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Boston Globe Article

Started by Dave Hughes, January 17, 2010, 03:18:00 PM

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Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type

Dave Hughes

Many thanks to Jay Michaels for sending in this interesting article from the "Boston Globe."

As I found it difficult to access the article via the link I was provided with, I've decided to put the article on the forum:

There's a video at the end of the article.

QuoteTo step into Firefly Press is to enter a Victorian scene of cast-iron typecasting machines and printing presses, hand-operated antique contraptions that forge neat rows of metal type as they clatter and thump.

This is letterpress printing the way they did it for 500 years, long before the digital revolution. It is a craft intertwined with New England's rich history as a center of printing and publishing, and Firefly's clients willingly pay a little extra for the shop's textured broadsides and letterheads, hard to find in this era of digital desktop publishing.

But Firefly is more than a niche business. Its owner, John G. Kristensen, sees himself as a torchbearer of a trade that may be technologically obsolete but would be terrible to lose - and of the apprenticeship needed to keep the craft alive.

"If [letterpress printing] is to survive, it needs more than just the people who like it and support it,'' Kristensen said, standing in his Allston shop. "It really needs the people who know how to do it.''

It is an opinion echoed by other masters of crafts that have become cultural grace notes in a society where work and entertainment require little more than a click of a touchpad.

The State of Massachusetts evidently agrees. It has awarded Kristensen a grant of $4,125 so that he can make time to instruct his apprentice, Jesse Marsolais, in the workings of the typecasting machines, for which there are no published instruction manuals. The grant is one of five the Massachusetts Cultural Council has handed out this year, part of a program that since 2002 has helped fund apprentices for traditional arts and crafts.

Recent recipients have been artisans of such traditional Yankee items as trunnel-fastened wooden ships, dry fieldstone walls, carved wood water fowl decoys, and woven Nantucket Lightship nest baskets - but also masters of more exotic disciplines, such as classical Scottish bagpipe or Cambodian monkey dancing.

Funding the teaching of basket-weaving and bagpipe-playing may seem like an untimely extravagance at a time when people are scraping to get by - even if much of the $15,000 in grants this year came from the coffers of the National Endowment for the Arts, not the Commonwealth. But Maggie Holtzberg, who runs the program, believes the investment could not be timelier.

"This is more than just music lessons or printing lessons,'' she said. "It's about the transfer of knowledge from one person to another that is at the core of any tradition. If you let all that stuff die away you'd just be living in the present.''

Harold Burnham, an 11th-generation shipbuilder in Essex, was awarded a $4,500 grant from the council in 2006 to teach an apprentice during the construction of the 38-foot schooner Isabella. They put together the vessel the way Yankee shipbuilders made them for generations, using a double-sawn frame and steam-bent planks from locally grown wood, fastened together with trunnels, or wooden pegs.

"If you lose all these traditional arts,'' Burnham said, "people lose the sense of who they are.''

This is a particular concern for the Cambodian community in Massachusetts, many of whose members fled the Khmer Rouge, which killed over a million Cambodians in the 1970s. The regime targeted in particular the cultural elite - and nearly wiped out traditional art forms. One of these was Swva Pol, the monkey dance. The acrobatic performance mimics the motion of monkeys, which in Khmer culture are revered as soldiers who fight evil. In the United States, the dance has been infused with modern American hip-hop moves and sensibility - and in Lowell, its study is one way for Cambodian young people to avoid the dangers of drug abuse and crime.

The Massachusetts Council for the Arts awarded dance instructor Samnang Hor a grant of $2,250 to train Sopaul Hem, whose family escaped the Khmer Rouge.

The monkey dance, Holtzberg said, "is not a Massachusetts tradition per se but a traditional art with deep roots that has been transplanted.''

Applicants for the grants have to show a proven record of study and mastery in a traditional art form, craft, or trade, and a panel of folklorists must decide that the relationship between the instructor and the pupil will be lasting and fruitful.

For six years, Nancy Tunnicliffe has been teaching Piobaireachd, traditional bagpipe music from the Scottish Highlands, to her apprentice, Sean Humphries, who makes a 240-mile round-trip trek from Millville for lessons at her home in Lanesborough.

Piobaireachd (pronounced "PEA-brock'') had its heyday between the 15th and 18th centuries and is passed down orally - the teacher sings the notes until the student can perform them from memory. The music for Piobaireachd compositions - many of them laments that last 20 minutes or longer - has been written down, but the notes and annotations can be interpreted only by someone experienced in the form.

Tunnicliffe is one of a handful of acknowledged masters of Piobaireachd in the country. The $3,750 grant she and Humphries were awarded this year helps defray the cost of his travel and pay for her lessons.

Humphries said he decided to take up the instrument at the funeral of a young relative, during which a piper played in the church.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the place at the end,'' he said. "At that point I said I want to play an instrument that evokes that type of emotion.''

North Indian tabla drumming may seem worlds apart from Scottish bagpipe playing. But it is also a musical form passed down orally. Nisha Purushotham, a classically trained pianist and church choir director who lives in Roxbury, has been studying tabla for two years with her mentor, Christopher Pereji of Attleboro. Their $2,625 grant pays for her classes, no small deal for a freelance musician.

But when Purushotham sits cross-legged on the red and gold carpet in the basement studio of the Attleboro raised ranch of her mentor, she is submerged in more than a music lesson. Pereji, an accomplished musician who makes a living in computer software quality assurance, teaches his student the traditional Indian relationship between the guru and the shishya, or disciple. As they practice the elaborate syncopes and varied tones of the drums, he calls out the syllables.

"This is a passionate hobby,'' Pereji said. "This is to keep my tradition alive, keep my passion alive, and fulfill my love for music

Printle: Word Puzzle for Printers Play Now

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