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Inland Printers: The Fine-Press Movement in Chicago, 1920-45

Chicago, December 2002

In the growth era between the two World Wars, amidst the huge, bustling, profit-driven Chicago printing industry, there existed a subculture of artisans and artists who, laboring in the commercial trades by day, pursued a different aesthetic in their off hours. These were the few dozen men and women who created and nurtured fine-press and literary-imprint publishing in Chicago.

Their work will be on exhibition and their world explored in Inland Printers: The Fine-Press Movement in Chicago, 1920-45 at the Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center, Special Collections and Preservation Division. The library is located at 400 South State Street, Chicago. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, until 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 312-747-4875.

The aesthetic of the fine-press movement was grounded in William Morris's Arts and Crafts movement, which valued objects for their beauty and function, idealized hand craftsmanship and insisted upon the involvement of the artist at every stage of production. In Chicago, this aesthetic combined with the anti-establishment, progressive values of the writers and artists of Chicago's post World War I cultural scene and evolved its own unique aesthetic and agenda, participating in international modernism and later embracing the New Bauhaus.

"Inland Printers: The Fine-Press Movement in Chicago, 1920-45 looks at not only an artistic movement, but at a cultural era," says Kim Coventry, Chair of the Caxton Club Exhibitions Committee. "The inter-war period was a time of tremendous commercial, industrial and intellectual growth. The Chicago fine-press movement, artistic sibling to this city's giants of printing and graphic arts, typifies both aesthetic and social concerns of an age." The exhibition will include examples of work from the following small presses and literary imprints: Ralph Fletcher Seymour (1897---1963); Alderbrink Press (1905-39); Private Press of Will Ransom (1921-30); Trovillion Private Press (1908-58); Steen Hinrichsen (1921-23); Department of Printing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1921-32); Holiday Press (1926-49); Pony Barn Press (1925-46); Sign of the Hand (1925-56); The Broadside Press (1930-40); The Monastery Hill Press (1939-43); The Printing Office of Philip Reed (1946-?); October House (1948-52); Black Cat Press (1932-84); Normandie House (1937-44); The Norman Press (1938-74); At the Sign of the Gargoyle (1943-56); and Pochahontas Press (1937-50).

A 40-page catalogue, generously illustrated with four-color and black and white illustrations, accompanies the exhibition. With an introduction by Paul F. Gehl, Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation at the Newberry Library, Chicago, and entries on each press. The book costs $15 and will be available at the exhibition and through the Caxton Club.