For a typography class she teaches at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Arlyn Nathan came up with a terrific idea: Pull her students away from their computers and into the Palace of the Governors Print Shop and Bindery (a/k/a The Palace Press). Instead of haphazardly choosing between Bodoni and Rod, they could learn their basics the old-fashioned way — by setting metal type, inking a press plate and discovering the scrub-til-it-hurts meaning behind “ink-stained wretch.”
Tom Leech and James Bourland, the keepers of the Press, happily agreed and turned their “office” into a working classroom for the students.
Let Nathan explain why that matters:
“What sparked my love of letters was being able to hold one in my hand, metal type. The smell of the ink, the sound of rain when the letterpress is inked to perfection and the labor-intensive hours working with my hands, striving but for the ideal in my mind’s eye. I wanted to replicate my experience with my 12 students (all of whom are from Mexico).”
You can understand typography with your head, but it’s another thing to know it in your hands — “the Gutenberg way,” Nathan said.
Leech chose to focus the lessons on Jose Guadalupe Posada, a talented and prolific Mexican illustrator well-known in part for his political cartoons. After hearing a lecture about Posada and viewing his original work with Bob Bell, a local collector and authority in the field, the students poured into the Press.
As a group, they agreed to create a broadside for the Day of the Dead about President Obama.
“Together they composed two poems, one in English, the other in Spanish, an illustration of Obama as a calavera (skeleton), and as a class we designed a broadside,” Nathan said. “At the Palace of the Governors Print Shop, their poem was hand-set in lead type, a linoleum block was carved and several hundred broadsides were printed.”
(More on how you can obtain a copy in a minute…)
What have they learned?
“We have had a hands-on experience designing a project, setting type, and printing a broadside with a Vandercook letterpress,” Nathan said. “They now understand why we call the capital letters `upper case’ and the minuscule characters `lower case.’ They know the origin of the expression, `mind your Ps and Qs,’ and they have held in their hands the intangible space between lines of type called `leading.’ In essence, they have taken a step into the past to help them better understand and appreciate modern technology and the subtle nuances of typography.”
Here’s where you, dear reader, come in:
On Sunday, Oct. 31 (yes, Halloween), Nathan’s students will sell the product of their efforts at the New Mexico Museum of International Folk Art from 1-4 pm — or as long as the broadsides last. In true Posada style, the students, who will don calavera clothing for the museum’s Day of the Dead event, will ask for only a quarter in return. Yup. Twenty-five cents. Two bits. The same pittance that might otherwise buy a mere 15 minutes of downtown Santa Fe parking.
“It’s a broadside for centavos, Posada’s tradition come to life, not to mention a huge celebration for Dia de los Muertos,” Nathan said.
(And, like a true teacher, she invites you to quiz her students on where they’ll find their uppercase letters. Not to mention their Ps and Qs.)