Saturday, August 25, 2012

Three Small Presses

The work of small presses is continually fascinating because, no matter what ethos or driving philosophy there might be at work, the output of a small press will always be the result of a small number of people, sometimes only two or thee, working together to produce something with a purpose and significance. The skills of a writer, artist, printmaker, typographer, bookbinder, designer and so on are all used to some extent and often more than one of these skills in a single person. It makes each production of a small press something human and narrative in the way that a commercially produced book can't approach.

These three examples are taken almost at random from the draws of material like this here at Callum James Heights. The book on Paul Church in Cornwall is a small production in heavy black type that a purist would probably disapprove of. This copy was inscribed, faintly, on the cover by the author in 1918 - some eight years after the book was printed. As well as your typical antiquarian look at the history of a church and parish, this title includes a list of the liturgical festivals of the year giving both their English and Cornish names. The press was The Newlyn Press and it was run by R. T. Dick and J. D. Mackenzie. Mackenzie in particular was something of an institution in Newlyn, a life-long bachelor who, out of Quaker conviction, gave over his life to improving the lot of the local fishing men and lads. Mackenzie helped found the Newlyn Industrial Class, later the Newlyn Art Metal Industry which produced many of his own designs in repousse copper and gave employment and extra income to the locals when fishing couldn't support them. The press was also published a short-lived art journal called Paper Chase that was edited by another of the famous Cornish artists, Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes. I haven't seen any other titles from this press and so I can't say for certain but as the design below is on the back of the book and the title page, I would say it constitutes a pressmark and a very unusual one at that: I think it is supposed to be a cuttlefish. I don't know the dates of the press exactly but Mackenzie died in 1918 of flu, having spent perhaps too long caring for two local boys who were suffering with it and contracting it himself, and then pneumonia.

The Cellar Press produced a number of hand-printed and illustrated poems in the 1970s (not to be confused with the Cellar Press currently operating since 2005). As far as I can tell, none of the poets they worked with rose to the top rank of 'names' but they had a certain 1970s experimental vibe about them. This pamphlet was illustrated by Julia Caprara who went on to become a leading light in the world of textile art and you can perhaps see something of that in her illustration above. The pressmark for this press is a faux-medieval capital C illustrated with a monk taking a drink from a wine cask.

The Caseg Press was based in Snowdonia in Wales and was very much driven by the artist John Petts, whose striking frontispiece for this long poem Sauna is below. Petts also did work for the Golden Cockerel Press. The Caseg Press spluttered in and out of life from 1937 through to 1951 and until their separation Petts ran it with his poet/artist wife Brenda Chamberlain. This is actually the second edition of this work of which 500 copies were printed. Although I was initially attracted to the book by the illustration, the poem itself is a long and beautiful one, a meditation on the mysteries of heat, cold, friendship and storytelling in the traditional Finnish sauna.


Anonymous said...

Another great & fascinating piece Callum. Your erudition shows through at every moment. Thanks. Patrick

Callum said...

That's very kind. I don't feel particularly erudite. When I told R that my erudition was showing he suggested I get some new pants!

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