A first proof of a project on the Poco No. 0 press rescued from the trash.

I can get lost in the type. Surrounded by drawers and drawers of letterpress type, metal, wood, very large to very small. It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends. And I get to spend some time nearly every day just hanging out with my type friends getting to know them better.

It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends.

My thoughts wander as I look at the individual letters that once made up a story. It’s like they’re destined to be reborn, found again to make a new story. But for now, the pile of type is pied, jumbled. And I wonder about that word – pied. Did that mean that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was “jumbled” too? Turns out “no,” not exactly.

In the story, however, the Pied Piper wore a very colorful costume and pied was referring to the multiple colors. But I like the idea that perhaps he was a bit “colorful” in his thinking, too. As in the stories lost in the pile of pied, aka jumbled, type. And here I was, playing the role of the Printer’s Devil, sorting through the pile of tiny pieces of type, first by size, and then by typefaces, with some of the metal type tossed into the hell box for melting if too rough a condition to use. Once the second round of sorting is done, then finding a home for the more complete sets of type will be necessary. And that job usually comes with having to clean and probably restore the warped bottom of one of the last drawers still available to fill.

Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity?

What some may see as tedium, I find meditative. As each tiny letter appears before me, I admire the details, the design decisions made in their creation, the changes from one letter to the next in different typefaces, even among the same size. This afternoon it was 6 point to 18 point type. The majority was at the smallest size and fascinated me with the differing heights and widths of the capital letters from different typefaces even as they measured the same physical size.

I wondered… what could have been written with these tiny letters? Was it the fine print of a contract? Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity? These thoughts wander through my mind like wisps of smoke as I pick up small handfuls of the pied type, blowing off the dusty fragments of nesting material from mice who’d made their way into the typecases in an abandoned printshop long before the cases made their way here, to my little corner of letterpress heaven.

A small batch of pied type ready to be sorted. Previously, I had sorted through bags of new type that had fallen from their original boxes.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away. The seller was an old professor of hers in Ann Arbor and we’d settled on a price. But then a few days later he came back asking for more, apparently having gotten a higher offer. It was a poor business practice but I wanted her to have the press that would allow her to do what she’d been thriving with in college, and in her work for mentor Endi Paskovic, with woodcut printing.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away.

When we finally settled on a price and went to pick it up, with Steve’s help and that of several of my daughter’s friends, I stood with the seller and was chatting about printing and letterpress since we had printed my older daughter’s wedding invitations on our own little Kelsey 6×10. He pointed out the pieces to a printing press scattered across his garage floor, a very large 12×18 Chandler & Price platen press that he had brought from California long ago and now was doing a full restoration after his divorce. Do you want it? he asked. For free… since you were buying the other press, he said.

The 2500 lb. press made its way home, with lots of help and an extra trip to Ann Arbor since the combined weight with the Charles Brand would have been too much for the box trailer we were using. That was nearly 8 years ago. The C&P is still here… and so is my now husband, Steve who is more determined then ever to finish assembling the press, especially now that it has an honored place in the newly reorganized studio. Once the Charles Brand was set to sell, and my daughter’s flat files removed from precious floor space in the studio, things changed quickly.

A Vandercook #4 proofing press was in an estate sale south of us, an unusual opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. But a weekend before the sale started I called the estate sale manager to ask questions. After a little back and forth, he asked me to come down to look over the printing stuff to give him some advice since his own knowledge of it was far more limited than even my own.

We drove down in the pouring rain in the Tesla on Monday, driving dirt roads when I’d mistakenly thought it would be safer to stay off the highways. By the time we got there, nearly 2 hours later, we spent time going through everything, putting items that belonged together, describing the purpose of some of the items, and generally noting the condition of many of the pieces. I asked about the Vandercook’s sale price, and he said he’d asked an expert to provide an valuation. He said he was told it would be worth around $9-12,000. I laughed nervously saying that was too rich for my blood. But I left him with a lower offer I thought I could manage. Still he said no, that he was going to auction it off. We drove back in the rain, this time taking the highways and got home in less than an hour.

The next morning, after all the rain, Steve discovered quite a mess in the basement of the Gallery House, a building we renovated next door to use as an extra studio/gallery space. The sump pump had failed and there was now at least two inches of water throughout the basement. It was quite a chore to get a pump running in order to drain as much water as possible. Mopping up the mess that was left took care of most of the rest of the water.

After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

Then there was the chore of emptying as much of the soaking wet boxes that had not been set up off the floor. There was also the stack of uprights for the custom cherry library from Dad’s office in Florida that my late husband Keith had made. In a rush to get them out of the garage, they had been put directly in the plastic that covered the pea rock of the Michigan basement. That meant the first three or four pieces – 12-15” wide by as much as 10’ high – were soaked, warped and water stained. As I looked around the mess, not knowing if it would dry out before getting moldy, I began to think I was going to have to spend a lot of money to hire someone to unload the mess from the basement. We were finding it too painful for two old people with bad backs working in the 4’10” Michigan basement. After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

The following Sunday was the last day of the estate sale so I weakened and called to see what was left. The Vandercook was still there. But so was an 8×12 Chandler & Price platen press, almost identical to another one we had bought very cheap at an auction a couple years before. The one we had, however, was missing a gear and Steve was willing to make one. But here was a press we could strip for parts since we believed it was no good as a press, having become rusty from sitting under a leak in the basement under the front porch of the house.

Thinking we were going for parts, we headed down there with some tools to buy the press and take the gear with us, and perhaps buy a few other goodies that we might be able to use that were now selling cheap on the last day. Having failed at selling the Vandercook, the estate sale manager asked me if I was still interested and I explained that things had changed at home due to the basement flood and I could no longer afford my original offer. While we were disassembling the C&P, I overheard him talking to the family representative on the phone, telling her that “she wasn’t interested in the press anymore” which I took to believe that he had been depending on selling it to me to make up for the lack of a higher priced sale.

We headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

As it turned out, Steve had forgotten to bring a Johnson pry bar to get apart the last pieces of the C&P. And the C&P itself turned out to be in much better condition than we’d thought, the rust turning out to be only superficial.

We were still there after 3 pm when the sale was supposed to end but weren’t able to get it apart. So I asked the estate sale manager if we could come back the following weekend to get it. “No problem. They’re not selling this place anytime soon.” And the Vandercook, along with everything that was still left, would be sold at auction using an app for the estate sales. So we headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

A couple days later I got a text: “When you’re ready to pick up the rest of the press, text Janet” along with her number. I thought maybe Janet was his employee, but soon learned that she was the family member, and that she’d fired the estate sales guy. I called her the next day and also learned that he’d never told her we had already bought and paid for the C&P. She had started getting estimates for getting it removed (the platen alone weighed over 400 lbs.) by a guy who was going to torch it to cut it apart! In a room dripping with leaked oil and solvents!

Janet also told me that the Vandercook was still available and I could have it for a price that was far less than my original offer to the estate sales guy! Another Vandercook #4 had been in an online auction I was following that same week and my mind was blown as the price of that one soared to a final price of over $15,000.

Even so, I told her my concerns about having to pay a fortune for movers get it out of the basement. I knew, at over 1140 lbs, this was something far too big for the two of us to do on our own. We set a date to come back for the C&P and I said I’d let her know then. We went yet again, this time bringing the truck to pick up what was left of the C&P.

Our trip yielded many more items, and a new negotiation for the Vandercook, finally settling for a total price of under $1000 that included a bunch of other items big and small. Once again, we made plans for a return trip, this time with my favorite mover.

In the end, we brought home far more than I’d ever guessed. But the one thing was certain: Norman – the original owner of the press and builder of that home where it lived in its basement – wanted the press to go home with us. It cost me $1500 including a generous tip for the movers for the day. But they carried up the those basement stairs a lot more than that press, including the 400 lb. platen and frame for the C&P, a Hammond Glider Saw, another letterpress-specialty saw, a giant composing cabinet that had to be disassembled, several hundred pounds of metal “furniture” and leads, and miscellaneous stuff too numerous to remember.

It needs rollers and a bit more cleaning and adjusting, but the Vandercook No. 4 is settling into its new home very nicely.

I reflect upon these events as I sort through the bags of pied type, the case of dusty mouse-ridden type from earlier acquisitions, and the newly rearranged shop around me, light streaming in as the presses stand like soldiers waiting for orders.

  • The original restored Kelsey 6×10 – purchased by Keith to print wedding invitations for our oldest daughter. This one started it all.
  • The 12×18 C&P that was given to us when buying the etching press.
  • The Potter proofing press I bought at auction.
  • The Poco proofing press Steve found on FaceBook Marketplace that someone was going to throw away… picked up at the end of the driveway.
  • The 5×7 Kelsey that Steve bought me from a local auction as a present.
  • The 8×12 Oldstyle C&P that we bought at a small town auction which also came with a second much larger 12×18 C&P that we’ve since decided sell for parts.
  • The Vandercook #0 that was buried among piles of other stuff the guy with the two C&Ps was trying to sell.
  • The 8×12 New style C&P we bought at the May sale for $50 just to get the gear we needed.
  • The Vandercook #4 that I’d walked away from, at least twice. And yet it still managed to find its way to our home.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

I think that maybe we’re a bit of a pied bunch ourselves: me, Steve and the presses. A bit mixed up. We’re all a bit colorful in our own histories. Whatever it turns out to be, I understand now that all of these presses have found their way home to the pied piper of printing. And together we’ll see what colorful stories we’ll print in the future.

Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Woman in Mexican dress with hat sits in the shade of the carved pillars of the Pyramid of the Moon

Visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. ©2018 Mara Jevera Fulmer

I was feeling nostalgic, and even a bit unsettled. In early 2012, just as I was preparing to go on a Fulbright scholarship trip to Russia, and was making the circuit of presentations for my doctoral work, Apple computer was making a serious update to their MobileMe platform. They were going to be shifting to iCloud and eliminating the iWeb software that had made it so easy to produce websites and blogs.

In the midsts of the swirl of activities in the late Winter/early Spring, I managed to have the presence of mind to archive five years of blog posts and podcasts to a corner of my computer for future attention. Unfortunately, events in life took a serious twist. In summary: I went to Russia, returned early due to my husband’s preliminary Stage IV cancer diagnosis, he died on 9/1/12 and I found myself redefined as a young(ish) widow at the age of 51, I finished my doctorate (10/2014), remarried in to my second husband (12/2014), welcomed a new grandson (12/2015), and built a new home (2015-present).

Needless to say, life has not stood still.

But for some reason, a trigger happened. I felt the need to reread these old posts, pull them over my head like a warm, cozy and familiar blanket. To close my eyes and step back a bit, remind myself where I was back then. The posts generally run from early 2006 to 2011 and cover the gamut, from art exhibitions and creative musings, to reflections on travel, being present, and just some funny thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the time spent rereading and listening to these. They simultaneously gave me a sense of wunderlust and a firm grounding, a sense of being…where I am supposed to be.

Feel free to enjoy them at your leisure. – Old Blogs & Podcasts Revisited

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“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

~ Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

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Dear readers,

For the last three and a half months, ever since my arrival home from a shortened visit to Russia, I have been on a journey of a different kind, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. While in Russia, the family emergency I left early for was my husband’s preliminary diagnosis of metastatic liver disease – i.e. liver cancer that is not the “primary” cancer source.

From the moment I arrived home in late May, I focused on ways to help my husband of 30 years find the care he needed. Unfortunately, without the earlier symptoms to warn us (he was not a smoker… ever), his disease had already progressed before final diagnosis in early June. He waged a brave battle, attempting chemo but making it through less than 3 full rounds before his body could no longer bear the torture of that kind of treatment. Even eating became a chore since the cancer had already spread to his stomach and spine, with the primary suspect to be in the lungs and pancreatic biliary system. To watch a loved one die is to have the ultimate feeling of helplessness and yes, even failure, because we were partners, always helping each other out, caring for each other during those challenging times.

But this was one that I couldn’t save him from. The fates, God, spiritual being that guides us on our path, whomever you follow, had something else in mind. And so my husband, who made it to our 30th anniversary, just after his 54th birthday, passed away on September 1, 2012, at home with his daughters and me nearby. We were relieved that he no longer suffered, that he was at peace now, going onward to continue creating and building and making art – all the things he did in this life – now in the next. But we also grieved, as we had all summer, knowing what was to come. We grieved for the loss of a husband and best friend. We grieved for a loving father, talented artist, a generous man and natural teacher. We grieved for ourselves. And we will continue to do so, while we also continue to hold him in our hearts and souls, a part of him that will never die.

So, while my visit to Russia was cut short, life gives us many different journeys to travel on. It will take time. But I know that I will continue to travel, bringing you, and my husband and my family along with me… even if it is not always in person, but in spirit. And I will continue to share that journey, too. Because when the stories are shared, they live on, connect us to each other, helping each other along the way. And they help me, too… Because there is a lot of healing to do…

Thank you, Spasibo, Vinaka vakalevu, Muchas Gracias…

– Mara
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PS: Included above is a quote that a friend shared and which connected to me immediately.

PSS: If you are interested in seeing the talent and creativity my late husband had, his website will remain online at www.fulmerwoodworking.com. In addition, a scholarship has been created in his name: Keith E. Fulmer Memorial Art & Design Scholarship, c/o Foundation for Mott Community College, 1401 E. Court St., Flint, MI 48503. Contributions can be made payable to the Foundation for MCC, with note in memo “Keith Fulmer Scholarship”. Our hope is to nurture young passionate artists/designers who exhibit the same desire to incorporate beauty and craftsmanship into both form and function. That is the legacy through which we will continue Keith’s life’s work. With love, mjf