Not too many people, I would guess, can trace the beginning of their career back to a single casual remark made by a friend in high school.
In that way, I’m very fortunate. And I have Joel Anderson to thank.
Wrapping up our freshman year in high school, we were put upon the task of choosing an Industrial Arts elective for the following year. I was utterly clueless. Wood working? Thank you, no. Power tools that can zip through the thickest board in the blink of an eye had no business being near the fingers of a kid with poor depth perception. Shop? Nope. I learned I was not mechanically inclined in middle school when I attempted to forcibly hammer a piston into an engine block.
As I recounted my woes to a group of friends, Joel Anderson spoke up. “You should take graphic arts. It’s a lot of fun.” He then proceeded to expound on the myriad activities associated with printing, illustration, and graphic design.
I didn’t know much about the things he was describing, but I knew he was right: it sounded like fun.
So the fall of 1975 found me in Mr. Niederberger’s graphic arts class at Madison West High School. It was there I learned to operate a stat camera, cut amberlith for silk screen, burn metal printing plates, set type by hand, on a Linotype (later we got a computerized typesetting machine) and a photo typesetter, run a press (three presses, actually: a Chandler & Price, an ABDick 360, and a Multilith 1250) and doing everything else Joel had described so eloquently the previous spring.
Before I knew it, I was creating posters, t-shirts, flyers, calendars, was on the school newspaper’s press crew (see photo)… in short, I was in heaven. I found the act of creating for print — of seeing a project from conception to finished product — to be enormously fulfilling.
And I’ve managed to stay in my graphics paradise for over 40 years by engaging in different facets of the industry: press operator, illustrator, designer, teacher of design, and various combinations thereof.
So thank you, Joel. You probably don’t remember making that remark. Heck, you probably don’t remember me at all. But those few words you uttered all those years ago set me on a path of an immensely satisfying career.
Below: the Regent Review (school newspaper) press crew, ca. 1978. The guy on the far right is Joel Anderson, the person responsible for my entire career. On the left (with glasses), my first graphics mentor, Mr. Bill Niederberger, instructor, Madison (Wisconsin) West High School. Apparently, flannel was "in" for printers that year.
When I first received a call from a producer from the Discovery Channel's "How It's Made" program, I have to admit to being a bit skeptical. There are certainly bigger, more well-known letterpress shops around the country! But the film crew was scheduled to be in the area and was "looking for people in a creative industry doing unusual things." Yep, that's me alright! As I described my processes over the phone to the producer in New York, he felt sure their audience would find a segment on contemporary letterpress interesting.
The film crew arrived at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day 2015. Two gentlemen came into the shop and introduced themselves as Patrick (the director) and Luke (the cinematographer). I detected an accent, though I couldn't quite put my finger on where they might be from. It was only when they turned to each other and started speaking in French that I realized they were French Canadian. Two other crew members began loading audiovisual gear into the lobby of the building, also conversing in French. As the day wore on, and the entire crew discussed various aspects of the filming, I wished I could recall more of the three years of French I took in high school!
Being filmed for a television program may sound glamorous, but it actually became quite tedious. I was asked to do the same task several times so it could be filmed from different angles. As you can imagine, this has the effect of taking a process that normally takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete, and stretches that process out over 12 hours of filming. By the time they were ready to wrap, I was exhausted!
My segment of "How It's Made" is currently in production, and scheduled to air in early 2017 — more than a year after the filming!
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