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Feeling Out of Sorts?


We owe a great debt to the printing arts, and I don’t mean what gets sprayed onto precisely sized sheets of bleached dead trees as it lurches its way out of that plastic box on your desk when you click “OK.”

I’m talking about the raw setting of moveable, cast type by hand, the carving of an image on wood or metal—all backwards, of course—and then feeding sheets of beefy paper through a gloriously loud, heavy and digit-endangering device that reeks of Industrial Revolution form, function, ink and oil.

Printers of yore, and the men and women who owned and operated them, gave voice to the people, politics and news of the day. My great grandfather, Olney, was one such character and for a time was editor and publisher of the Blue Springs News at the turn of the 20th century.

Just as turntables and the vinyl albums they played have all but been relegated to the landfills of history, letterpress printers are largely cast iron relics used as decoration. But in the hands of a few who can mind their Ps and Qs and coax a righteous print job out of one, they serve as the heavy rhythm section for the march of history.

Boulder County is fortunate to be home to a few who still know and practice the endangered art of type setting and letterpress printing. They gather as a group known as the Book Arts League—a non-profit organization dedicated to the art of letterpress printing, bookbinding, calligraphy and paper making. The group’s annual fundraiser—the 2011 Edible Book Show and Tea—will be held at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1760 13th Street in Boulder, from 4-6pm April 10.

This fundraising event features edible “books” and other literary creations by local culinary artists and just plain folks who want to submit their “cooked books” for viewing and, upon the ringing of a cow bell at about 5pm, attendees get to eat their words, as it were. Those who would like to submit their own edible creations are encouraged to hit the bookartsleague.org website for complete info.

The two pros taking part this year are Linda Willetto from Indulge Bakery at Arapahoe Road and 95th Street in Lafayette and Sarah Armorese whose chocolate boutique, Piece, Love and Chocolate, is soon to open at 805 Pearl Street in Boulder. Slices of their creations sell for $5.

And while the majority of edible submissions from the public are of the sweet nature, there are those—like Edible Tea Committee Chairwoman and Book Arts League President Linda Peterson—who prefer the savory route. A submission last year included the “Kyoto City of Gardens” made with asparagus and broccoli and crackers and pretzels. “They just have to be edible, they don’t have to taste good,” Peterson said.

There will be working printing presses on hand and attendees can print bookmarks on the platen press or greeting cards from a wood block. And Mad Hatter and BAL member Earl Noe will be on hand practicing “Jell-O” journalism with his gelatin duplicator or hectograph printing on rice paper (edible, of course).

This crude form of printing—pressed into service by Stephen King and George Orwell in their youth—was used to avoid detection by subversives because the press could literally be eaten, leaving no trace of its existence. In fact, Allied prisoners of war used the process to print documents, maps and other items used in escape attempts from the Stalags in World War II.

Yes, there is a rich history to printing and the good people of the Book Arts League will let no pun go unturned in this, their annual gala. Good journalism may be a dying craft, but the art of letterpress printing is alive in Boulder County. Now, you can see for yourself.

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