Letterpress maven Kyle Durrie, owner of Power and Light Press, recently returned to Portland after an adventure that epitomizes the idea of "taking the show on the road."
About 10 months ago, after a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, Durrie set out on a dramatic and legitimately harrowing cross-country journey in a gas-guzzling 23-foot step van to share the art of letterpress with as many people as possible.
"It was like being a musician on tour," says Durrie, who enjoyed meeting new people every day on her 47-state trip that took her from Bend, Oregon to Buffalo, New York with stops in Green River, Utah and Greenville, South Carolina, among many, many others.
To prepare, Durrie first gave the van new life by retrofitting it with everything she needed to print, sell and teach about letterpress to anyone willing to step into her print shop on wheels.
She packed the van to the gills with inks, brayers (hand rollers), various papers and the heavy, iron-clad, nearly century-old tools of a quickly disappearing letterpress trade being rendered obsolete by the powerful and tantalizing influence of the digital age. She also built into the van the structures and objects that would help to make the van her mobile home.
"People would just come in and just hang out, and whoever was hosting would often have food and drink," remembers Durrie, who describes the energy of the people she met along the road as inspiring and invigorating. "They'd just come in, we'd talk for a while, they'd get a chance to get a little ink on the brayer, ink-up the type and pull a print and they'd have that to take home."
According to Durrie, her trip was as much about traveling and learning as it was about sharing the art of printing.
"The folks that I connected with were phenomenal," she recalls about an early stop in Green River, Utah. "I was really impressed with what they were doing, these young architects and designers that had moved out to the middle of the desert to this tiny town... They were just trying to rebuild a sense of community in a place that had lost a lot of people along the way — there was no economy anymore."
After a few false starts before she set out a year ago, Kyle anticipated that the 30-year-old Step van could have been a big concern, but surprisingly there were no major automotive issues.
"The truck did really well," Durrie says with a sense of pride and relief. In fact, the only issue with the engine was a small fire that broke out after she was back in Portland, derailing our first attempt to get this interview.
Durrie's tales from the road are quite numerous — so much so that the EM-SPACE Books Arts Center is hosting an exhibition where Durrie will share stories and much of the art that was made on the truck. You can check it out at from 6-9 pm on June 1st.
MOVEABLE TYPE TOUR FACTS
STATS FROM THE ROAD
- Total Miles Traveled: 30,958
- Cities Visited: 180
- Total States Visited: 47
- Contiguous States Not Visited: North Dakota
- Canadian Provinces Visited: 2
- Total Parking Tickets Issued: 1
- Percentage of Parking Tickets That Were Issued in Canada: 100%
- Number of Parking Tickets Paid: 0
- Flat Tires: 4 (2 Blowouts)
- Letterpress Lives In Portland Arts & Life