Block Week Course Explores Lost Age-Old Art of Handcrafted Bookmaking | New


If you happened to walk around the UCalgary campus on Block Week Monday (August 29), you might have encountered a bewildering view of the green space in front of the administration building. You may have seen a group of students working amid laundry buckets and tubs, hanging wet paper sheets made from cotton pulp on a clothesline. What kind of scene was that, you might have wondered?

Students participated in an experiential learning course through the Department of English called Anatomy of the Book, learning to make paper as it was made from the 16th to 19th centuries through a mobile papermaking workshop, compiled by book historian Maria Zytaruk, associate professor of English.

  • Photo above: Anisha Bapodra, a student in the Block Week Anatomy of the Book course, works on a rare 1960s Vandercook SP15 printing press, recently acquired through a generous donation from the Watson Family Fund.

A trip to the 11th floor of the Social Sciences Building throughout the week would have yielded other unusual sights, with students hand-pressing books using centuries-old techniques of typesetting and illustration.

You may also have seen some of the students crank a rare Vandercook SP15 printing press from the 1960s. This rare cylinder press was recently acquired through a generous donation from the Watson Family Fund, and it complements the impressive English Department’s collection of vintage printing presses, which includes a 19th century Washington style iron hand press.

“The course is rooted in making as a way of knowing,” says Zytaruk. “Students explored how hand-press books were made between 1500 and 1800. They made paper as it was made in those days. They cut their own Lino blocks to learn how relief printing works, where you press the paper onto the ink form. They discover a secular know-how of printing and typography by fixing the character on a Shakespearean sonnet.

“Think of it as a hands-on approach to studying the historical book of the hand press.”

Sarah Carlson, a student in the class, was grateful for the experiential learning opportunity. “I loved having the chance to work in the field with the documents we were talking about,” she says.

“It helped me better understand the work and care that went into the beginning of creating books. It was fun to do it through activities that expanded our learning, beyond just reading about it or watching a video of someone else doing the work. »

Student Haley Wells agrees: “The class was amazing,” she says. “It brought history and literature to life in a way that reading a textbook could never do.” Wells adds that the hands-on work in class required a lot of collaboration with her peers, which she found rewarding.

“We had to work together to do anything effectively and that created a bond between the students. The community this course established was quite unique and something that other classes should aspire to achieve.

The Vandercook press is safe and student-friendly

Using the newly acquired Vandercook SP15 printing press in the classroom further enhanced the student experience. “Because the Vandercook is a hand-cranked cylinder press, it’s very safe and student-friendly,” says Zytaruk. “The idea was that students could define their own type and carve their own blocks of images which could then be printed using this Vandercook press. They found it really exciting.

Vandercook printing presses dominated the proof press industry in the 20th century because they did not rely on gravity for the force of their ink impression on the page. As a gear cylinder press, it was easier and more precise for operators to use.

In fact, the SP of the Vandercook SP15 model means single precision. This allowed for a greater speed of inking and feeding paper through the press.

Zytaruk says the English Department’s impressive press collection wouldn’t have been complete without a Vandercook and is grateful to the generous donor who made the acquisition possible.

With this consolidation of the press collection, Zytaruk hopes to expand the English department’s print room into a book art laboratory. This fledgling lab also recently received a major in-kind donation of historical bookbinding equipment from the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Arts Guild.

Zytaruk says, “I’m interested in developing a more comprehensive line for students where they can gain experience in papermaking, printing, illustration and bookbinding.


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