Artist’s multi-year journey to be open to public
The tangible nature of letterpress is one that not only students of fine art and graphic design at Marietta College get to experience.
On Wednesday the public is invited to justAJar design press for a free presentation of one peripatetic artist’s multi-year journey to index how printing is just as much a reflection of culture as it is freestanding art.
Chris Fritton, 42, of Buffalo, N.Y., previously visited the Marietta shop back in 2016.
“This whole project is really about people,” said Fritton as he drove to Ohio Monday. “I was on the road for about two and a half years visiting these print shops of every level from hobbyist to commercial across the U.S. and parts of Canada.”
He set off on the journey to tell a story, looking at the history of those who used to be known as tramp printers, who traveled from shop to shop with assured jobs thanks to a union card.
“They were known as itinerant printers, these guys would work for a bit in a city or town on a project and then move on to find work in another city in the 1800s and early 1900s,” explained Fritton.
Now, more of a niche market for specialized posters or monoprints, greeting cards and other limited-edition products has emerged with letterpress, like the Marietta shop owned by Bobby and Sarah Rosenstock.
“He was here back in 2016 at the start of his project when he was using the tools each printshop had on hand,” explained Bobby Rosenstock Monday. “Back then we did a workshop with the college and then he and I collaborated and printed for a few days using my equipment.”
That’s the catch–Fritton supplies the paper and ink, but each shop he visited on this journey had to provide their equipment for collaboration.
“I could see that analogy, of too many cooks in a kitchen but what’s great in working with Chris is he kind of forced me to get out of my routine and look at things a little differently,” said Rosenstock. “When you’re working on antique equipment and with blocks or other tools everyone kind of has their own style, but he’s been able to share tips and tricks of other printers.”
One trick Rosenstock picked up from Fritton and has used in his own business is ink wipes.
“It’s a method of cleaning the press by running paper through the rollers but he does it in a strategic way,” Rosenstock explained. “Then he saved the papers to be printed on with that unique element I’ve now used in some of my monoprints.”
Now that Fritton is returning, he plans to share stories of his travels and the people he’s met along the way, including print shops like justAJar in his new book, “The Itinerant Printer.”
“Now I’m kind of retracing my steps through the colleges and universities and some of the shops I went to in each region sort of as a book tour,” explained Fritton. “The book follows my course to really do the trade art form justice with 320 pages, 1,500 photos and 130,000 words giving a thorough view of how the trade fits into art and the digital age today.”
He said he hopes to see more than the usual attendees of art exhibits Wednesday, too.
“It’s good to think about printing as more inclusive,” he explained. “So think of this as a casual party where you get to experience running the press, and touching the prints. The whole project has been about inclusivity.”
And after the tour?
“I hope to take this project globally in 2020,” he said. “I have contacts in places like Japan and elsewhere and so now it’s looking at the logistics to see how we can take this global.”
Fritton will be in the Front Street shop on Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. to answer questions, share stories and encourage letterpress exploration.
If you go:
• What: The Itinerant Printer, artist visit at justAJar design press.
• When: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: 208 Front St., Marietta.
• Cost: Free and open to the public, with copies of “The Itinerant Printer” available for sale.
Sources: Chris Fritton and Bobby Rosenstock.