The Portland Project

Good things take time. Back in September of 2011, my good friend and Hamilton Artistic Board member, Nick Sherman came to me with a proposal. Via email, he introduced me to his friend Jim Coudal of Field Notes with the idea of having us print a note book for them. I loved the idea but was daunted by the volume; possibly 15,000 to 18,000 covers run in 2 colors. Now, fall is when we intensely prepare for our annual Wayzgoose and there was no way we could get the run in by autumn's edition. Even so, the only large format press I had available for the run was a Vandercook 320 and cranking prints one at a time did not sound like a great idea. Since both Jim Coudal and I were so busy, we agreed to re-visit the project later.

In April of 2014, the conversation began again after a chance meeting with Aaron Draplin in Minneapolis a few months earlier. He was extremely interested in the idea and his desire to support Hamilton was encouraging. We invited him to come and speak at the museum last summer and we made plans to have Bryan Bedell and Matt Jorgensen come at the same time, along with Michele Seiler. In June, the group came up and began to look at type and images from the Museum's vast archives. We discussed paper and inks, as well as what worked well as overlays for the 2 images for the cover of each book. The crew then began setting proposed layouts and with the assistance of Stephanie Carpenter, the museum assistant director, along with Bill Moran, the museum artistic director, and Jim Moran, the museum director, suggestions were made as to what would work. The initial thought was to again plan for a fall edition but it would have been tough for Hamilton to get a proper press up to speed and running the job on time. With spring of 2015 the agreed upon date, I had hopes of having a working machine by late fall. Wayzgoose again delayed those plans but by early December, everything was set. Mel Wrolstad is a Heidelberg mechanic from Minneapolis who occasionally repairs presses for Studio on Fire, with over 40 years experience repairing and installing presses for Heidelberg America. Mel drove over to Hamilton and began a crash course in resurrecting our 1961Heidelberg GT, 13" x 18" from storage. Mel is a good teacher and insists on learning his way. It works. He was also kind enough to answer any calls I had after he left, and there were a few.

By January, everything was in place to begin production. I had estimated 20 lbs. of ink. We would work in 3 colors but wanted a high transparency to let the colors show through to that great French Paper they had chosen for the covers. We had 4 colors of paper, 3 inks, and 7 different layouts. Bryan Bedell wanted as many variation as possible and this combination would yield many possible cover designs. I had also expected at least 50 hours of pure press time. But that's purely an equation. If we run 75,000 covers in 2 passes but they are 2 up, that's still a 75,000 run. Stephanie created a perfect spread sheet to guide us through an every day routine of making sure lockups, inks, and papers were evenly separated and ready for running. A typical day began with a 30 minute process of oiling and greasing the press. All of the days runs were separated into tables of paper colors to keep the stacks coming in an organized way. Sheets were unwrapped, fanned out and marked with the lock-up needed for each color. Ink was mixed often 3 times in a day to keep the press rolling and piles grew on several tables to keep the runs intact.

Evening runs and weekend sessions were needed to keep a daily average of 4000 impressions rolling off the press. Most of my collection of vinyl records were necessary to provide background music throughout. Beethoven, curiously, made the Heidelberg happiest. Every time the press locked up, it took a 3 person crew to work the flywheel free. Running the Museum meant interruptions were continuous but still kept to a minimum because Mari Dawson, the museum retail manager, kept the wolves at bay, Stephanie ran everything else and I was generally free to print. Since 3 of the papers were #100 stock and one of them #80, one would hope they'd run uniformly but that would be too much too ask. Each paper meant new settings on the press (repeatedly) and a complete re-working of every curse I was capable of uttering.

January snowed its way into February and our schedule got tighter and tighter. On a return trip from Bryan and Steve Delahoyde, it was briefly considered that we begin to think about this as a summer edition. Neither Stephanie nor I considered this acceptable. More nights, more weekends. More Beethoven.

The wonderful part was the results that began to emerge. All the combinations looked good - looked great. We had favorites replaced by favorites and then more favorites. An initial review by the gang at Field Notes was most encouraging. They felt the same way. Onward we plowed like a grader down a Wisconsin highway on a winter's night. Volunteers and interns pitched in, all given the same decree of keeping the project quiet. Weeks ago we decided on a name to allow us to discuss the job without giving away our work. "Field Notes" was a name not to be mentioned. With Aaron far away in Oregon, I decided we would call it "The Portland Project". Sort of like the "Manhattan Project" without the radiation. I continued marking our project on a calendar next to the press: "50,000 remaining", "30,000 left to do", "Kraft Brown the final color".

While the wasted stock was less than expected, I knew over-running the job was necessary for the final black press run done in Chicago, as well as the bindery at the end. And our end came on a Saturday afternoon around 4 pm, with a final tally of nearly 84,000 impressions. The press had held up and so had we. Backs were sore, feet were tired and ink was down to a dollop. I had spent around 200 hours printing and running the project.

Tonight, is the night before the edition is released. We have been shown samples of finished books and we are thrilled. We have made them look good and they have been an outstanding and generous partner to work for and with. And you know? I'd do it again.

See videos of the project and read all about the "Two Rivers" Edition, Spring 2015, on Field Notes website.