published Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Old is new: Open Press utilizing old methods to create new works

Terry Chouinard, left, talks about the letter press process as student Chelsea Conrad looks on during the first letter press class at Open Press. An etching press, in the middle of repairs, is shown at top left.
Terry Chouinard, left, talks about the letter press process as student Chelsea Conrad looks on during the first letter press class at Open Press. An etching press, in the middle of repairs, is shown at top left.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

The exterior of the Open Press on 13th Street gives little indication of what awaits inside.

Walking through the nondescript door across the street from Urban Stack feels like stepping through a portal in time, where you half expect to see white-haired men in leather aprons and wire-rim granny glasses stooped over one of the automobile-sized printing presses.

With their giant wheels, gears and heavy metal tables and rollers, the presses look like something Jules Verne or Tim Burton might have imagined. Not all of the equipment, much of which was saved after UTC decided to stop teaching print making, is really old, but many of the processes are.

What you also find inside is Terry Chouinard in T-shirt and jeans, hard at work on a rush order with the help of an assistant.

Later in the evening, he will teach a class on the mechanics and operation of the Vandercook proofing presses in the building. Students will be instructed on such topics as "learning the variables in cylinder press operations, learning what will and will not print, setting metal type by hand, mixing ink colors, discussing the properties of various types of papers, preparing a file for imagesetting, imposition and color separation, and photopolymer platemaking."

Though only in operation for a couple of weeks, The Open Press has classes of between four and seven people booked into November. The new nonprofit organization is a community co-op, providing access to printmaking, book arts and letterpress classes, workshops and equipment. Its mission, according to its MakeWork Grant application, is simple: "Our goal with this project is to provide access to unique and under-utilized artistic resource, and to build a community of fine artists and craftspeople around this equipment and knowledge."

The equipment, including two litho presses and three etching presses and is available to just about anyone who becomes a member of the collective, once they've proven they know what they are doing, according to Juanita Tumelaire, who along with Chouinard, teaches at the facility.

Tumelaire, a printmaker, book artist and teacher, says the goal is to not only preserve printmaking art forms but to also give people a viable way to create new works.

"We are doing this for a lot of reasons," Tumelaire says. "It's important to preserve these art forms, and this equipment, but the finished pieces can also be very beautiful and personal."

Anyone interested in getting custom-made pieces, such as wedding invitations or posters, can also enlist the Open Press staff.

"It's competitive [price-wise]," Tumelaire says, "but any time you have something hand-made, the product is a lot better."

Melissa Kimbrell recently graduated with a studio arts degree from Georgia State and moved to Chattanooga in part because of Open House.

"It gives me a home and an environment where I can learn and work," she says.

Open Press, which got about $20,000 in grants and donations in addition to the donated equipment, is based on similar models in Atlanta and Asheville, N.C. Operational costs for materials and equipment maintenance will be offset by revenues from custom print jobs and from annual memberships dues of $150. Members can rent the facility on an hourly basis.

It's the brainchild of Matt Greenwell, head of the Department of Art at the University of Tennesee at Chattanoogta and Paul Rustand, owner of Widgets & Stone design studio, where Greenwell also works. Rustand has owned a few printmaking machines for years and, when he mentioned to Greenwell that he'd love to make the equipment available to the community, Greenwell told him about the UTC-owned equipment that had been put in storage since it was decommissioned in 2009 when the school stopped its printmaking classes.

"Once we started talking about it, it seemed like a good idea," Rustand says.

Chouinard, who retired in 2008 as the director of the Wells Book Arts Center, also donated equipment, including a massive guillotine used for trimming paper. He has worked as a typecaster, compositor, pressman, proofreader and webmaster who worked at the Corcoran College of Art & Design and the Library of Congress.

Had UTC not agreed to storing it, there is a good chance that most, if not all, the pieces could have been sent to the scrap yard, according to Open Press Director Wendy Halvorson.

"The guillotine was actually left in Terry's driveway as a joke," Halvorson says. "The guy was actually on his way to taking it to the scrap yard and Terry fixed it up. It's sad to think this stuff might have gone away."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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