Who is your mentor?

One of the things that I have enjoyed about briarpress.org is calling up and talking with people who post on the site. There’s Dick on the East Coast, John here in Arkansas, Mel in Ohio, Warren in Texas and others. It is interesting to hear their stories about how they became interested in printing. More often than not, a printer in their past had a big influence on their lives.

So … what is the name of your mentor, their city and state, and the best thing you remember about that person?

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Well it began for me with a tiny tin press called the Cub. It was a small 4x6 rotary rubber stamp press. Then in Jr High at that time a Graphic Arts Printing program. I continued it thru HS and went on to RIT. There I had several teachers, Mr. Braybant, Mr. Provan, Mr. Lawson, Mr. Sears and several others that taught use the technical parts of Letterpress and Offset Printing. Mr. Lawson a subject matter expert in Typography. Braybant for letterpress. Provan for hand composition. All great.

I worked for John “Larry” Nicol at Clifford-Nicol, Inc. for eleven years. He had started out at Equity Publishing Corp. in Orford, NH and had some great stories to tell. While teaching me to run the Miehle Vertical he explained to me that the tube with the line of holes running across the press used to have, at Equity, gas running through it which was lit so the ink on the paper that was pulled over it would dry faster. He also told me he used to have two presses (not sure what kind) set at right angles and he would feed both presses at once. One with each hand.
I was never sure if he was pulling my leg but he gave me the “bug.”

My mentor was not actually a letterpress person, but was actually a Silk Screener named J. Biegeleisen. He wrote a series of books about building and using home-made silk-screen equipment…. and was largely responsible for the fantastic posters of the Hippie era, and also the really cool printed fabrics of the era.

My first exposure to the world of graphic arts was under his instruction…. and his lessons about self-reliance were never forgotten. He’s the one who also instilled in me the idea that the finished product is what’s really important, not the process used to produce it.

My other mentor was a fellow named Pat who was obsessed with quality. Actually, “obsessed” might even be an understatement. His work was absolutely flawless… and he would spend many more hours on a project than most of the rest of us thought necessary… BUT when you saw his work, you knew a real master had produced it. I learned a lot from his meticulous work.

Unfortunately, a few years after I’d left that particular shop, I learned that poor Pat had been busted for printing some sort of counterfeit documents. I think they were called “Franklins” or maybe “Grants”….. I don’t recall. Anyway, his work earned him a vacation, and he spent four or five years on sabatical, pondering the error of his ways. When he got out, I think he went to work for an Insty-Prints, printing newsletters on 20lb bond, and cheap envelopes.

(I’m sure there’s a moral to that story…. but I’m not sure what it is…. )

My mentor and Grandpa goes by the name “Inky” on Briar Press.

I’ve always had a love for writing pretty cards to friends and family. As my love for correspondence grew - so did my love for lovely cards. I was always drawn to the letterpress cards. I’m quite crafty and thought, “Hey, I wonder how you do this?” A few weeks of internet research and I stumbled upon Briar Press. A girl from New York had posted that she was new to this and inquired if someone would be willing to teach her. A gentleman with the screen name ‘Inky’ replied saying, “If you lived closer to California, I’d be happy to teach you”. I was living in Nevada at the time. San Francisco was only a few hours drive. I wrote to Inky asking if he’d be willing to teach me. I told him that I knew nothing of letterpress. I think I probably said letterpressing (gasp!). That was Wednesday and by Saturday morning I had driven the 3 hours to the coast and was in Professor Inky’s shop. I didn’t even get to print anything the first weekend. I learned of pica and points, leads and slugs, cases and galleys. The first piece I printed: A line from my favorite hymn, “It is well with my soul”. I’ve driven to Professor Inky’s shop more times than I can count since then. He tells me I’ve been infected with the disease. It almost feels like that. All consuming. Professor Inky never had any grandchildren and I no grandparents to really speak of. Well, none that have shared their life’s wisdom like he has. I don’t call him Professor Inky anymore. He answers to Grandpa. He’s taught me everything I know about letterpress. Now, living in Oregon, the airport has been our friend. Letterpress is something very precious to me. Something very dear to my heart. It is well with my soul.

Lyle St. Louis was the print shop teacher at James Madison Junior High School during my time there 1947-1949. I was educated in letterpress printing and enjoyed it for 2 1/2 years. Age 13-15.
We advanced to running the 10x15 presses. We were taught correctly and printed safely.
When we had a job to run, we performed the make ready and then took a press proof to the teacher before starting the run. The first thing he did was to turn it over to feel and look at the back. He taught fine letterpress printing, not smash printing. We knew he would look and feel so we made sure it was right.
We printed the school newspaper. Both sides of the sheet on newsprint.
After a career as a professional sailor, I have come back to the craft. I wish to do for others as Mr. St. Louis did for me.
I teach.

I have had a few “mentors” during my 38+ years of print experience. First was Mr. Mazerella at John Muir High School in Pasadena. We printed the school newspaper on a Heidelberg cylinder press, using 80# gloss text. After that it was David R. Hettema at Crown Photoengravers in Pasadena, where I learned to shoot negatives and PMTs as well as how to make “zinc”, Mag and copper dies (photoengravings). After a few years on the “litho” side doing what is now done in Quark and InDesign as well as Photoshop I switched to the digital side managing a service bureau then found myself unemployed and purchased a small letterpress shop in Lakewood, CO. My mentors here are the Miller brothers; “Wimpy” (Wendel)(windmill), Roger (foil/embossing), Elmer (Kluge), and Donny ( Miehle Verticle), each with over 50 years in the trade. Their father had a print shop when they were all small children, it’s great hearing their stories of feeding the C&P while standing on a box so they could reach. I still rely on them to this day when I get stummped. Each one of them has vast experence on different presses. I am now in the process of teaching my son of 21 years young the trade as best I can.

I, too have had several mentors in my journey through printing technology. The very first was “Old Mr. Allbee” in Waterloo, Iowa. His son-in-law had taken over the shop, but Allbee came to work every day and ran the linecaster and ran some smaller jobs by letterpress in what had become a good-sized, primarily litho shop. He first let me set a few slugs on the Linotype and showed me how to do makeready and how to print on a C&P 10x15 press when I was about 11 years old.

It was through those first experiences that I caught the “bug” and managed to purchase my first platen press when 12 years old.

Other folks have certainly laid their influence on me as teachers and friends through the years. I’m sure we all have people we should thank but rarely get around to doing so.

John Henry

I’ve come from a line of printers in my family. Grandpa was a compositor in NYC starting in the late 20’s. Father (and partner) went to the NYC School of Printing for high school.
Dad and I opened our company in 1986 where I met Frank Piccolo. He was the former owner who taught me to run the Meihle V-50. His son, Frank Jr., worked with me at night to teach me to run the offset presses.
Been blessed with many good men who imparted their knowledge to me.

P.S. Favorite piece of advice from my Grandfather after telling him of getting my first part-time job in the industry,
“If you’re going to lean, lean on a broom. Never be the guy not working”