SGCI 2014 WRAP-UP >> SAN FRANCISCO April 15 2014

The Firecracker Press was happy to be a part of the 2014 Southern Graphics International Conference in San Francisco, California. SGCI is the nation’s largest printmaking conference that allows professional print artists, printmaking students, galleries, collections and more to gather in a display of the past year’s highlights in printmaking. Each conference is led by one of the host city’s local universities and allows for each year to have a special feeling all its own and features the flavor and attitudes of that city. San Francisco’s 2014 conference “Spanning Bridges” was a view into the rich, abundance of print in that city as well as the entire Bay area. The title also served as a nod to this conference being the first on the west coast.

Firecracker took part in this year’s conference by bringing a taste of the mid-west to the bay. With a table in the Publisher’s Fair at the conference hotel, and through various shop vistas, we meant to extend our exposure to the west coast area and bring back a bit of inspiration from a dense, visually powerful city.

We left early on a Thursday from Lambert International Airport, having a lay over in Dallas and then a flight to the Bay area. After getting our bearings a bit, we found ourselves on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and made our way downtown to the financial district. We checked into the conference at the downtown Hyatt Regency and began to spread our fondness for midwest Letterpress Printing.

While fellow St. Louis contingencies from Pie Crust and Paul Art Space manned their tables and proceeded to explore the hotel a bit, I found a cab driver who began to shuttle me at high speeds towards the Presidio – the luscious park of green wandering hills at the North of the peninsula. I was aiming to get to a tour at the fantastic M&H Typefoundry and the adjoining Arion Press. Sadly, the cab driver knew only how to get close to our destination and after some frantic maneuvering, he started to drop me off at the Walt Disney museum. Time was running out to get to the tour, so I had to tell direct him how to get to a place I had never been to before using a google map print out from the hotel Concierge. He dropped me off just in time, (mostly)!

Arion Press and M&H was a fantastic collection of rare hand-printed books, art pieces and well preserved presses. Coming in the door, you’re confronted by a massive cast-iron Columbian Hand Press: a reminder that you are about to see history alive. The introduction was conducted by Arion Press’ Diane Ketcham who explained the beginnings of their press and how they continue to produce fresh lead type and wonderfully printed rare books. Diane’s husband, Andrew Hoyem, is the founder of the Arion Press who learned his trade from the famous Grabhorn brothers of San Francisco printing fame.

She introduced us to the display gallery, gave us a brief history recap and then handed us off to Mark, a second year apprentice who led us on the tour proper. He began by taking us through the press room and into the Foundry. The business of the day was fixing a monotype caster and continuing to produce type on another. The monotype casters were originally powered by a long punch-card strip of paper, which would tell the caster which letters to produce. We saw that machine separately. Today, however, they have a MacBook hooked up to a machine that produces controlled blasts of air and it talks with the typecaster to produce the lead letters.

We next travelled to the type storage corridor, and the first of several halls full of lead type. Its estimated that their collection of type may be the largest in the United States. Continuing back to the press room, Mark showed us yet more type, a collection of Vandercooks for proofing, a pair of large cylinder presses and the Thompson Laureate platen press which was humming along with Andrew Hoyem at the lever along with a press assistant. They were printing a spread from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” on hand made paper. The tour continued to the bindery where we were introduced to their sewing frames, book stitching machines, horse hide glues, book-spine clamps, leather supplies and work tables. Another full hallway of type led to the paper storage areas and then back up to Arion Press to see the galleries.

After the tour concluded, Diane and Andrew were most gracious enough to drive me a ways back into the city proper, near the Union Square Neighborhood. After trying to find a few more letterpress shops in the area, I picked up a sandwich on the run and proceeded back to the Hyatt. The student portfolio session, a room packed with hundreds of student printmakers and their work, was in full swing Thursday night. So not only did I get to view a bit of what future printmakers hold in store, I was also able to talk to conference goers about the Midwest Letterpress Trail. The evening concluded with a few friends and some drinks at a downtown bar called Terminus. A cab ride got us home to the Mission District to end the first day.

Friday morning came early! Myself and the other St. Louisans were staying in the Mission District of San Francisco. We headed out from home base and picked up a pastry and coffee, which we happily ate on the way to the BART station. The morning allowed for some more time at our booth at the Publisher’s Fair, but the afternoon would have more fun in store – we would be making our way to the San Francisco center for the Book, a fantastic institution in letterpress printing and bookbinding.

When we arrived, I was amazed at the size of the studios and the amount of printing equipment they had, a wonderful collection. A shiny row of six Vandercooks stood in the middle of the space and an area in the back of the print studio held a trio of platen presses and type. They also have an expansive gallery – we were able to see a mail art show as well as some pieces from a group of contemporary letterpress artists. The SF Center for the Book also houses a large bindery studio for traditional book-binding. In the back of the Center, was a gallery of Steam-roller prints on display.

After a tasty lunch at Market and Rye, we hopped on the nearest BART station and proceeded to the East Bay to find the Compound Gallery, one of the highlights of the trip! The place was packed, busy and visually potent, with plenty of printing demonstrations. The Compound has a large back warehouse-style space with a central print area filled with letterpress equipment and type. Surrounding that print space are artist studios of various types. I was able to chat with the founders, Matt and Lena Reynoso, who filled me in on the type of work they seek and the community they try to achieve through open studio classes, art shows and artist residencies. They were very friendly and talkative, despite being so busy, and enjoyed talking about Firecracker’s future as well. In the main gallery was work by UC Santa Cruz professors and a show featuring woodcuts by prison inmates. And there was a flashback to St. Louis’ own 2011 version of the SGCI conference, as we got a chance to see a printable tortilla exhibit. I happily scarfed down a cheese quesadilla, custom printed for me. There were also lazer-cut woodblock printing, large-scale hand-printing, and poster printing with Bridget Henry of UC Santa Cruz, who had also done a large woodcut mural wheat-pasted on the building.

A trip back on the BART took us back to Downtown SF and our booth. Dinner could not have come too soon, and we headed to a brewery and tapas place called the Thirsty Bear for beer and burgers. A taxi took us back to the Mission, where we arrived safe and went to bed.

Saturday was going to be the big day for our booth (and an early start at that). A coffee and a croissant from Joey&Pattie’s Italian bakery made the morning a little easier. It rained heavily on Saturday, so we were pretty soaked by the time we got to the booth. Throughout the day I was able to chat with a lot of print-lovers, the majority of whom were first time viewers of the Firecracker Press. I met with folks from Painted Tongue Studios in Oakland, a Portland press cooperative, the Graphic Arts Workshop in SF and more. I chatted for a while with an instructor form Southern Florida about an internship exchange program and had a good visit with the fellows from about the differences in San Francisco’s conference to the Saint Louis one. I chatted with Laura Drapac at University of North Texas outside of Dallas about a visiting artist opportunity. I also chatted with Felicia Rice from Santa Cruz about her letterpress/book arts projects and their hopeful inclusion on the future West Coast Letterpress Trail. David Jones, of Anchor Graphics in Chicago, and a perpetual coordinator of SGC conferences, spoke of his fondness of the city and the differences in planning this conference for various cities.

The booth closed at 5 and the STL group made our way back to Mission to rest a bit and then set out for the Mission Art Walk. A great feature of the Conference is it’s art walks, and they are a great way to get the flavor of the city and the people that make it unique. Places of note included Asterisk Magazine’s gallery, the Adobe bookstore and gallery, and then the XXL PRINT exhibit – the annual Cannonball Press show with friends at Mullowney Printing. The night concluded with an authentic Mexican meal of carnets at a taqueria. My night ended a bit early as I had to be up for a 6am flight.

San Francisco was packed with printing (particularly letterpress). The city itself was densely crammed with houses, people and transportation. In comparison with previous conferences and previous cities, I would say San Francisco provided an great amount of activities to see and places to visit, though the size and scope of the city made it hard to travel easily or quickly. We definitely had to pick which things we needed to see. But when you’re surrounded by warm breezes in 60 degree weather, any choice you make is probably going to be okay. Printmaking is alive and well in San Francisco!