After meeting Len Tower at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA I was eager to visit the letterpress shop at MIT that he told me about. A couple of weeks ago we set a date and off to MIT I went.
In the past four and a half years living in Boston, I have not visited MIT nor have I taken the number 1 bus. It was a day of new beginnings.
The number 1 bus rocks! WHY did I never take this!
I got off at my stop and walked towards the building I was meeting Len in. Running through my head is, do people think I'm an MIT student right now? Is it obvious that I am not a super genius and that I went to art school? As I pass everyone I'm thinking, wow you're a genius and you're a genius and you're a genius and I'm here to visit your letterpress shop.
It was great to see Len, and I was so honored he took the time to show me this shop I would have never known about otherwise. The shop is part of a long standing fraternity and existed as a service that the members would provide to other brothers as well as the university. Things like business cards for frat brothers, movie tickets for the film club, and freshman orientation packets are among some of the work done in this letterpress shop.
A lot of the equipment in the shop was salvaged from an old hotel that MIT converted into a dormitory. The letterpress shop existed in the basement of the hotel and was responsible for printing items such as the daily specials menu for the hotel's restaurant.
I loved that MIT salvaged the letterpress shop and has continued to do job printing for MIT much like the shop had originally done for the hotel.
Another aspect I loved was that all of the printing that has been done for MIT has been saved and cataloged, so I was able to view items like acceptance envelopes that were labeled with F's and M's from the years when MIT's female enrollment was less then 5%. This labeling was done to help keep track of the percentage of male to female.
Boxes full of business cards that were printed in the shop. I love the array of box designs and colors.
This piece of furniture holds the ink cans perfectly. Most orderly ink cans I have seen so far!
MIT has a great collection of ornament and vintage printers cuts. These awesome vacuum cleaners were some of my favorites.
The archives of printed matter contained all types of gem's like this blood drive poster that combines both silkscreen and letterpress printing. This poster along would have made me go give blood.
My absolute favorites were the abundance of small cards printed below for events on campus or cards made just because.
In addition to letterpress printing, the collection of silkscreen posters was overwhelming in size and really impressive in design. I loved the use of day-glo silkscreen ink and the time spent on posters to promote events on campus. I also learned about a tradition at MIT called "ugliest man on campus." This event where students can cast their vote for "ugliest man on campus" has been held for many years and after the votes are cast there is celebration for the naming of "ugliest man on campus."
My university did not have Greek life, so hearing about this service fraternity from Len was really interesting. Many of the brothers had business cards printed and the frat continues to print business cards for members to date. Along with business cards, wedding invitations, and birth announcements can also be requested, giving the brothers a way to keep up with each others lives.
Thank you so much Len for such a great afternoon at MIT, it was such a treat! Man if only I had known this shop existed when I was applying to colleges, MIT may have been a contender...