Three Letterpress Printers Walk Into a Shed: About the Artists

January 3, 2022
(Left to right) Felicia Rice, Theresa Whitehill, and Zida Borcich: The three letterpress printers in the printing shed of Felicia Rice with their freshly printed poster for the exhibit, Mendocino 2021

A Definition of Letterpress: A form of relief printing that traditionally uses hand-set or machine-set metal type. Images are also printed from raised surfaces, such as linoleum and wood blocks, or wood and metal plates. The raised surfaces are inked and then pressed into the paper, resulting in a palpable three-dimensional texture in the sheet.

About this Collaboration Between Three Letterpress Artists

Felicia Rice lost her home, her entire life’s work (40 years of fine press publishing), and all of her irreplaceable letterpress equipment in the Santa Cruz Mountain fires in 2020. When Felicia relocated to the Rice family home in Mendocino, in which she planned to resume printing in a tiny shed on the property, Theresa Whitehill and Zida Borcich showed up to welcome Felicia back to the community, celebrate her work, mourn the loss, and support her literal rising from the ashes. These three women are all connected to each other through the art of letterpress. This is an exhibit in triptych about an art form, about resilience, about love of a rare craft, about climate change and sorrow and friendship and beauty and stamina.

Felicia Rice

Letterpress printer, artist, publisher

In 1977 Felicia Rice set Moving Parts Press in motion and began printing and publishing books, broadsides and prints in close collaboration with artists, writers, and philosophers. These editions of new literature and contemporary art explore the relationship of word and image, fine art and popular culture, political criticism and social impact. With one foot firmly planted in the 19th century and the other in the 21st, Felicia employs traditional typography and bookmaking methods together with digital technology to bring the flexibility of screen-based design to the texture and history of the letterpress-printed page. In her own words, “As a printer, my job is to confront complex issues and render my response in book form. As an artist, my job is to do so with profound integrity. As a publisher, my job is to make these issues public. As printers have done every decade since Gutenberg, I’m here to argue for a more just society.”

“BORDERBUS,” letterpress and relief printed artists’ book, 2019; photo rr jones
“DOC/UNDOC,” letterpress and relief printed artists’ book, 2019; photo rr jones

Zida Borcich

Letterpress artist & designer, publisher, job shop owner

“Walking into a shed with two such very kindred souls, Theresa and Felicia, although the forms of letterpress we followed were quite different—they more art printers and I more lowbrow-commercial—riled up these memories, and I see this is barely scratching the surface, but I will leave it here. Feeling the depths of a vicarious, fierce sorrow for Felicia’s loss of her life’s work and all her irreplaceable stuff, slinging the lingo and the memories and the comradeliness and love of this deeply shared passion filled my well, and it sparked this story to life, this three-part thing we made apart and together. That’s the way letterpress is, too, the way the creative process is: solitary and profoundly contemplative (while often hooked up with other equally obsessed artists), purely creative-visionary, purely dependent on ancient devices of the Black Art breed, purely shared in multiples, in all the stages of it, in the eyeballs and heart of it. Purely, insanely hard. Purely joyous.”

Stationery suite and announcement for Shannon Bailey Law
Twenty-fifth anniversary Wayzgoose invitation for Studio Z Mendocino

Theresa Whitehill

California poet and letterpress artist

“A broadside is a frontal attack on ignorance, a broadcasting of a poem’s vital energy, a statement of purpose in the world and to the world.”

“I have worked in the letterpress poetry broadside form since my years studying book art at Mills College in the early 1980s. The broadside has a historical origin as a political manifesto, a “broadside” in the nautical sense of firing all of a ship’s cannons directly at a target. It is also a medium that presents a poem in a format that one lives with as one lives with a painting or drawing. It becomes part of daily life, a part of a home’s intimate touchstones. Every day I make use of the craft of letterpress printing and the historical perspective of book art that began for me at Mills. I have continued to work in the broadside form and also to translate that aesthetic to web, and to books printed via offset and digital presses. I have history in my pockets; I have technique at my fingertips; and my nervous roving mind has a satisfying focus that brings together poetry and history, culture and aesthetics.”

"Todos Santos," letterpress poetry broadside; poem, design & printing: Theresa Whitehill; art, courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections; 2019
"Bringing Flowers to Salinas Valley State Prison," letterpress poetry broadside; poem, Ellen Bass; art, Felicia Rice; design, Theresa Whitehill; printing: Theresa Whitehill, Larry Rafferty, and Lisa Rappoport; publisher, hit & run press; 2020

References
Parts of this blog post have been adapted from Three Letterpress Printers Walk into a Shed, Real Estate Magazine, August 27, 2021 Issue 749, www.realestatemendocino.com.