When poet Katie Nealon really wants to convey something from the heart, she doesn’t turn to a keyboard or a pen. Rather, she reaches for metal blocks of type. “You are literally holding the words in your hand. There’s more weight to it,” she says.
Nealon is president of Sebastopol’s North Bay Letterpress Arts, a thriving local co-op of writers and artists who rely on the ancient art of transferring words and images to paper as expressions of their work. The nonprofit organization, founded in 2015, has a 1,600-square-foot shop in Sebastopol where members have access to nine presses and over 200 cases of type. The association also offers public and private classes. Nealon’s work includes self-published books of poetry and greeting cards, and she recently reprinted copies of the “Sonoma Strong” cards she originally produced after the 2017 fires.
Healdsburg artist Pauline Minser worked through the grief of losing a close friend by printing a book featuring a favorite poem. She also makes her own fanciful cards for holidays. “Why pay for a Hallmark card when we can make our own, using quality artist papers?” she says. With letterpress, blocks of ink-stained metal type are arranged in rows and then pushed down onto paper. The process is time-consuming, physically demanding, and sometimes frustrating.
But letterpress shops are proliferating, inviting new devotees to pick up where Johannes Gutenberg left off and put a personal stamp on Valentine’s Day cards, wedding invitations, business cards, and other printed material. Nealon, a graphic artist professionally, said she could more easily design her art on a computer. But that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. “It’s in our blood,” she says of working the press.
North Bay Letterpress Arts, 925-D Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol. Public workshops in the art of hand-set type and hand-and foot-powered presses are offered several times a month. northbayletterpressarts.org.