Senior art major Cat Jepson is living proof that those who wrote the obituary for letterpress printing in the 1980s were dead wrong. Thanks to people like Jepson, this early form of printing, developed by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 15th century, is enjoying a worldwide renaissance.
In December, the Department of Art dedicated the Cat Jepson Fine Art Printmaking Letterpress Studio. The studio bears Jepson’s name because she personally restored three old letterpress machines that will be used in the department’s printmaking courses.
Jepson’s love affair with letterpress printing began with an art class.
“I took Portico Bowman’s printmaking and paper arts class in 2012 and I really fell in love with it,” Jepson said. “That’s when I became an art major.”
In a corner of the studio where the printmaking class was taught, Jepson noticed an old, unused Vandercook No. 2 proof press. The press, delivered to the campus in 1928, was covered in bright blue paint and in disrepair. Jepson got permission to attempt to restore the old press as an independent study project.
“As a kid I was always reverse engineering things,” Jepson said, “so this was something I was interested in doing.”
Jepson completed the restoration of the press and in the summer of 2014, landed an internship with Skylab Letterpress in Kansas City. There, she soaked up everything she could learn about commercial letterpress operations.
In 2015, Jepson’s boyfriend stumbled upon two more unused letterpresses in Axe Library.
Jepson got permission from Dean of Library Resources Randy Roberts to restore the two presses, a Vandercook Universal I and a Potter Proof Press, which had sat unused in the library for a couple of decades. A research grant from Dean Pawan Kahol and the Office of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education made the work possible.
“The whole process has been so fulfilling,” Jepson said. “I’m happy we’ve been able to reintroduce the letterpress into the curriculum and to pass along the knowledge I’ve gained through the restoration.”