A pressing matter

Yukon artist teaches people how to print with a two-ton machine

Joyce Majiski says she isn’t a letterpress printer, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so.

Ever since Majiski, best known for her prints and paintings, started working recently with a ‘60s-era printing press, bits and pieces of it have spilled from the corner where she keeps the two-ton press, into the spaces she uses to print and paint.

Broadsheets hang from the rafters. Composing sticks are laid out on tables. Test sheets, which allow her to test placement, rest on almost every surface.

“People go down the rabbit hole with internet and I go down the rabbit hole with the type,” she says, standing in her Golden Horn studio on Sept. 27 before she’ll host a weekend’s worth of letterpress demonstrations on Sept. 28, 29 and 30. “I think I can see the integration of all of the media together to make books … It’s just one more big toy to play with.”

What that means is the press allows her to mix her media. She can print words on top of painted paper. She can mix her prints, of caribou and other animals, with phrases. She can bind it all together in book form, something she’d like to do in the long run. Majiski hopes to make children’s books and pop-up books in addition to greeting cards and postcards with the press, which is, as far as she knows, the only solar-powered press north of 60.

It may be the only solar-powered press in history.

Presses haven’t been popular in decades. Up until the 1980s, they were a dominant way of printing everything from books to newspapers.

Majiski stands in front of a series of drawers, each of which holds hundreds of little lead rectangles. Each rectangle has a raised letter or number or decoration on its end. They’re laid out, not in alphabetical order, but with the least-used letters (q, b and w) radiating out from the most used ones (h, i, and o).

She demonstrates how lines of type are set by placing each letter, upside down and backwards, into a composing stick, which looks like a thick metal ruler. Once a sentence of a paragraph is set, it can be removed (carefully, as they’re only held in place by pressure) and set on the bed of the letterpress.

There, rollers are inked, paper is placed, and a series of quick mechanical motions pass the paper and rollers over the lead letters. It has to be precise. If anything is out of alignment, the printing won’t work, or the delicate serif could crack off a letter, or worse, chip the roller that runs over the letters. If everything is set properly, the image is crisp and clean and somehow totally different than anything you’d print from a computer. It’s a time-intensive process, but one Majiski enjoys.

She’s had the press, formerly owned by Sears, since 2006. In 2007, she travelled to Mission, B.C., to take a five-day course at Barbarian Press, which uses the same type of press (Majiski’s is a Universal III Vandercook) to publish handmade books.

She only recently got the press up and running. First, she had a letterpress technician travel from Alabama to the Yukon, to help her take apart the worn, rusty machine. Together they oiled it, re-painted it a glossy black, and re-assembled it, piece-by-piece.

She says letterpress is experiencing a mini-resurgence. She has run a couple workshops with hers, and had more than a dozen participants show up for them.

This weekend, she says people who come to see the press in action will have the opportunity to run it over one of her pre-made postcards, each of which is printed with a piece of “sage advice from Yukon pioneers.”

Visitors will also have the chance to view some of Majiski’s work, on the second floor of her studio. A few pieces have been seen before in the Yukon, but some are new to the North, having travelled around Europe the last few years.

They focus, as other work of hers does, on the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates through the Yukon to the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to calve each year.

Majiski has a few postcards made up, she says, so visitors can send them to senators and politicians who have supported protection of this migratory route.

“It’s basically a thank-you letter,” she says. “Instead of, you know, sending things to the people that really don’t give a shit. Because we’ve all done that. So this is kind of like kudos to the Canadian politicians and the American politicians that have stood up for it despite what’s happening.”

Majiski’s studio (Tuktu Studio) will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Sept. 28 to 30. It’s located at 164 Venus Place. For more information, email jmajiski@gmail.com

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

Arts and culture

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