Department of Art and Art History News

Expansion provides students with opportunities in letterpress and bookbinding

Metal type in drawer

Over this summer, Design Lab Coordinator Kevin Auer and Visiting Assistant Professor Colin Frazer opened the doors of DESL2 and embarked upon a rejuvenation of the workshop. DESL2 (Design Lab 2) houses the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type collection and is equipped with printing, photography, and fabrication resources.

Assistant Chair of Design Carma Gorman is thrilled at the changes. She recalled that Auer and Frazer “had a vision for how to reconfigure and augment the space’s existing resources to better support both its teaching and research missions.”


Auer preps the Columbian press for delivery to department. Photo by Alicia Dietrich

New presses, additional type, and a rearrangement of the workshop are a few of the changes that will benefit students and faculty in the program. One of the most exciting acquisitions is a mid-nineteenth century Columbian handpress that will be on long-term loan from the Harry Ransom Center.

“The Ransom Center is delighted to have the Columbian iron handpress join the collection of Rob Roy Kelly’s wooden display type at the Design Division’s printing laboratory,” said Richard Oram, associate director and Hobby Foundation Librarian at the Ransom Center. “This magnificent example of nineteenth-century printing technology will once again be in daily use. We look forward to collaborating with the Department on a variety of projects relating to printing and the book arts.”

Following a tip, Auer and Frazer found themselves in the university’s Document Solutions with Director Richard Beto, who saved numerous historic presses and type during his ten-year career at the university. Beto said, “How fortunate that the university has someone that values this lost art. I was fortunate that we could donate what we consider valuable tools in order for others to benefit.”

In addition to the Columbian press and the equipment from Document Solutions, David S. Rose of New York donated a Ludlow machine to the program, which will enable new type to be cast as use wears the collection. Rose heard about the need for the Ludlow through the tightknit letterpress community and offered the machine to the department.

Students from all areas of the department “can use the shop as part of a number of classes this fall that have letterpress and book binding components included in their syllabus,” said Auer. Gorman notes that the program’s letterpress and bookbinding resources “give UT students an edge over those who receive strictly digital training.”

"Letterpress printing slows down the process of graphic design and gives students time to consider typography and the three-dimensional aspect of typography," described Frazer, "For instance, our students can create their own wood type in the department's digital fabrication lab which pulls them away from the idea that graphic design is purely two-dimensional."

“Students who know something about letterpress are likely going to understand the concepts behind digital typography better than people who've never worked with metal type,” said Gorman, observing that “people who can ‘think’ in both analog and digital media, and who do have decent hand skills, have a distinct advantage over people who can work only in digital media.”