MENDOCINO, CA – On January 6, 2022, The Partners’ Gallery in Mendocino will open its doors for a unique exhibition on the fine arts of letterpress printing featuring three prominent women who specialize in different aspects of the art of the book. Titled “Three Letterpress Printers Enter a Shed: The Renegade Letterpress Work of Felicia Rice, Theresa Whitehill, Zida Borcich,” the exhibit will be open until February 12. The first annual Mendocino Book Arts Festival is held in conjunction with the Art Exhibition! (BAM!) will start on the same day and continue in many places until the end of February.
Letterpress printing was once called “black art” in reference to the craft’s black ink. It is no longer the main modern and efficient method of printing. The raised surface impression is intense and time consuming, but the rewards can be dramatic. The art of using metal, wood, or polymer composition by hand or machine requires years of dedicated training and hard-to-find printing presses that often date back to the early 20th century. Lead-type foundries have disappeared and printers remain in business relying on spare polymer parts.
As few women exercised a profession that dates back to the middle of the 14th century, the three guest artists have known each other since the beginning of their careers. They also have shared connections. Whitehill worked for Borcich at Fort Bragg for eight years. Rice and Borcich were trained by the same master printer, Al Moise. Together they bring 120 years of cumulative experience to the show. Borcich is a commercial letterpress printer specializing in the design and publication of Real Estate Magazine and operated a shop on Main Street in Fort Bragg for 27 years. Whitehill is a poet who prints broadsides in her shop in Ukiah. Rice is from Mendocino and describes herself as an editor, editor, writer and artist. His parents, Ray and Miriam Rice, founded the Mendocino Arts Center.
The germination of the gallery exhibition is due to extraordinary circumstances. Rice, who had settled in Santa Cruz about 50 years ago, lost her life’s job, store, print shop and home in the 2020 Santa Cruz complex fire and returned to the small family home in Mendocino with literally nothing left. She works in her father’s original workshop on the property and hopes to raise funds to convert it into a full printing press. Borcich came to offer help and realized Rice’s wrestling was ideal and published his story in his real estate magazine. Artists from Partners Gallery, known for its contemporary art exhibitions, read the article from the September 2021 issue of the magazine and invited the three women to consider exhibiting their work at the Mendocino Gallery.
“It’s great that they recognized that the three of us, coming from completely different approaches to craftsmanship, are complementary and should be in an artistic context,” Rice said. Two artists from Partners Gallery, Pam Hahn and Mina Cohen, organize the exhibition in collaboration with the artists. Rice said having a show with Whitehill and Borcich is life-affirming. “To get to work alongside these two women is so heart and soul filled,” she said.
Parallel to the preparation of the exhibition came the idea of organizing a festival on the art of the book. Enthusiastic attendees from across the county pledged their locations for various events celebrating the art of the book – such as fine print, design, binding, papermaking and content creation. The three artists believe that this festival and gallery exhibition will expose the art of bookmaking to the wider community. “Most people don’t know about artists’ books, what’s in them, and how it all ends up on a page,” Borcich said.
Aware of the digital information age, the three printers believe that books still have much to offer our culture and our community. Rice commented, “Perhaps we are in a time when books are no longer used in everyday life. Perhaps we now see the book more as an art form. The festival, she says, is a way to “look at the book with new eyes”. Borcich also sees the gallery opening and festival as a way to draw in the Bay Area’s community of letterpress printers, writers and art book admirers, referring to the “hidden treasure of interest outside the general knowledge of the local community.
The women are especially excited about an event in the gallery that will feature renowned icon of typographic book design, Peter Koch, who organizes the biannual CODEX International Book Fair in the Bay Area. They believe his visit will attract a large audience and fulfill their goal of collaborating with arts organizations to bring new artistic experiences to the community. The three printers see the events as “the start of something new to benefit the community,” said Rice, who hopes to see the art of bookmaking take hold in local schools.
Partners Gallery is located in the historic Mendocino Beacon building at 45062 Ukiah Street in Mendocino and is open Thursday through Monday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, call 707-962-0233 or online at www.partnersgallery.com.
“Three Letterpress Printers Walk Into a Shed: The Renegade Letterpress Work of Felicia Rice, Theresa Whitehill, Zida Borcich” opens Thursday, January 6 and ends March 6, 2022. On Saturday, January 8, the gallery will host the first of two Meet the Artists, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The BAM! festival will take place throughout January and February at various locations around the county. For a full list of events, times and locations, go online to www.tinyurl.com/BAM-2022.