Letterpress Printing: Something to Crow About

Posted in Spotlight, Visual Art, What's up

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
July 26, 2017

An old-world rhythm softly floats down the halls at the Ken’s Korner Shopping Plaza. It’s the sound of spinning wheels, smoothly moving belts, handmade machinery, and craftsmanship. The printing presses of Crow’s Nest Press are living history.

Video courtesy of WhidbeyTV Productions

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg changed the world with one of history’s most influential inventions: a printing press that used movable type. This made the mass production of books possible and led to improvements in literacy—and education in general—for larger populations. Books, once the privilege of only the wealthy, were now available to the masses. Gutenberg’s invention also led to the introduction of mass media. To say it changed the world is an understatement.

As technology marched forward to other methods of printing, the original printing presses became obsolete but were not forgotten. “I’ve been interested in printing my entire adult life,” says Marq Dean, owner and operator of Crow’s Nest Press, “I was in the newspaper business right out of college.”

Marq Dean and his 1917 Chandler and Price jobbing press in his studio at Crows Nest Press (Photo by Shawn Berit)

“About 10 years ago,” Dean continues, “I had the opportunity to restore a press.” That restoration served to grow his passion for letterpress and led to the opportunity to buy an entire print shop. As his print collection grew, he acquired something ideal for Whidbey’s equestrian enthusiasts: the elements once used for a Seattle saddle catalog, including images of their products. A vast library of other images and logos now fills Dean’s storage drawers. There is truly something for everyone and every season.

For Crow’s Nest Press, Whidbey Island is the perfect place to call home. Dean’s business model was never intended to be a mass-production shop, but rather a place of learning and artistic collaboration with both established artists and those interested in being part of the creative process for their own printed items.

Cuts (anything that’s graphical, such as drawings and logos) waiting their turn on the printing press (Photo by Shawn Berit)

“The creative energy and spirit of Whidbey Island is unique,” Dean says, “It’s why we’re here.” He and his family have been on the island a little more than two years, but they have truly found their home in this community of creative people, “We’re just excited to be a part of it,” he says.

Dean sees his business as an opportunity to preserve the equipment and plates he uses along with preserving a connection to a form of craftsmanship that is worthy of preservation. “With the maker movement and people getting back to craft and learning the old ways, it’s a good time for letterpress.” People are rediscovering it, Dean says. “There’s a direct line from my equipment and materials back to medieval times and Gutenberg.”

Smaller type in the typecase (Photo by Shawn Berit)

Ultimately, Crow’s Nest Press is about art, community, craftsmanship, and providing people with an experience that goes beyond the final product. Dean offers classes, seminars, and custom opportunities for people to learn the printing process and how to use the equipment. He has customers, such as a recent couple who made their own wedding invitations, who work with him and create their own printed items. “They leave with something they made themselves,” he says. They get the product, but they also have a wonderful memory that will last a lifetime.

Coming this winter, Dean has a Christmas card workshop planned. He will be teaching basics of using the press, creating the cards, and then helping with printing. Participants will be able to select from his many pre-made Christmas image cuts. Not only will they leave with beautiful cards, but also the bragging rights that they made the cards themselves.

Dean shows this collection of cuts (Photo by Shawn Berit)

Marq Dean came to Whidbey Island to provide an experience that’s available to everyone. Whether you’re an artist, an author, a graphic designer, a history buff, or just someone who would like to be involved in creating your own hand-printed items, you, too, can experience history coming to life at Crow’s Nest Press.

Shawn Berit lives near Maxwelton Beach on the south end of Whidbey Island. He freelances as a social media manager and marketing consultant for churches and spiritual groups, organizations, artists and musicians, and occasionally small businesses. He is a father of three and an all-around creative. Berit is a painter and drawer (acrylics and pastels) of mystical scenery, story illustrations, and science fiction concept art; a nature photographer; a vocalist wanting to start a band; a science fiction writer working on his first novel; and a television and voice-over actor wishing the island had a radio station. Follow him and learn more on Facebook.

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  1. YES! Sign me up for the class! This appeals to me very much. Whidbey is the perfect place for you. Hope you have much success and satisfaction here.
    Good job on the video, Whidbey TV.

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