ThimbleFriends and local Mississippians, we are so pleased to announce the talented studio guest we'll be hosting Monday- Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer! Chris is on a tour of the states visiting letterpress shops and creating his own prints and posters at each stop along the way. These spontaneous creations make for some really amazing and completely unique works of art, and we are so honored to have him pass through our shop.
Come visit with us Monday from 4-7 to hear more about The Itinerant Printer project and to shop Chris's collection of printwork. And, as an added bonus, toast an early glass of green champagne for St. Paddy's Day with us!
Continue on for a short promo video, our interview with Chris and a few peeks at his inspiring work
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Tell us a bit about yourself (where you’re from, background, quirks, etc) …
I’m from Buffalo, NY, but I’ve lived in Southern California, Maine, and Baltimore for a short time. I’m the former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center, a collective printshop located in Buffalo; I write and make artist’s books, letterpress gig posters, art prints, and architecture prints. I resigned my position there in November 2014 to embark on The Itinerant Printer tour. How did you get started with printing?
I started letterpress printing as a way to improve my own books - my background is in philosophy, English Literature, and Poetics, so I was a writer primarily, and a printer incidentally. It wasn’t until I ran the studio at WNYBAC that I moved into large scale design work. I also run an event called the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair that gathers book artists, printmakers, small press poets, and other cultural workers; the very first letterpress print I made was a program cover for that event - I wanted people to have a handmade memento to take home with them. I started making covers for my books, then whole books, and I’ve never looked back. Where did the idea of a printing travel tour come from?
There’s a long history of itinerant and tramp printing - in the late 1800s and early 1900s any printer in the International Typographical Union would have a union card that would allow them to travel from city to city and pick up different printing jobs. In the early stages of their career, as apprentices and journeyman, they were peripatetic workers who became analog conduits for information; they’d pick up a job in Chicago, then move on to St. Louis, from there possibly Kansas City or wherever there was work to be done. They’d bring with them tips and tricks about printing, as well as rumors and news from other towns and cities. Since there’s no longer a Typographical Union and letterpress printing isn’t as commercially viable in the same way, I tried to re-envision what it might mean to be an itinerant printer in the modern era - so instead of moving from shop to shop picking up work for a wage, I thought it would be great to move from shop to shop, producing limited edition work while using it as an opportunity to highlight each shop, their proprietors, the places along the way, and the resurgence of letterpress. What’s your favorite city you’ve visited to date?
There have been so many great cities, and each one has it’s own unique flavor - but I’ve been happily surprised by some places that I never imagined as havens for letterpress: Ft. Lauderdale, Tallahassee, and even tiny Darien, GA has amazing things to offer. The trip has a populist bend to it, as well as an Americana ethos, so I definitely believe it’s about the little shops along the way - there are plenty of usual suspects in the letterpress world, and I may stop at those shops, but the trip is really more about exposing these little, out-of-the-way gems. If we’re just talking about cities and their vibe, however, Athens, GA was pretty great. Any funny happenings or surprises on the road so far?
As I move around the country, I try to note political and cultural differences - it’s easy to be an amateur anthropologist - that’s not to say that my conclusions or observations are worth more than a laugh though; one of the things I noticed in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale was how they could turn anything into a nightclub. EDM was everywhere: coffee shops, dressing rooms, bars, restaurants, sometimes it just felt like it was being piped in from the trees. I left not understanding whether or not I liked the songs I was hearing, or I’d simply become so familiar with them that I didn’t know the difference. In Alabama I’ve been called ma’am twice (because of my long hair, I assume) even though I have a full beard. The other thing I’ve been loving: geographical specific music - I got to listen to Vanilla Ice sing about A1A Beachfront Avenue while driving on A1A in Miami; I heard Alabama on the radio as soon as I reached Alabama; and just yesterday before heading out to Jackson, I heard Jackson by Johnny Cash and June Carter. I’m going to start keeping a list. Have a song or playlist that never gets old in the car—
I have one crazy quirk while driving in the car: I can listen to the radio on scan for hours. I can literally listen to it skip stations forever. I love the correspondence of random elements of different songs, as well as the chance alignment of different words and phrases. I never tire of it, but I do love to listen to whole albums all the time too. So far on the trip I’ve been digging Grimes, Okkervil River, The Strokes, Wampire, Bob Mould, and First Aid Kit. I like a narrative. I want the music to tell me a story, even if I don’t immediately know what that story is. And as I drive, I pattern-make, finding ways to draw that narrative and my experience together. When you aren’t printing, what might we find you doing?
Skateboarding. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years now, and my board is in my trunk. I’m always looking for something to skate, and I couldn’t miss the chance to skate everywhere I’m printing as well. In 5 years, you’ll likely be…
Printing still, skateboarding still, and in 2016 I’m considering taking The Itinerant Printer project global, so who knows - in five years I might still be on the road!
Want to follow along or learn more about TIP project? Find and tag along with Chris in all these places: