In Praise of Print

Elements from "Bit Map," by Jessica Spring. Paper circlets are imprinted with vintage elements known as "printer's flowers."

St. Bartholomew is known as the patron saint of bookbinders. In Tacoma, a town with an unusual number of fine letterpress artists, Jessica Spring may be seen as the Patroness of Paper Artists for co-founding the popular, annual printmakers’ festival, Wayzgoose (named after a medieval guild celebration that took place on – surprise! – St. Bartholomew’s Day).

The founder of locally-based Springtide Press, Spring creates her own exquisite style of art using vintage foundry type, printing presses and bindery equipment, much of it more than a century old. But she brings a clean, modern sensibility to a body of work that, on the surface, appears nostalgic because of the tactile richness of its imprinted images, and the use of luxurious papers that exalt the printed word.

"Parts Unknown" transports viewers back to the 1890s.

Take Bit Map, an installation for Spaceworks Tacoma opening March 17 at the Woolworth Building. This work resembles a curtain of hundreds of floating paper circlets, each composed with multiple graphic elements. Each circlet is letterpress printed on one side with vintage images known as “printer’s flowers” or “ornaments”; the reverse is embellished with end papers taken from antique children’s books. As the strands of circlets twist and turn, they create a spinning narrative of story and image, color and texture. While densely encoded with information from days past, Spring notes that as a whole, Bit Map should be read “like a constant flow of data composed of binary zeroes and ones, potential chaos controlled by pattern.” This art of “nostalgic touch points” is not as innocent as it looks.

Mixed message: printed words on braille by Jessica Spring

“There’s a tension there, no doubt,” she says. “I’m grabbing the last century as hard as I can, and it’s slipping away. There’s also some design tension – mixing ornate Victorian ornaments with polka dots and bright colors…It’s also unavoidable to mention all the discussion around the end of the printed book. So here’s a response, a memorial.” Springtide Press produces small, finely-crafted editions of artist books, broadsides and ephemera incorporating letterpress and handmade papers. Check out the (ultra) fine print at Bit Map, at the Woolworth Building, 11th & Broadway, March 17 through July 1.