Thursday, June 18th, 2020
My brother and I had an…errand to do, let’s leave it at that, that involved speeding up to Northeast Ohio (where my Father grew up) and back again. I noticed that it would be less than 8 miles out of our way if we stopped by Salem, Ohio, a lovely small town with an interesting history not far from the (once?) very industrial Youngstown, Ohio.
[I just noticed that when you grow up in Columbus, Ohio (as I did) you tend to stick the ‘Ohio’ onto every mention of a town. There are other Salems. There are other Columbii. There are even other Youngstowns!]
I wanted to zip into Salem because I follow a handful of typographers, designers, and letterpress experts on the Instagram and a few days ago I came across a fine representation (shown at right) of an important sentiment in these troubled times. Wood type. Printed on an old press. The hashtag character hand-carved out of wood. An assertion of equality, protest, and change in three words, and somehow all the more powerful pulled off a press by hand from the last century.
It was beautiful. And I thought maybe I could persuade them to sell me one.
So I called up the Cranky Pressman people and asked if we could stop by. Quick visit! They cheerfully agreed.
And by ‘they’ I mean two brothers, collaborators in a letterpress business. Brother Keith Berger is a purveyor of fine commercial printing in letterpress, along with all the similar technologies that printshops made possible and precisely practical over the past century or so: die-cutting, stamping, foil, and of course all that odd cutting, stitching and binding that turns a sheet of press paper into a viable thing.
We talked to Keith on the phone, but we met Jamie (and the shop cat) at their shop late in the day, in a quick, masked, appropriately socially-distanced visit. What a cool place.
Keith’s brother Jamie Berger is more of a fine-arts designer, a designer and creator of what he calls “frivolous artistic printing”. We call it beautiful presswork. He showed us around cases of wood and metal type, presses, inks, fine-carved cuts, rollers, brayers, quoins, and can you tell I really don’t know what I’m talking about here?
We saw the results of his creative projects on the wall, and they hit all the buttons for me—great type, use of color, subtle humor, and celebration of the medium itself.
We talked about the challenges of doing the work you want to do while keeping the lights on and all the parts of a very complex process going. I found myself thinking that the television design stuff I do or did has gone from very analog, equipment-intensive, and finicky to something the iMac in their corner office can render out—in the right hands.
We talked about the pleasure (and the challenges!) of doing personal work that has rewards beyond a paycheck.
Their collective persona of a “cranky old guy” is, of course, an affectation. We found both to be personable and passionate about the work. And Jamie, at least, is younger than I am, so that either tells you something about them or me.