by Kate Nixon
For many of us, 2023 has continued to bring us opportunities for travel after years of…well…not being able to. We are quickly approaching the season where folks cash in their vacation days and leave the nest to travel. I, however, am a big believer in traveling in the off-months; I’d much rather travel either in March or September than get caught in in a Spring break or Summer crowd. Especially if it’s in the name of research or to surround myself in a bit of Arts and Crafts history.
When the opportunity arose to visit central New York in April after the Spring break season, I gladly took the bull by the horns and planned a number of experiences: research at Syracuse University, a trip to see the Gustav Stickley House, and then I took my trusty rental car two hours west to East Aurora for my first time seeing the Roycroft Campus.
I realized it was a bit crazy to drive two hours out of the way and during a rainy day – but then again, our crowd had never let the potential to learn or buy a new treasure to add to a collection get in our way. The truly devoted are willing to let the price of gas be an investment for an experience and that it truly was.
I decided to tag along during a special tour of the Roycroft Print Shop and Power House given to another conference closer to the Rochester area. It was a calm and overcast day as I pulled into the Roycroft Power house parking lot. After exploring the front of the museum including a number of early print machines and early quotes from Hubbard lovingly etched into walls and wooden doors and the brilliant selection of block prints made from the letterpress shop, the tour started with a brief presentation on the life of Elbert Hubbard; enthusiastic soap salesman to early entrepreneur to writer/publisher/artist and founder of an Arts and Crafts community. While walking past the many buildings on the Roycroft Campus, I noticed handcarved artworks dedicated to Hubbardisms, the Appian Way a brick path with Roycroft supporters names, and learned that Hubbard had the first form of Photoshop as historic photos would not show the chimney coming out of the power shop – he had the tall chimney completely removed from the photo!
It would be hard not to see the magnitude of Hubbard’s legacy as each building contained an element of Hubbard’s entrepreneurial spirit — and the spirit of the artisans whose studios sit within these hallowed walls continue today. As everyone filed into the Press room where we saw a demonstration of how the letterpress machine worked and how each line of text had to be formed both upside down and backwards, it was fascinating to see not just the huge library of printed works and the rows of letterpress letters, but when the realization set in of how much work would be required to print my 88-page Conference catalog without the use of a computer, I found myself stating at this simple line of letters in disbelief.
But at the same time, I’ve never been so curious to try my hand at putting together a sentence of letterpress type, let alone a paragraph or a page. There had to have been a joyful feeling for a lowly press room worker as he or she finished placing their letters and symbols in place to have hopefully a perfect copy at the end. That is a victory well earned instead of copying and pasting into InDesign.
I only spent one morning at the Roycroft Campus, but as I have only explored a couple of buildings on the campus, I will return one day to explore the others.
Constant effort and frequent mistakes are the stepping stones to genius. – Elbert Hubbard
Until next time,