When I came to my job interview at Stirling, I was full of big ideas, not all of them very practical. One particularly far-fetched scheme I had was to propose developing a bibliography course at postgraduate level and equipping a print room for use by the students. I laid this out in my job talk, emphasising the expense and long-term nature of the project, while also saying that I thought it had the potential to be a tremendous asset. In the questions that followed someone – I can no longer remember who – piped up and said, “you know, I think we might have one of these hand press things somewhere”. Twenty minutes later, thoroughly convinced I hadn’t gotten the job, one of the senior administrators was showing me into an out-of-the-way computer lab. There, squeezed into the far end of the room, was a Columbian Press, an absolute beauty, surrounded by type cases, cabinets, ink stones, and even an Adana 8×5 to boot.
And so one thing led to another. I got the job (most surprising of all), I met Sarah Bromage – one of the curators of Stirling’s fantastic art collection – who also had plans for the press, we had a workshop or two, I pulled together what I could remember of my letterpress printing skills, and in March 2017 the newly-founded Pathfoot Press produced its first work: a large bifolium of Scots poetry celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the university.
To find myself suddenly the head printer and designer of a university hand press was unexpected enough. What I couldn’t have expected even six months ago, though, was just how much and how quickly the press and its activities would snowball. As the only folk involved with the press who had prior letterpress experience, The Historian and I led the way on the publication front, squeezing in odd hours, evenings, and weekends to produce five broadsides and pamphlets to date, but we were hardly alone. Together, the two of us and Sarah have given printing displays and practical sessions to the public, been filmed for university promotional purposes, printed limited edition broadsides of poetry written by Stirling’s Charles Wallace Fellow, been commissioned to do a series of typographical facsimiles by Innerpeffray Library, and even found ourselves with our very own intern busy cataloguing and organising our chaotic printshop.
What I had originally imagined as a tool for training future bibliographers has taken on a life of its own, sweeping me along with it, and I have to say that I’m tremendously pleased by everything that’s happened. As a new and busy semester looms its head (our teaching starts on Monday), it’s proving difficult to give as much time as I’d like to the press, but we already have plans in place to continue growing its staff, its productions, and its reach. If you haven’t come across the Pathfoot Press as yet, visitors are always very welcome or you can follow us on Twitter @PathfootPress. At this rate, who can say what we’ll be printing and designing in another six month’s time?
Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams
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