In a relatively nondescript complex of half empty office spaces on Baseline Road, two women are creating art on machines that haven't changed for hundreds of years.
Cindy Iverson and Jeryl Jones opened Phoenix Print Studios just a few weeks ago in Tempe, but they have been letterpress printing and teaching others how to letterpress for years.
"We are helping to keep the tradition alive, for sure, and now we're trying to build a community," Iverson says.
Intentionally or not, it seems like creating that sense of community is at the forefront of the letterpress world. Artists constantly collaborate, help each other on deadline, travel to visit each other's studios, and share tips about equipment and best practices.
Iverson tells a story about how when a tiny part in one of their eight presses broke a fellow printer sent the same part from his machine so she could take it to a machinist to recreate. But the part broke when Iverson's friend tried to remove it from his machine, so Iverson just had two new parts made.
This just seems to be the spirit of these printers, something not found in many other fields. But Iverson and Jones want to take that inclusive feel beyond professional printers and into their immediate community.
They have displayed a gallery of sorts in the entryway of their new space, showing some work of other printers they admire. They welcome people to stop by and take a look. Right now, it is a collaboration between Jessica Spring and Chandler O'Leary called The Dead Feminists. Iverson and Jones plan to switch out the pieces from time to time, often depending on who they have coming to lecture or teach classes, which they already have in the works.
While Phoenix Print Studio is their first joint venture, both printers have already had a long career in the art.
Iverson also owns Letterpress Central, which was previously housed in Chandler, and Paper Studio before that. She learned letterpress while earning her MFA in book and paper arts at Columbia College. In fact, Iverson makes much of the paper used at Phoenix Print Studios now, including that used for their business cards.
Jones says she was printing out of her garage for about 10 years before joining Iverson. But she has been a print graphic designer for about 40 years, picking up jobs here and there as she travelled around the South with her husband before landing in Phoenix in the early '80s.
While the printing pair still enjoys creating their own work, they say the real goal of Phoenix Print Studios is to educate and share the excitement they still get from printing even after all this time with others.
"It's important for us to do our own work, artistically our own work," Iverson says. "But I think it also helps us help other people because...when people take classes and they've got a project they want to do, we're successful in helping them get there."
Children, adults, and even fellow designers all have the same reaction when they finally pull up on the lever and reveal the piece they've just pressed, the pair says. They attribute this to the act of physically creating something, an experience not many get when constantly surrounded by computers and technology.
"All this creating that's done on a computer, it's here today and gone tomorrow," Jones says. "With print, with something tangible, it's an archived piece. It's part of a historical document. It becomes an artifact."
This is the legacy Iverson and Jones intend to leave with Phoenix Print Studio, and they say they hope the space they've created outlives them, explaining that they need people to gain interest for this art to survive. And once you try pressing for yourself, it's hard not to get hooked. To a certain extent, it seems that's what Iverson and Jones are counting on.
"To have [the letterpress] available for people to experience it and to enjoy and to really understand what it's all about," Jones says, "because, my goodness, it's a huge foundation of our history and to keep it..."
"To keep it going," Cindy picks up. "I mean, to preserve it but also to educate and use it."
Phoenix Print Studios is located at 230 West Baseline Road #108 in Tempe. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming workshops and lectures.
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Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.