The history of tramp printers is a long and storied one, and Chris Fritton, former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center, continues to add to that chronicle. A poet, printer, and fine artists, Chris has over a decade of experience writing, printing and making his own books, in addition to collaborative efforts with other authors and artists. In early 2015, Chris set out on an ambitious cross-country journey that took him to 32 states, 2 Canadian provinces and over 100 letterpress print shops. Not ready to call it quits, Chris continued his journey throughout 2016 with plans to wrap up around Christmas, after hitting all 48 contiguous states and more than 120 shops. Chris is calling this project The Itinerant Printer.
“It was time for me to be a journeyman printer,” Chris said of his expedition. “I never had the opportunity to learn from a diverse group of printers, and it’s important to have that experience – but it’s just as important to share what I’ve learned with others and create a nationwide collaboration of sorts.”
The Itinerant Printer visits letterpress printshops, primarily, providing unique prints at each venue culled from their idiosyncratic collections of antique wood type, metal type, cuts, ornaments, and photopolymer plates. From universities, book arts centers and private shops to upstart presses and well-established presses, Chris has visited his fair share.
Early last month, Chris came through the Mid-Ohio Valley, setting up shop at Just-A-Jar’s studio on Front Street in Downtown Marietta. Using Bobby Rosenstock’s extensive collection of wood and metal type and blocks, Chris conducted a workshop with Sara Rosenstock’s Graphic Design students at Marietta College before hosting a free community pop-up / meet-and-greet event that evening. A variety of Chris’s experimental prints from his adventures were on display, while attendees were invited to print pieces of their own in a hands-on demonstration.
At every stop, Chris designs and produces a postcard-sized print using the shop’s offerings, which are then mailed back to followers and supporters across the state. The project intends to capture the spirit of the analog revival, send real samples of it to people’s mailboxes, and convey the ethos of the handmade revival to a broader audience via social media. But it’s not just a travel blog – as a culmination, it will result in a coffee table book that features photos of all of the prints, printshops, and people from the 30,000+ mile trek.
“It’s also about reviving a sense of adventure in printing, along with the analog sharing of information. It’s about going out into the world, seeking work based on your skill set, making something with your hands, and delivering that object to someone. It’s about an exchange of ideas, of techniques, of information, of style, and of the consummation of all those things: prints.”
Although letterpress and traditional printing techniques are alive and well, the idea of apprenticeship and journeymen is often considered a thing of the past. Many modern artists are self-taught or were trained by a mentor – but few have the opportunity to travel from studio to studio as was commonplace a century or two ago. As a result, the exchange of information in the industry has slowed, despite our instant access to things like the internet. Some skills are best learned by hands-on experience.
The trip is no vacation, however – Chris estimates that he will cover over 50,000 miles and make over 30,000 prints during the entire excursion, posing a number of challenges, from travel logistics to working in unfamiliar spaces. “Creativity within constraint is at the core of this project,” he says. “When I walk into each printshop, I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into, what I have to work with, and what the people will be like.”
The project has already taken on great national sponsors like Mailchimp, Van Son Holland Inks, Mohawk Paper, Field Notes, Write Notepads, and Porridge Papers, but the major source of capital is a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that Chris ran himself. The campaign is ongoing and perks can be viewed here. For process on the trip and photos of the printshops, landscapes and people along the way, visit www.itinerantprinter.com.