Visual Arts

Letterpress Type Caster Sky Shipley Talks Tradition and the Importance of Preserving the Art Form in this Week's New Times

You've probably seen them at flea markets -- metal letters, words, and images that were once set, inked, and rolled against paper in a printing press to create the daily newspaper, novel, or informational flyer.

Once an industrial process, letterpress (the act of printing with metal, wood, and now polymer-based type and imagery) has grown into an artform that has taken off in contemporary culture the last few years.

Sky Shipley is one of the last letterpress experts and aficionados who casts metal type used for letterpress. We caught up with Shipley in his foundry in Prescott, where he talks about the artform's long history, it's roots in Arizona, and it's complicated future.

See also: - Letterpress Is All the Rage -- and Part of Its History Is Being Preserved in Arizona - The Phoenix Wayzgoose: A Celebration of Letterpress (and Swap Meet/Auction of Goods!)

Shipley's the subject of this week's cover story, Typecast. From the feature:

For Shipley, his colleagues, and anyone who's visited a craft fair in a hip town, there's no denying the current revival of letterpress. From invitations and art books to posters and coasters (and anything else that can be wedged into a printing press), the industry is making a serious creative comeback. Call it a response to increasingly pervasive technology or a return to the basics -- letterpress has become the new vinyl record or analog film. And though printing shops are popping up across the country, the big companies that once produced the machines went out of business long ago, and the race to snatch up the remaining equipment is on. Letterpress currently is riding a trendy wave, but the hope for its sustained future rests in the hands of artisans and engineers like Shipley.

And he knows that if he doesn't pass along his skill set, traditional letterpress could be in trouble.

To read more about Shipley and the letterpress movement in Arizona, read this week's cover story here and check out a slideshow of Shipley's work as well as work from Chandler's Letterpress Central and downtown Phoenix's Hazel and Violet.

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Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton