MARGA LINCOLN For the independent file
Sometimes a great notion takes on a life of its own.
Such is the case with “Maple & Lead,” a new book that has its release party at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 16 at the Holter Museum of Art.
Festivities include meeting the book and its creators, Aaron Parrett and Seth Roby, and live music from Steve Laster and John Dendy as you sip beer or wine.
The vision to create this typographic book was so large that it required Aaron Parrett and his territorial press to move into a new building last year, so that it could accommodate a printing press larger than his old shop in Rodney St.
“Maple & Lead” merges bookmaking and art.
The letterpress-made book uses raised printing, which presses lettering and illustrations onto each page.
It’s both beautiful to look at and immediately engaging as you turn the pages and read the words.
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All were written by Parrett.
“It’s all short stories that I’ve written over the past 15 years” that have appeared in various publications, he said.
The illustrations are striking woodcuts by artist Helena Seth Roby.
The printing was limited to 100 copies.
Book prices range from $100 to $300 depending on whether it is an artist’s proof, a hand-bound copy, or professionally bound.
Parrett sent the stories to Roby, who took his own artistic liberties in creating the woodcuts to illustrate the book.
“I wanted them to have my own personality,” Roby said.
In the age of the e-book, Parrett and Roby are headed for a decidedly different place and time – a place where creating a book engages the whole mind and body, from creating the polymer plate to passing pages multiple times across the press to add different ink colors and again to add a woodcut to a page.
And then there is also folding the printed pages, punching holes in the paper and then sewing the binding.
“It’s not a commercial venture,” Parrett said. “It’s an art.”
He also admits, “It’s an obsession that makes no sense.”
He considers himself lucky if he earns 25 cents an hour after the books are sold.
This is no doubt why he calls the territorial press “a largely philosophical enterprise”.
“Letterpress was actually how people printed until 1975 when it all went offset,” Parrett said. “Then typography became obsolete.”
“Over the past 15 years, there has been a resurgence of typography in the art market.”
He admits it’s a “ridiculously expensive” way to make a book. “It’s a book as an art object.”
Parrett just returned from the Codex Book Fair, where typographic books were selling for $5,000 to $6,000 up to $25,000.
Being pragmatic and grounded in Helena’s financial reality, Parrett and Roby also offer a paperback version of their book for $20.
‘Maple & Lead’, which was produced on Parrett’s new Vandercook press, is actually much less labor intensive than other Parrett print jobs – 95% of which is made with wood and metal on his C&P platen press.
It was the type of impression Parrett made at his Rodney Street hole-in-the-wall shop, where he was interviewed by the Independent Record in January 2016, and continues to do so for a number of small jobs.
The type of manual setting was simply totally impractical for printing a 70,000-word book, he said.
Besides collaborating on books, Roby and Parrett also lead other lives.
Roby is an artist and teaches art as an adjunct faculty member at Carroll College and Helena College.
Parrett teaches English at the University of Providence, formerly the University of Great Falls. He has written short stories and non-fiction books and is a musician in the band Balled in Burlap.
Copies of the paperback are also available from Montana Book & Toy Company, where they will hold a book signing this fall.
“Maple & Lead” is more than an art book – it’s an embodiment of community. That and the new Territorial Press printing plant tucked away in an alley on Front Street would never have seen the light of day without community support, say Roby and Parrett.
To contact them about printing or book ideas, visit the Territorial Press website at https://www.territorialpress.com/.