By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Katrina Montgomery
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Monica Alonzo
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Katrina Montgomery
It's a complicated process to watch, let alone master. When Shipley has time, he runs seminars for a few students at a time on how to operate the machine and cast their own sets of type.
"It's an intense operation that requires a lot of maintenance," he says. "There are always challenges because parts on these machines get worn out. I've collected up an assortment of spare parts, but usually the spare parts are already used, so I have to figure out a way to make them functional again."
He's made friends with local machine shop operators who find joy in creating replacements for missing and worn-out pieces for his typecasting machines. But Shipley admits that, like Broad, he has fears about who will continue the tradition once he's gone.
"I've only had two apprentices, and both were very serious about continuing the tradition," he says. "It's a commitment."
Shipley notes that in the late 1960s (a year after the Republic article was published and at the height of his business), Broad died suddenly, and his collection was transferred to a type foundry in Los Angeles. When that foundry folded, the collection was purchased by Barco, a foundry in Chicago that didn't sell them, didn't reproduce them, and virtually let them vanish from the letterpress world.
Many, including Shipley, thought Broad's matrices disappeared or were melted down to create modern typefaces. But after months of research and phone calls, Shipley tracked down the owners of Barco and begged them to sell him Broad's work. They refused, for years, until one day, "out of the blue," they called Shipley and asked for an offer.
"I wanted everything they had," says Shipley, pulling out drawers of Broad's type in his studio. "And I got it all for a screaming deal."
Shipley whispers that he low-balled the people at Barco, and when they agreed, he flew to Chicago and took the entire collection — including type that was more than 150 years old — back home to Arizona.
Since Charles Broad's time, the world of letterpress has changed dramatically. What once was a commercial industry was abandoned and then revived as an art form. Traditional letterpress printing is now taught in university classrooms and sold in indie gift shops. Metal and wood-based letters are now as collectible for printers as they are for young moms setting up letter walls in their nurseries and can be found at flea markets and through Internet storefronts like eBay and Etsy. The industry's become a movement that's motivated artists like Kyle Durrie, formerly of Portland and based in Silver City, New Mexico, to drive a "movable type" truck around the country to teach communities about the tradition and sell her own work. She most recently was in Phoenix last March on a countrywide tour to spread awareness of letterpress.
"I continue to see young people fascinated by the process, and there are so many reasons to learn it," says Risseeuw, who's been teaching at ASU for more than 30 years. "I've seen letterpress make better typographers, more thoughtful writers, and more creative visual artists . . . because learning about the design and setting the type slows down their process so much, they're always learning something new about their own medium."
Printers like Cindy Iverson use a combination of metal and wood type, and when clients have specific designs, she says she can now send the digital file to a manufacturer that creates a polymer-based plate with the entire image that can be pressed without the need to arrange individual type.
And though many view polymer plates as a controversial end to wood and metal type, Risseeuw says they're a necessity in modern printing and an essential part of letterpress' survival.
"Technology is going to evolve, and polymer provides a bridge between old technology and what we have today," he says. "Of course, there's a danger of people not understanding the tradition, the mechanics, and the design knowledge that physical type brings to a final product, but I think we'll always be playing with physical type in some way."
In his backyard in Prescott, Sky Shipley's fashioned a winding metal staircase that leads to a platform he uses to watch planes shoot across the skyline. He points out a few mountain ranges and talks about where he'll be flying in the upcoming week. (Letterpress occupies only the lion's share of his time, not all of it.) When asked about the future of letterpress, he pauses and admits to resisting most of the modern letterpress technology. He'll stick to metal, which is still used and collected by printers around the world. And like Charles Broad, he'll continue his search for a successor.
"I often ruminate," he says. "I wish I could have a visit from the ghost of Charlie Broad. I think he'd be happy to see what I'm doing."
Claire, A great article on a very interesting part of Arizona's history. Letterpress printing is a jewel. Rather than destroying our youth in the school-to-prison pipeline, they could be learning fine-printing skills, among related vocational training.