Friday, September 10, 2010

Last Night I Met the Mercury Astronauts

A career in design or graphic arts brings with it a continuum of advances on process and technology. The tools we use to exercise our crafts are always changing. But I remember when we talked more about the people who helped us with the crafts than the tools. The tools came second. It was the craftsmen - and women - who brought to the table finely honed skill and discipline. The pressmen, dot-etchers, engravers, and the suppliers who kept them going - like the roller companies, ink mixers and the type suppliers - both metal and photo. When I started as a designer I was - and continue to be - in awe of these people. Their careers - and lives - were handed over to the pursuit and exercise of perfection. Their role in the greater sequence of artful steps was critical. There would be no allowance for “good enough.”

All of this said, it was these crafts people that we all took for granted. They knew their “stuff” - we didn’t have to. Bout how did they learn? How did they refine their respective crafts? Well, as like much in the early days of printing, they looked to “The Guild” - the collective that allowed these artists to share their stories - their passions - and knock back a few beers and prime rib now and then. Today I am thinking about the Printing House Craftsmen.

Last night I enjoyed a special, rare evening at The Western New York Book Arts Center, where we - the Board of Directors - and the membership - hosted what might very well have been the last gathering of the Buffalo area chapter of the Printing House Craftsmen Club. Along with a sizable archive of photographs and event programs to be reposed at The Center, members of the local club came together to share more stories and revel in the Center’s museum and “The Art of the Broadside” exhibit.
For me this was a special gathering. Ever since my Graphic Arts Technology classes at Mohawk Valley Community College, I have been fascinated by the tools, techniques - and people - who make such a technologically exacting process seem like simple art. For us first adopters of the Apple Macinotsh tools, these men and women are the like the Mercury Astronauts The went first. They helped mold the processes and standards the rest of us would lean on for years. They were the ones who made the magic happen without Photoshop, InDesign drop shadows and special filters. The Space Shuttle couldn’t have gotten off the ground without the contributions of the talents and lives of those who came before them.

As an educator I find myself lamenting what today’s "kids" don’t know about what came before my generation. But, I suppose, for every Mercury Astronaut - or plate maker or typesetter I revere - and tell countless stories about, they will have a craftsman of their own who reminds them of where they came from. I guess I can only hope.

So here’s to the astronauts - and everything they did to lay a foundation for me - for us. It goes without saying, really, that they have my unending respect. None of us are in this alone - unless we think we are.

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