Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tampa Book Arts Studio Explores New Dimensions at Monotype University Eight

     This fall, Terra Alta, West Virginia, became home to Monotype University 8 (this being the eighth edition)—a week-long course in the use and maintenance of Tolbert Lanston's turn-of-the-century mechanical wonder, the Monotype Composition Caster. This year was a chance to explore a new dimension of Lanston’s marvel, thanks to an addition to  the Monotype curriculum: an innovative composition interface using a Mac computer.

     Two Tampa Book Arts Studio associates took part in the great educational opportunity in anticipation of the arrival of a Monotype Composition Caster at the Tampa Book Arts Studio later this fall. Letterpress Coordinator Carl Mario Nudi and Tampa Press Editing and Publishing Assistant Joshua Steward joined four other students from across North America to complete the latest hot-type class: Rob LoMascolo (New York), Kevin Martin (Ontario, Canada), Mason Miller (Maine), and Jeff Meade (California).

     Monotype University was hosted and taught by printer, author, and Monotype scholar Richard L. Hopkins of Hill & Dale Press and Typefoundry in Terra Alta. Rich is the author of Tolbert Lanston and the Monotype (University of Tampa Press, 2012). He was founder of the American Typecasting Fellowship and has been publisher and editor of the ATF magazine for nearly forty years. Assisting Rich with the university this year was Bill Welliver, long-time printer, and inventor, designer, and builder of the CompCAT (“Computer Aided Typecasting”) digital typesetting system—commonly known as the “Welliver System” or “Welliver Interface.”

Clockwise, from left: Joshua Steward, Rob LoMascolo, Jeff Meade,
Kevin Martin, Mason Miller,  Bill Welliver, Rich Hopkins, and Carl Mario Nudi.
     The first few days mainly involved arriving, getting acquainted, touring Rich Hopkins’s press and typefoundry—or The Chapel as he calls it (complete with stained glass window)—and becoming familiar with the setup. After getting settled in, much of the early part of the week was spent observing Rich cast and set type on a Monotype composition caster. While operating the machine, he offered advice and solutions for common problems and hangups, mentioned things to watch for, and answered the students’ many questions.

TBAS Letterpress Coordinator Carl Mario Nudi
and Bill Welliver discuss the CompCAT software
     A large portion of Monotype 8 was dedicated to learning the installation and use of the Welliver Interface, a way to connect a Mac computer to the nineteenth century Monotype caster. This enables typesetting from a laptop or desktop keyboard, in place of the original Monotype keyboard that punched a perforated paper tape or ribbon that was then run through the machine, a bit like a player piano, causing the caster to produce pieces of type instead of musical notes. The Welliver Interface is composed of both hardware and software components: the hardware is a mass of clear tubing, bound together, routed through a panel of air valves and circuit board, culminating in a steel bar with a row of small air holes that is clamped directly onto the paper tower of the Monotype Composition Caster. The software (CompCAT) itself is divided into two parts: the composing software (eRibbons), and the Caster Control Application, which controls the basic functions of starting, stopping, or repeating a line of a “ribbon,” or for the selection of a pin combination to cast a specific character in the matrix case that’s placed in the caster at that time.

Rob LoMascolo (in green), Joshua Steward
(center, installing the Welliver hardware),
and Kevin Martin (right) listen in to Rich.
(Note the blue stained glass "Chapel" window.)
     Because Rich was getting a second Interface installed for a second composition caster while Bill was in town, the students who own—or plan on owning—the Welliver interface and hardware were able to “play” with the most recent build of the hardware; this was convenient, as part of the troubleshooting for the mechanical difficulties of installing the system on a caster for the first time involves an initial installation, checking the adjustments, uninstalling again, and repeating that possibly many times, until all problems have been eliminated one by one, and all valves, air pressures, tubes, joints, screws, etc., have been finely calibrated and able to consistently cast good type. It was greatly beneficial to the students to work this way, as well as to work through all aspects of the software, and do it all with the inventor right next to them.

Joshua Steward, composing
on the Monotype Keyboard
     Over the course of the week each student was given the task of designing and arranging two written works: one composed on the Monotype Keyboard and one composedf using eRibbons, the Welliver digital composition software. Both versions were then to be cast on the Monotype Composition Caster and printed on-site in Rich’s print room. These ultimately were compiled as a portfolio of each student’s work. About midway through the week, as the novice students were getting a handle on the machines, Bill and Rich split them into two groups, with Rich teaching the operation and intricacies of the Monotype Keyboard while Bill took the more modern-minded to teach the use of his software with a computer keyboard. A day later, the groups switched to catch up on what they’d missed the previous day. As part of Bill’s lessons, the students each chose a typeface that hadn't yet been added into the database of the Welliver Interface, and using the vintage Matrix Case Arrangement (MCA) paperwork of type foundries, each student assigned the characters in that font to each position on a digital MCA.

Rich (left) prints on a Heidelberg Windmill platen press while
Rob LoMascolo and Joshua Steward look on. (Bill Welliver at far right.)
     Throughout the week, a variety of other lessons and demonstrations were given. A portion of one day was filled by watching Rich take apart, clean, and reassemble a mold. It was a chance for an up-close and personal look at the “guts” of a beautifully engineered antique that maintains its precision and runs “like a clock” when casting perfect pieces of type. Additionally, some students took turns removing the bridge of the caster and installing the mold.

     Even downtime was filled with Monotype in various ways, but often there was a break in the day when those who had brought lunch took time out to sit around the Hopkins dining room table and talk all things casting, printing, and otherwise. Others worked through lunch, either progressing on their projects or poking around Rich's basement studio. However, one notably beautiful day was enjoyed as a group, eating pizza, talking, and laughing on Rich’s back porch in perfect 78-degree weather.

     The students spent their last few days finishing up casting and printing their projects, as well as working on their own pet projects: a few composed and cast additional galleys of type; some helped Bill Welliver deconstruct a rusted-out Monotype (the first Rich had owned and used)—to strip it down for spare parts, as well as for the learning opportunity; and two were chosen to compose and design the diplomas for Monotype University 8, to be presented on the final night at a celebratory dinner.

From left: Jeff Meade, Carl Mario Nudi, Rich and wife Lynda, Mason Miller, Kevin Martin,
Bill Welliver, Joshua Steward. (Rob LoMascolo not pictured.)
* * *

Graduates and Faculty of Monotype University 8
From left: Carl Mario Nudi, Rob LoMascolo, Mason Miller, Rich Hopkins (kneeling),
Jeff Meade, Bill Welliver, Kevin Martin (kneeling, with forme), and Joshua Steward.
Congratulations to the graduates!

Thanks to Rich and Lynda Hopkins for their patience and hospitality.
Thanks to Rich Hopkins and Bill Welliver, whose contributions to typecasting and letterpress printing will be remembered and carried forward by their students in the years ahead.

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