Tag Archives: #letterpress

Wayzgoose Day

Bartlemas approaches. That’s another name for St. Bartholomew’s Day, which falls on the 24th of August each year. His feast day is celebrated not so much in churches as it is amongst practitioners of the Book Arts. St. Bartholomew is a patron saint of bookbinders, but his day is just as important to the other two branches of our craft: papermaking and printing––the one sometimes called the Black Art. St. Bartholomew’s Day brings the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, a particularly English celebration that comes out of the shifting of the seasons––the recognition that summer is waning.

Not much is known about St. Bartholomew himself. He was one of the Twelve Disciples. He is thought to have traveled to India, but tradition says that he met his end in Armenia in the first century. His martyrdom was a gruesome one––one that by association made St. Bartholomew a patron saint of butchers (a common trade amongst my paternal ancestors) and of tanners and of bookbinders, who very often bind books in leather. I’ll leave the method of his martyrdom, based on those associations, to your imagination, but early bookbinders found it a worthy connexion, hence his patronage of their craft.

For papermakers, the connexion goes back to the days before glazed glass windows. Back then, it was waxed paper that was used to keep out the elements, and the arrival of Bartlemas was the signal that it was time to paper the windows in preparation for winter. Once this St. Bart’s window paper was made, the papermakers went back to making paper for the printers, clearing out the vats and recharging them with new pulp made from rags that had been retting all summer long.

But trust me: it’s the printers who really know how to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day. Bartlemas, being a full eight weeks past the summer solstice, brings with it each year a certain reality: Sunlight, like summer, is waning, and the days are growing darker and darker. Along with the papering of the windows at Bartlemas came the necessity of illuminating the print shop with lanterns and candles. A good print shop proprietor would make a celebration of the day. Randall Holme, in 1688, gave us this description of the Bartlemas Wayzgoose:  “It is customary for all journeymen to make every year, new paper windows about Bartholomew-tide, at which time the master printer makes them a feast called a Wayzgoose, to which is invited the corrector, founder, smith, ink-maker, &c. who all open their purses and give to the workmen to spend in the tavern or ale-house after the feast. From which time they begin to work by candle light.”

To be sure, there was a good quantity of ale consumed as part of the Wayzgoose. In some places, mead, the delightful intoxicating beverage made from honey, was the beverage of choice. Especially in Cornwall, where a Blessing of the Mead ceremony takes place even today at this time of year. Continuing the road of connexions, our friend St. Bartholomew is also a patron saint of beekeepers, and as we continue to gather our stores for the coming winter, it is traditional, too, to bring in the honey crop on his feast day.

If you’re here in South Florida, I hope this Saturday you’ll join us at our local Wayzgoose: It’s Florida Atlantic University’s Library Wayzgoose Festival in Boca Raton, happening from 10:30 to 5:30 at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and throughout the 3rd Floor East of FAU’s Wimberly Library, which is the Jaffe’s home base. There will be print demos all day with Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press, live music all day, and the Wayzgoose Makers Marketplace (we’ll be there offering some of our wares as well as pottery by Seth’s Royal River Pottery company). You’ll also get to make your own paper printer’s cap, participate in telegraph demos and an exquisite corpse story project, play corn hole, and there are two gallery talks through the day, and a White Elephant Sale, and there will be artisan breads for sale (baked and donated by Louie Bossi’s) and amazing doughnuts for sale, too (we’re donating the doughnuts, but we’re not making them!). If it all sounds like a pretty wonderful day, I’d say you were right. So please come!

Finally, here’s another bit of Bartlemas Wayzgoose lore that I love, something I’ve mentioned before, but still have not been able to find further information on. Be that as it may, it was on August 27, 2010, that the Jerusalem Post reported that Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-Line Bible, the first book printed from moveable type, was completed on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1454. Some claim, too, that that first printed book explains why printing has a history of being called the Black Art. They say that Johannes Fust, Gutenberg’s business partner, sold several of the printed bibles in France without explaining how they were made. When it was discovered that the books were identical copies of each other, Fust was accused of witchcraft and was briefly imprisoned for that crime. It was a different world back then, with information spread by rumors. It was the printing press, though, that ushered in an age of knowledge and literacy and enlightenment. Some would say, too, that we have reverted back to those medieval ways: there are those who claim time and time again that the printed word is not to be trusted, calling trusted information sources “fake news,” feeding us their own brand of misinformation through social media, which, when you get right down to it, is just the 21st century equivalent of medieval rumor. 565 years after Gutenberg, we find ourselves again no wiser than Johannes Fust’s accusers.

One thing is certain: if you are a book artist or if you are a book enthusiast, St. Bartholomew’s Day is a very auspicious day for you. For this Bartlemas Wayzgoose, then, certainly we have cause to celebrate books and the people who make them: the papermakers, the printers, the bookbinders, the book artists. This Bartlemas, let us raise our glasses to St. Bart and to all of these good artisans… and to celebrate the printed word and make a pledge to value its importance to good living and to good citizenship. The Black Art might just be more important than we think.

If you’re coming to our local Wayzgoose, just look for the blue and white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs that will be posted on FAU campus roads. See you there… I’ll be wearing a paper printer’s cap. Here’s a link to the Facebook invitation, too. (I’m not on Facebook for the news; just for the events!)



Tagged , , , , , ,

For the Brewers & the Printers

Convivio Stout

The printing trade has a long and venerable history, and I imagine that for most of it, printers did not get much work done each year this last week of August; one’s Wayzgoose hangover from St. Bartholomew’s Day on the 24th was perhaps just passing in time for today, St. Augustine’s Day. The Bartlemas Wayzoose was the big celebration, but while St. Bart is a patron saint of bookbinders and book artists and his feast is a red letter day for printers, he is no patron saint of the craft. St. Augustine, however, is… and he is, as well, a patron saint of brewers. That’s a heady combination. As a printer myself, I have known many printers in my life; most of them are quite fond of beer. To have a day bestowed upon us that celebrates both of these things, well… it is clear that printers have long had two reasons to celebrate these waning days of summer. (And it is probably not a good time to take a delicate job to your local print shop.)

St. Augustine is also the patron saint of Aviles, the city in Spain that was home to explorer Pedro Menéndez, who sailed to the New World in 1565. The day his ships arrived here at this continent also happened to be St. Augustine’s Day, the 28th of August. He and his crew sailed into the area around Matanzas Bay, up in the northeast corner of Florida, and he named the new Spanish settlement there San Agustín, in honor of the day he first spotted land and in honor of his hometown’s patron saint. That town is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States.

As for St. Augustine of Hippo, he was born in Northern Africa, in what is now Tunisia, in 354, the son of St. Monica. He became a patron saint of printers thanks to his prolific writing. Books like his Confessions probably kept a lot of early printers in business. The confessions were easy to come by for Augustine: he was a fellow who liked a good time, at least early on in life, and this is the root of his patronage for brewers. His mother prayed for his conversion. Eventually he did convert and he began to write. He was canonized at the turn of the 14th century, about 150 years before Johannes Gutenberg perfected the idea of moveable type.

For St. Augustine’s Day this year, Seth and I will be quaffing a pint of our own brew and thanking the good saint for his patronage both of brewers and of printers. We brewed the beer ourselves with a little help from our friends at a local brewery, and we printed the labels for the bottles here at home from historic wood and metal types from our collection. It may be too subtle to see in the photo, but it took three print runs to print each label: there’s a base layer of wood type in transparent white, and upon that we printed the black text and orange sunburst. The “22” refers to the the 22 ounces contained in each bottle.

If we’ve bestowed some Convivio Stout upon you, this is perhaps the best night to crack it open. And if not, go get you something suitably saintly (St. Bernardus seems like a good choice). St. Augustine himself, though he would certainly recommend a healthy dose of moderation, may be there at your side raising a toast with you: Cheers to the printers! Huzzah to the brewers! May the good St. Augustine bless us all.


Tagged , , ,

Simple Gifts

Gift Angel

When Seth and I returned to Maine last month for the first time in six years, our sense of homecoming included not just the actual home we stayed in, but the place itself: the woods, the winding roads, the people, the places we would go. And though we only got to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community once while we were there, that place, which the Shakers call Chosen Land, will always be a place that is somehow home, too.

My first summer internship at the Shaker Press was in 1996. I remember arriving there my first day, completely unsure of what to expect. Brother Arnold Hadd and I had exchanged a couple of letters and the Community agreed that I could come work there on a book project for the summer, but that was about it, save for deciding our subject matter: We would make a book about Deacon James Holmes, the first printer there at Chosen Land. I arrived in early June, fresh from Alabama where I had been living since the winter before, to a land where the burgeoning summer was still a bit unsteady on its feet. I met Brother Arnold; he showed me the print shop: it was in the old dairy cellar of the brick Dwelling House, and it held a Vandercook press that he only used as an imposing stone, a Golding Jobber press that would prove to be the workhorse of our project, and some type cabinets. The type was mostly Bulmer (a close relative of Baskerville) and an odd Victorian font called Graybar. There were other decorative fonts in slanted cases, and there was some wood type, and a defunct refrigerator that held tins of oil-based inks.

But before any printing, we needed a story. And so I spent weeks in the Shaker Library, researching. I read everything I could find about Deacon James and I looked at everything he had printed. Deacon James first came to the Sabbathday Lake Community as a young man in the late 1700s but it turns out he didn’t become a printer until he was in his 80s. Someone had given the Community some metal type; Deacon James decided the only thing to do was to build himself a press so he could use the type. He built the press in the garden shed, where it remained until the 1950s, when it was tossed out during one of Brother Delmer Wilson’s big clean-ups. In the library, I got to handle all the small books and broadsides that the good deacon had printed… and I got to look at the Shaker Library’s collection of beautiful gift drawings: drawings that were made by Shakers through inspiration they received as gifts from Shakers who had gone before them. They are amazing, each and every one, and Brother Arnold and I decided to use details from these drawings to illustrate our own book about Deacon James.

The board shears / paper cutter was located in the Sisters’ Shop, one of the other beautiful Shaker buildings in the village, the one that also houses the Herb Department, where the Shakers have been packing culinary herbs and herbal teas since 1799. Whenever I had to cut paper for a project, whether for the book or for some other print project, the very air I breathed was spiced with the fragrance of herbs: barrels and barrels of them in the work room, and an attic full of herbs hung to dry. And when I came up with the idea of making our book look like it was found in Deacon James’ old garden shed, Brother Arnold suggested we make a dye from the old butternut trees by the Trustees’ Office. So we gathered up the nuts and boiled them up into a dye in the old Shaker Laundry, in the basement of the Sisters’ Shop, in sight of one of the first washing machines ever made. The Shakers were the first to make washing machines, and they came up with many other conveniences that eventually became part of our everyday modern lives. (This one looks nothing like a contemporary washing machine, though: It’s made of granite and wood. I’m sure it saved plenty of time in its day, but they don’t use it anymore!)

I don’t remember which building we were in when we dyed the book covers and the seed packets we printed for the book, but I do remember we were working on the floor beside a large loom. And we bound the books anywhere we could, sharing the work: Seth and I bound some at the saltbox where we were living; Brother Arnold and the other Shaker sisters and brothers bound the rest when they could in the Dwelling House. And just as suddenly as my summer had begun, it was just about wrapping up: it was early August by then, and my first semester in the MFA in the Book Arts program at the University of Alabama was about to begin. But our book still needed a proper ushering into the world. As it turns out, one of the most important days of the year for the Shaker Community is the Sixth of August, or, as they call it, The Glorious Sixth. It seemed an auspicious day for the book’s unveiling, for it marks the day in 1774 when their founder, Mother Ann Lee, arrived in America from Manchester, England, with a small band of followers to settle here and start life anew. They eventually ended up in Watervliet, New York, and from there the Shaker way spread. At the peak of the Shaker movement in the 1800s, there were more than 6,000 Shakers living in communities throughout New England and Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and even a short-lived community here in Florida. For all of these Shakers, August 6th would be held as a special day in the Shaker year.

It continues so today. These days, the Sabbathday Lake Community is the only active Shaker community left in the world, and there are three Shakers there at Chosen Land: Brother Arnold, Sister Frances, and Sister June. There were more that day in 1996, but since then, some have passed on, and some have left the Community. In fact, many have come and gone over the years, trying the Shaker life. And there are friends. So many of them. Friends who are more like family, and so any gathering at Chosen Land is a big, bustling affair. The preparations for that Glorious Sixth celebration in 1996 were all hustle and hubbub until the supper bell rang, and supper was outside, at wooden picnic tables on the lawn outside the Dwelling House. I probably had trouble buttoning my trousers that night, because the Shakers fed me well all summer long. Brother Arnold and I unveiled our book, presenting a copy of it to each brother and sister. We called it Collected and Compiled by J.H.: The Story, in Many Voices, of Deacon James Holmes, for in researching the book, I realized that the good deacon’s story is best told as a community, which is the basis for Chosen Land and Shakerism in general.

After supper and after our book unveiling, with the setting sun, the magic of the evening truly began. Our small band ventured off to the 1794 Shaker Meeting House, the heart of the village, across the road. We entered as is the Shaker custom, women through one door, men through the other, and we sat on our opposite sides of the room, facing each other, as is also the Shaker custom for each Shaker Meeting. And it is deeply ingrained in my memory what happened next, as the light continued to fade into the darkness of evening, as the dim and flickering lamplight became the only source of light: in the faces of the sisters and other women across from me, I felt I could discern the faces of Shakers throughout time. We may have entered the Meetinghouse in 1996, but it didn’t seem to remain 1996. Sacred spirit filled that sacred space. We sang the song the Shakers always sing for this night: a song called “Mother;” it calls to mind the early history of the Shaker movement. It begins with the words At Manchester in England, this blessed fire began / And like a flame in stubble, from house to house it ran. Certainly tonight Brother Arnold, Sister Frances, and Sister June, the three Shakers that remain in this world, will be singing this old song, and I know they will be joined by an extended gathering of friends. The friends will be from “the world” but still will feel a bit like family, the extended family that radiates out from the Shakers. Chosen Land is a bit like home, after all, and even though Seth and I won’t be present, we will remember all who gather there, especially as the light fades this evening.


Image: One of the illustrations from our book Collected and Compiled by J.H.: The Story, in Many Voices, of Deacon James Holmes, First Printer of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers. It is a detail from one of those Shaker gift drawings I found in the Shaker Library, circa 1830 to 1860, a period of Shaker history known as the Era of Manifestations, a time of very active spiritual revivalism that expressed itself mainly in song and art. The Shakers who drew these gift drawings felt they were acting as medium between the spiritual world and this world, receiving gifts that they then transferred to paper and shared with their Shaker brethren and sisters.


Tagged , ,