Calico press FMAAA’s September exhibit

Courtesy of Brian Riggs

Fort Madison Area Arts Association

FORT MADISON – Ft. Madison Area Arts Association always contributes to Ft. Madison’s major tourism month.  The September feature exhibition uniquely blends the artistry of The Calico Press with commercial printing of Dodd Printing & Stationery.  A reception occurs for the collaborative on September 8th from 5:00-7:00pm.  Letterpress printmaking will be demonstrated, and receptions are always free and open to the public.  Two Rivers Insurance is the sponsor for the exhibition.

Also this month Art-in-Central Park makes its annual return on September 17th from 10am-4pm.  Dozens of visual artists under the shade trees, Kid’s Art Zone activities by the playground, and BBQ&Lost Duck Brewing under the Johnson shelter house.  Afternoon musicians perform in the gazebo beginning with Fox River Fields country sounds, followed by the blues of The Travis Reid Band, and closing with the guitar students of Jesse Mazzoccoli. Guitar lessons are available on Wednesdays at FMAAA.

Dodd Printing and Stationery has been in Ft. Madison for four generations and was just purchased by the “fifth” generation Matt Hayes.  A hand feed press, purchased many moons ago at ISP by Neal Dodd, is amongst the display and will be utilized at the reception.  The Chandler & Price Pilot press is special in that it is the only table top press that prints with the quality of a table press.   The wood type is locked into a chase.  Displays show the differing stages of letterpress to the end product.  Cuts or zinks provide style.  Naptha cleans the inks.  Inks have evolved from rubber or oil base to a polymer.  Oil is still widely used.  Drink coasters are perfect for letter press and will be available for families or businesses to order at the gallery (the perfect business card!).

Offset printing came along in the 1950’s to take the place of letterpress.  When Neal started in 1977 half of the work projects were still letterpress, which is a more technical craft.  In the last few years digital printing has taken the place of offset.  Now one piece of equipment takes the place of many machines.  Neal feels that the nostalgia of letterpress will keep the format continuing, similar to black & white photography.  Neal reminiscences “I grew up with letterpress and offset.  The thing most missed is the smell of the shop.  The containers of gas and inks smelled so good that people would come by just to smell the shop.  The chemical make-up of solvents has changed and the smell is gone.  “We had an old cabinet with the smell trapped inside.  As the overall smell of the shop changed, I would go to the cabinet to get the last whiffs!”  There is a loyalty and appreciation for the letterpress art form.  It is not practical or viable anymore in commercial work, but the beauty of the art can create unique products, like the coasters, bookmarks, and notecards made that are available in the show.

Mel Stockwell of The Calico Press is one busy lady.  When she graduated Coe College her degree was in fine arts with emphasis in printmaking but more intaglio and litho.  She worked for large commercial print houses and began collecting presses.  The mechanical farm girl in her had urgings to collect and refurbish old presses.  Eventually she left the corporate world and placed all her collected equipment into one building on her farm.  The Calico Press is a commercial printer outside of Birmingham, Iowa, which she runs 36 hours per week.  In 2012 she became director and a teacher for Villages of Van Buren Folk school at 20 hours per week.  Outside of that she manages work at Printer’s Hall at Old Threshers since 2008.  The hall hosts several major events per year including “Ladies of Letterpress”, incorporating 300 gals being crazy, chaotic, and creative.  This year has been one of firsts, with Mel getting into and selling at Hatch Show Print in Tennessee.  Famous posters known to be created there of Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubbs.  She scored at the Iowa Agriculture Art Contest awarded to her at this year’s Iowa State Fair.  Her display is a “show within a show” with the End of Times 2 letterpress booklet, showcasing the 40 national printers selected.

Her mechanical skills set her apart.  There is an art to finding the presses and restoring them to peak condition.  “Letterpress is layers upon layers, my mechanical thinking asks what can I do to give me a differing technique.  I am always engineering innovation.”  One thing is for sure….the collaboration of Dodd Printing and Stationery and The Calico Press will keep you pressing on a nostalgic journey of appreciation for a technical craft.  FMAAA at 825 Avenue G is open for viewing Tuesday-Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

Neal Dodd stands next to some early model letterpress printers. The printers are the subject of the September exhibit at the Fort Madison Area Arts Association. Courtesy photo.

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About Chuck Vandenberg 5741 Articles
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