Local Artist Helps Preserve Letterpress Printing

It is the time of year for Valentine’s cards. Some of those will be coming from a local woman who is keeping the tradition of letterpress printing alive, one piece of paper at a time.

Sarah Ridgley, owner of Pheasant Press in Fort Smith, is standing in front of a humming machine. It’s the sound of keeping a dying art alive as Ridgley prints cards which read “Love.” She does so using letterpress printing, churning out hand fed and hand laid typed paper. Ridgley fell in love with letterpress paper eight years ago. She says, “I was researching my own wedding invitations, and all I saw the gorgeous letter press print invitations and they had this deep impression on the paper, and I thought this is really cool, how are people doing this.”

Now nearly a decade, and five presses later, Ridgley is helping to keep the tradition going. “There’s an art to it, “she says, “but people aren’t learning that anymore, because there’s really not a demand for the skill. There’s a revival going on, small press movement. It pretty much started when people stopped using the printing presses, people started collecting them and saving them, and saving the type because they wanted to pass the skills on to other people,”  says Ridgley.

What sets letterpress apart from the print seen from a digital printer, is the process. Letterpress uses what’s known as move-able type, metal, led, and ink to press the print into paper, creating an impression.

Ridgley says, “They used it until the 1950’s, maybe the 1960’s, and then with the invention of printers we have today, it just went away because it’s so cost prohibitive.”

Even though the items may be more expensive to make, there is a market for them. Ridgley has produced wedding invitations, cards, prints, postcards, coasters, even jewelry. Her products have shipped as far away as Australia and Japan.

It is a snowy day when we meet up with her inside her studio. She throws another log into the antique stove. The cozy, but large studio is located just off her house, which was purchased on a whim at an auction because of her love of letterpress and the space it would afford her.

We ask her if she ever thought her love of letterpress would lead to what it has, she replies, “I kind of hoped it would, but no, I never thought it would be as big as it is now. I never thought I would have this.”

And it’s all because a young woman was planning her wedding.

You can find more about Ridgley and her products on her website pheasantpress.com.

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