Student dusts off a vintage press to deliver the college’s holiday greetings
By CAROL SCHMIDT
BOZEMAN -- The Montana State University College of Arts and Architecture holiday card pressed into service one of the oldest communications technologies to send its most contemporary greetings — a vintage printing machine using lead type.
MSU's 2020 College of Arts and Architecture holiday card was designed and printed in house by Ashley Fuchs, graphic design professor in the School of Art, who employed one of the school’s vintage letterpresses to print about 300 copies.
The card was the brainchild of Royce Smith, dean of the college, and assistant dean JoDee Palin, who like to showcase faculty and student work in the college’s annual holiday card. While Fuchs is one of the newest members of the faculty, she is also adept in the centuries-old letterpress technology.
Fuchs has a bachelor’s in architecture and a Master of Fine Arts degree in graphic design, both from the University of Florida. When she came to MSU three years ago, Fuchs said she was delighted to find three printing presses, one quite rare, and the other two dating between 1900 and 1950. There was also a large collection of metal type stored in cabinets of vintage wood typecases.
“It’s actually an impressive collection,” Fuchs said. Once common in every newspaper and printing shop, letterpresses and hand-set type have been replaced by computer-aided technology. Fuchs said there is a revival of interest in the old-fashioned printing craft involving an active “and very generous community” in which she participates.
Fuchs’ research is digital fabrication and new media for production of design integrating old technologies, such as letterpress. She also teaches courses in both computer design and letterpress. She said the old craft is still relevant, especially because it is the root of many terms still used in graphic design, such as “leading” and “kerning.” One way that she uses these varied creative interests in her classroom is teaching her students how to use the laser cutter in the School of Architecture to create new versions of traditional type.
“For me, it’s about understanding history. Still, every time I print, I learn something new.”
The process of printing this year’s holiday card took time and thought in planning and design. Smith created poetic messages and Fuchs designed the card, incorporating several styles of vintage metal type that she selected from the classic wood typecases tucked into a corner of Haynes Hall. The card uses several vintage typefaces including Caslon, Tiffany, Onyx and Piranesi. Fuchs hand set the type into composing sticks, which are eventually locked tight into the letterpress chase, or carrier. The card was printed in two colors – green and gold – which meant Fuchs had to print each card twice, allowing the cards to dry fully between each printing.
Like most items printed with letterpress, the card is distinguished by a deeper physical impression than the computer printing common today.
“That’s what really makes it memorable,” Fuchs said.
Smith said that he sees beauty in the circularity of a holiday card for a college that teaches students new technologies rooted in several enduring practices and traditions.
“One of the reasons that we are so happy with this project is that even though we all live in an increasingly digital world, this card returns us to one of the oldest and most fundamental printing technologies there is,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, all technologies are a means to an end, and I’m thrilled that our brilliant faculty and students are always finding the threads that link history with our contemporary moment.”