We have been producing a letterpress calendar for nine years but this year is really special for us. For the first time we have commissioned original artwork from one of our favourite artists, Mark Hearld.
Mark studied at Glasgow School of Art and then at The Royal College of Art; “Tinsmiths” first experienced his work as printed fabric produced by St. Jude’s. In the intervening ten years we have held biennial exhibitions St. Jude’s artists and sold hundreds of metres of their stunning and diverse fabrics. Our sewing room have made innumerable pairs of curtains, blinds and cushions using Mark’s texile designs, much to the delight of recipients.
The idea of commissioning illustrations for this year’s calendar surfaced when Mark commissioned Tinsmiths to make a pretty complicated curtain for the extraordinarily rich interior of his York house. It seemed a good opportunity for an exchange.
Martin Clark, who runs Tilley Letterpress in the neighbouring alleyway here, in Ledbury, has always printed our calendars. During 2016 Martin and Mark worked together to produce some large linocut prints and some smaller hand-coloured line prints for Tinsmiths’ “Spring Life” earlier in 2016, with this background the two were familiar and comfortable in working together on the calendar.
With a shared interest in British Wildlife we settled on a bird a month with a flock of pigeons for our front cover. Mark’s twelve illustrations have an energy and fluidity that captures characteristics of each species. Thank you so much this collection, Mark and thank you Martin for the care you took in printing them.
Our 2016 programme of exhibitions is starting with an exuberant flourish of British style and sensibility. ‘Spring Life’ features the work of Mark Hearld and Paul Young.
The exhibition at our Ledbury showroom opens on the 19th March and runs until the 23rd April.
Mark Herald’s fabric designs for St Judes Fabrics are firm favourites at Tinsmiths. For this exhibition Mark has spent some time printing linocuts with Martin at Tilley Printing in Ledbury; whilst he and Martin printed we made a short film of the visit.
We will be showing these prints alongside some of Marks wonderful collages and there will be a brand new fabric design for St Judes on show.
Paul Young like Mark, draws inspiration from European folk art and has an affinity with Staffordshire wares of the eighteenth century. Producing joyful slipware, Paul’s work includes both purely decorative pieces as well as extremely usable domestic ware; all with compelling lively charm.
Do visit over Easter; the exhibition opens on the 19th March which is the week before the Easter weekend and goes on until the 23rd April. If you would like to attend the private view on the 18th March do get in touch and we will ensure an invitation gets to you.
This year with our calendar we have gone for a different format; a folding desk or pocket calendar, each month with it’s own exquisite wood engraving. As ever the calendar has been skilfully printed by Martin Clark at the Tilley Printworks here in Ledbury.
The wood engravings were purchased at the local Flea Market in Malvern a few years ago, stacked in cardboard boxes under the traders table it was not immediately obvious just what treasure they were. When I got home and looked through the boxes it was obvious that hand cut print blocks were the works of an accomplished artist. Among many linocut blocks and Perspex cut blocks (I haven’t seen this technique before) were 3 cigar cases each full of exquisite wood engravings, about 30 in each box.
When Martin printed some of these wood engravings the mastery that this artist had over this most exacting of techniques was clear; there were no lines that didn’t need to be there, the very deft rendering of tiny features and expressions, the ability to convey an atmosphere to a one colour tiny illustration of a landscape.
John from the Whittington Press identified this mystery artist as Helmuth Weissenborn. Helmuth had been a professor at Leipzig Academy or Graphic and Book Arts, forced to flee his homeland by the Nazis because of his Jewish wife. On arrival in Britain he was interned in the Isle of Man as a category C prisoner. Once released from internment he worked for the war effort in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London. Before all of this Hellmuth had fought in WW1 from the age of 16-19, serving at Arras and in Serbia.
Throughout his whole life the daily practice of drawing and the desire to record and create was the strongest thread; in WW1 he sent illustrated letters home which became a war diary, his academic career at Leipzig Academy was focussed on graphic art and book art, during his time in the Auxiliary Fire Service he made sketches of bomb sites in London (some now in the Imperial War Museum and here is a link to an interview with the artist).
Hellmuth Weissenborn, ‘Thames from monument’ print taken from cut perspex.
After the war Hellmuth and his second wife Lesley ran the Acorn Press. It was good creative partnership publishing finely printed, hand-set and hand-printed books. Helmuth was an extremely versatile artist; he worked as a book illustrator for 30 London publishers as well as the Acorn Press, and from 1941-1970 as a guest lecturer at the Ravensbourne College of Art.
The three cigar boxes that I have were labelled ‘Sonnets’, and last year I was able to track down a copy of ‘The Sonnets’ which the illustrations were commissioned for. Printed by The Rocket Press and published by the Acorn Press with a limited edition of 350, the book of course contains the full set of prints, I do not have the complete set – somewhere out there are another two cigar boxes I hope as treasured as mine!
The ownership of these beautiful blocks has always made me uncomfortable, although I treasure them they are not my own but of course very much Hellmuth’s. This has made me reluctant to use them, however for this year we have selected 12 to illustrate our calendar. We will have 150 of our calendars for sale with all profits going to the Save the Children Syria Crisis appeal. We feel that this is appropriate, and whilst we cannot know whether Hellmuth would approve, it seems likely that someone whose life was so marked by the turmoil’s of the first half of the 20th Century would have much sympathy for those whose lives are being shattered by the turmoil’s of our own times.
“I’m a compositor” Martin Clark explains, “but not many people will know what that is these days, so you’d better use the term ‘letterpress printer'”. Martin has worked at Tilley Printing for over fifty years, from the age of fifteen when he started as apprentice, to compositor, to printer and now, fifty years on, as proprietor. Composing type as we speak, his unusually long fingernails working the tiny metal letters that make up words for print; address cards, business stationery, album covers, printed bags, poetry posters or artist’s books.
Tilley’s and Martin begin the day at 7.30am with ink at the presses, composing type is customarily done in the afternoon. For standard-sized jobs a Heidelberg press (circa 1970 and the size of a small washing machine) is used and a much earlier Wharfdale press for large works eg., land posters. The Wharfdale is the size of a very, very large dining table and runs from an electric motor using 5″ canvas drive belts that span the room. Considerable power is needed to move cast iron flat bed of the press which holds the chase or a heavy frame into which are locked wooden or metal letters.
Martin Clark at Tilley’s printing poetry posters on the Wharfdale Press
When the presses are running there is a kind of percussive rhythm to the place; the sound of belts, rollers and paper-feeds all combine so that the place seems to breath. Added to this are the smells of dust, ink and parrafin but most memorable is the sight of the place – banks of letters of all sizes, with styles so singular, original engravings, illustrations and ornaments – some polished with use, some languishing in a corner waiting for re-discovery.
Tilley type ready for the press
A tray of engravings.
The print works, to a degree, tells the story of the town – just see how many engravings are connected with, for example, hop growing or agricultural machinery, cider making, soft fruit or local societies and clubs. Tilley’s working day is punctuated by a fairly constant flow of visitors – some simply to see the works which have barely changed in more than fifty years, others come to collect or order printing. Most are known personally or come on recommendation via a regular customer. The day usually ends around 6pm, five days a week – so a normal week is over 50 hours. I’ve been visiting Tilley’s for over six years, but I knew, as most Ledbury folk know, of the print works because of “Tilley’s Almanac”. This local directory was produced by the press from 1878 to 1993, it was to be found, well thumbed in most households and businesses – a local bible. When Martin began his apprenticeship in 1963 there were four letterpress printing works in the town. Now Tilley’s, the only one left, finds its rarity a great advantage. ” Letterpress is sought after – as artwork with the obvious use of archaic type”, explains Martin, whose workload is peppered with ‘arty-stuff’ nowadays as well as formal stationery for business and domestic use.
Large Type used on Tinsmiths’ Calendar 2013
Large type on wharfdale, printed example
Martin’s decision to train as a printer wasn’t exactly his first choice, ” I’d spent my childhood doing odd jobs on the farms around Ledbury – fruit-picking, pruning; I suppose I was romantic for those misty autumn days and thought I’d go farming but my Mum stopped me going on the farm, she could see how things were going – its all changed”. Miss Tilley inherited the works from her family who ran a number of enterprises in Ledbury from the middle of the 19th century. She always had an apprentice – someone who would spend five years indentured to the firm before moving on as a journeyman.
Compositor’s Room with draws and shelves of type.
Martin’s older brother, Phillip, worked for her and it was natural that Martin was familiar with the business. “When I was fourteen she said to me “You finish (school) early and come and work for me as apprentice compositor”, explains Martin who considered it a good offer; compositor was a step-up in terms of the fairly rigid hierachy of roles in the printing industry. Martin’s father signed the indenture and that was it. Cruelly, at the outset an apprentice was to “set” – that is place every letter, space, punctuation mark into a “form” be they psalms, or The Lord’s Prayer or any lengthy piece with tricky spellings, only to see it disassembled day after day until it was perfect.
The Heidelberg Press
” I’m no business man, I worked as a journeyman printer for six months or so after my apprenticeship was complete. I went to large newspaper printworks in Keswick, another in Stratford and a book publishing house in Oxford, but I liked the scale of Tilleys – I knew that although I was trained as a compositor, at Tilleys I’d have the chance to work in all the areas”, explains Martin, who could not have imagined quite how true this would become when, in 1983, he took over the works with just two printers and an apprentice and later worked on his own until the arrival of his current apprentice in 2012. When I asked Martin whether he plans for the future he smiled uncertainly, and looking over at his apprentice, Anneleise Appleby, said, “She’s the future, if you call that planning, in the sense that she will become a printer – all I can do is to do my best to train her.” Just as Martin, the returning journeyman printer, brought the innovation of machine-set type (linotype) to Tilleys, Anneleise adds her original artwork in the form of lino-cuts, to the repertoire of print processes that Tilley Printing can offer, setting it even further from apart commercial litho or digital printers.
Carved Wooden Printing Blocks
The invention of desktop printing undoubtedly had an enormous impact on traditional letterpress and hot-type printers, most either embraced the innovations or went to the wall. Tilley’s appears to have weathered the storm to take up a niche position. How did it survive? I believe partly due to the scale of the place, partly because staff had looked after the equipment, partly its position in a small market town with many loyal, local customers requiring shorter runs than commercial printers would entertain, but mainly because it is run by someone who has modest aspirations and who loves his work.
Putting together our new 2013 Letterpress Calendar has been really good fun this year and very good for us too. Each calendar month links to our Blog. Go to the latest blog post to find an activity, walk, recipe or place to visit relevant to the month’s topic. So, for example, to prepare January’s outing, we took ourselves for a lovely Malvern Hills walk encompassing one of the many wells to collect some purifying spring water. Walking the route, whilst being great for our health, also means the blog we will give you accurate, up to date, directions – with reassuring mentions of obvious landmarks and a pdf to download and follow on your expedition. Perhaps less healthy will be our damson vodka recipe at the other end of the year – but, hey ho, we really ought to balance things.
Once again, and with more colour than ever, Martin Clark at Tilley’s, Ledbury has printed the calendar and Orphan’s press in Leominster have bound it: thank you very much for a great job. The layout looked so good that artist and apprentice, Anneliese Appleby suggested a limited edition of (50) print-posters of the month headings (see below) and we’ve put these for sale in our Artist’s Print Shop.