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August 1, 2011
By: Sarah Schewe
Sarah Schewe

Fine & Dirty

 “Fine & Dirty” has opened at the Minnesota Center of Book Arts — a celebration of the best of contemporary letterpress printing. Considered relics of a bygone pre-digital age in the 1980s, letterpress has revived as an art form offering small printers crisp lines, patterns and typography.  

In a world that often appears to speed pell-mell toward the iPad and its electronic cousins, “Fine & Dirty” offers a chance to sample the retro art of fine printing.

At the opening, artists mingled with the curious who came to see hand-printed books.

Among a handful of other major American cities, Minneapolis benefits from the Center of Book Arts’ presence as a local, living craft shop and school for traditional crafts like papermaking and bookbinding, and experimental artmaking with books.

The center in the Open Book Building on Washington Avenue is home to 17 presses. The oldest is an Alexander Iron Hand Press from the 1850s which was donated from a print shop in England and shipped to Minneapolis in pieces. The center has an artist co-operative for working book artists, and it offers classes and workshops on printing, binding and papermaking, among other things.

Abigail Woods Anderson is one of 13 artists in MCBA’s artist co-op. “What’s striking about letterpress,” explains Anderson, “is that it is at once anachronistic and in vogue. Artists working in letterpress have a vast array of technologies (two millennia’s worth) at their disposal. What sets my technique apart from most contemporary letterpress practitioners is my preference for handmade (rather than digitally-derived) negatives to generate photopolymer plates. I thrive off the direct mark-making and problem-solving ingenuity of DIY processes.”

Book artists, more than any artists in any other medium, have the opportunity to control the sequence, rhythm and time in which a viewer engages with the work as a reader pages through an artist’s book.

“I don’t think that holding a book will go away,” said Sara Parr, the studio and artist co-op manager at MCBA. “It’s going to be exciting to see how the printed page and the electronic page could merge. Whether it’s a book or an e-read, you’re still holding the words in your hand.”


Fine & Dirty: Contemporary Letterpress Art

When: Thru Oct. 16

Minnesota Center for Book Arts Star Tribune Foundation Gallery in Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S.

Website: mnbookarts.org