Artist Spotlight: Gingerly Press
BY Managing Mosaic Editor
With grease stains on her hands, the scent of oil filling her workshop and dust gathering in the corners of her 20th century behemoth of a machine, artist Lindsay Schmittle operates what she calls her “heavy metal baggage.”
Schmittle’s “baggage” isn’t of the emotional type. Rather, Schmittle’s “heavy metal baggage” is an affectionate term for her metal letterpress. In her Pittsburgh workshop, Schmittle uses this press to lead workshops for the public and create greeting cards, journals and poster prints.
However, before there was the Pittsburgh workshop and before the Bring Your Own Beverage letterpress nights, a workshop held by Gingerly Press, intended as a spin off on “paint and sip nights,” Schmittle made her roots at the university’s very own Raven Press. As a visual communications major at the university, Schmittle first encountered Raven Press during her senior year and instantly fell in love.
“I loved typography, and I really wanted to do something hands-on,” Schmittle says. “I missed the hands-on aspect of art that I got to do when I was younger. Letterpress printing was kind of this beautiful marriage of typography and design.”
Her interactions with Raven Press inspired Schmittle to pursue letterpressing, and by the end of her senior year, she had held several internships at letterpressing studios. However, Schmittle soon realized that once she graduated, the resources of Raven Press wouldn’t be available to her.
“I went through that period that a lot of senior art students [go through] where I was like ‘What am I going to do when I don’t have these awesome resources on campus,’” Schmittle says. “I ended up buying my own letterpress and started [letterpressing] in about 2013 in my parents one-car garage.”
According to Schmittle, the process and art form of letterpressing has origins deep in time. Originally invented by the Chinese, the letterpress reached the Western world in the 15th century with Gutenberg “inventing” movable type.
“When he invented movable type, that changed how information was shared to the world,” Schmittle says. “Before, books were handcrafted, and all the pages were written and inscribed. [Letterpressing] educated a large portion of the world. It really upped the game.”
The transformation of letterpressing from a functional method of conveying information to a bonafide art form took place over the course of several centuries. According to Schmittle, around the mid 20th century, more convenient methods of letterpressing were invented, and traditional letterpressing became more obsolete.
“The artists kind of swooped in and found this beauty in letterpress printing and had a different mindset about it,” Schmittle says. “[It’s] actually exploded over the last twenty or thirty years among artists. People think that letterpress is dead, but it’s actually had a huge resurgence in the last 20 or 30 years among artists.”
In the history of letterpressing, Schmittle represents an anomaly: she is a woman. When job printing took off centuries ago, the majority of the letterpress operators were men. Today, she says that she buys majority of her presses from men in their 80s and 90s, people that want to hand down the craft of letterpressing but aren’t sure how to keep it alive.
Schmittle and other letterpressers are doing more than keeping it alive; in fact, at Schmittle’s workshop, letterpressing is thriving. The daughter of two educators, her mother is a professor at the university and her father is a retired high school teacher, Schmittle says that teaching is in her bones, so she wanted to spread her knowledge of letterpressing to a new generation.
“That’s the whole idea of this workshop,” Schmittle says. “I have so much type here, and I’m definitely not going to be able to use it myself. I feel like it’s my duty to make sure those fonts get used, otherwise they’ll gather dust and start to deteriorate.”
Schmittle has also embarked on countless artistic projects. Recently, she had a gallery of her prints up at Recitation Hall which commemorated a walk across the Appalachian Trail. In spite of moving so far from where she began, Schmittle says that the same reasons she fell in love with letterpress printing still entrance her today.
“There’s a beauty in the texture of the print of wood type and how there’s impression in the paper,” Schmittle says. “One day, I’m going to retire and need to pass it onto somebody else. It feels nice to pass on this history.”