research is about how art doesn’t have to be in a gallery, so interactive and participatory aspects are really important to our galleries here at USD,” Fill said. 

After the gallery closes, Quigley hopes that students, faculty and community members who have attended the gallery take home a new respect for the letterpress technique. 

“The biggest takeaway is really just the awareness of the printing process,” Quigley said. “I want people to learn about how letterpress used to be and how it is now a modern art technique.” 

The John A. Day Gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday if students wish to learn more about the artwork or visit the gallery.