Thursday, July 31, 2014 · 3:35 p.m.
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A collection of stamps is among the treasures at The Open Press. (Photo: Staff)

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg shook the established order in Europe with the introduction of the printing press.

Five hundred and forty-five years later, Apple debuted its personal computer, which has eventually led to the slew of software like iBooks that allows individuals to create their own books with the click of a button and the drag of a mouse.

But the love of the smell of ink and the texture of paper is far from dead in the digital age. One Chattanooga organization is looking to create a space for that love to thrive.

On Wednesday, July 3, The Open Press launched a Kickstarter campaign as the final step in getting the collaborative project off the ground.

Located at the corner of Cowart and 13th streets, the organization's studio is a wonderland of presses, sowers, guillotines, paper, metal type and a massive platemaker—all at the ready for Chattanooga’s artists and customers.  

"There are a lot of artists and artisans engaging in craft and materials in a very direct way and with a lot of integrity," said Matt Greenwell, who with Widgets and Stone business partner Paul Rustand founded The Open Press. "This seems like a part of that puzzle that's not here. I think there are a lot of cities our size and larger who have shops similar to this. It seems like we're ready for a space like this."

One of the presses Chouinard brought from his Alabama studio was this original Heidelberg Cylinder. (Photo: Staff)

The project began with a long-held dream Greenwell and Rustand nurtured while using the Southside space as a letterpress studio for Widgets and Stone. Then, when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga decommissioned its printmaking studio and moved its etching and lithographic presses into storage, the two saw the opportunity to expand their vision to all ink-based arts.

They applied for and received a MakeWork grant and brought on master letterpress printer Terry Chouinard and artist and retired UTC printmaking instructor Juanita Tumelaire as consultants.

The relationship with Chouinard, who at the time was located in Athens, Ala., began with him providing advice on what equipment The Open Press would need to do what Greenwell and Rustand had in mind and ended with Chouinard moving to Chattanooga, bringing along a treasure trove of equipment and becoming director of letterpressing.

Admittedly, some of the hulking, beautiful machinery isn’t completely operational at the moment, but all of it is truly unique. The platemaker, for instance, that Chouinard rescued by scooping out chemical residue from the days of steel and toxic processing is the largest of its kind. He also outfitted it to use a newer polyester and water process.

The result is a clean layer of polymer raised on a layer of polyester and protected by a double-stick tape backing.

The rest of the equipment should be up and running or continuing to be tweaked in time for the programming to start.

"Our hope is to start in August with an intro to letterpress class," said Wendy Halvorson, director of The Open Press. "Terry will be teaching the basics of setting type, ink and paper and the general use of the press. We’d like to add on digital letter class next, where you would be making your own plates using the platemaker. It wouldn’t be limited to the type and ornaments in the shop, so we could potentially print an unlimited number of things."

A printing office's code. (Photo: Staff)

The Open Press would also offer open studio time for more seasoned printers who do not require such hands-on instruction. Tumelaire, now the director of printmaking, is also looking to engage other printmakers, artists and teachers.

For her, the thrill of The Open Press is in the ability to offer every step of the publishing process under one roof.

"This pulls it all together," she said. "People can create images on the lithographic or etching presses and then learn how to bind a book and do signatures and to set type with Terry. You could write and illustrate your own book and then create it. Nobody's doing it here, especially with these techniques."

The Kickstarter campaign will raise funds for operational and supply costs—the utilities, blankets for the presses and paper for the classes. Thus far, $3,029 has been raised of the $15,000 goal. The campaign will run until Friday, Aug. 2.

Beyond the novelty of learning to letterpress, the group is looking to grow The Open Press into a sustainable nonprofit.

Greenwell is aware that there will be those who come in because of the quaintness of the outfit, but he explained that the studio will also be a draw for professionals who have the training but not the equipment. The access will allow for jobs to run through the studio, which will create a constant revenue stream.

The organization will also draw funds from memberships and the growing appreciation among customers for the non-mass-produced Kinko's product.

"Consumers are interested in the tactility and the materiality of stuff that comes off the press," Greenwell said. "You can feel the imprint and smell the ink. The more perfect everything becomes, the more beautiful the imperfect is."

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