Kseniya Thomas: Taking the Printing from the Good Old Days to Goodyear
By Betsy Mountenay '07
When a Dickinson student is walking in the vicinity of Goodyear, he or she probably has one of a slew of things on his or her mind: fear of DPS, the desire to get someone to let one into the building so one may party with the best, or the desperate need for Deli C mozz sticks. As a result, one is likely to be overtaken with the smell of booze and fried food and will be hopelessly unaware of the artistic center that one passes by in such a stupor.
For Goodyear Gallery hosts one of Dickinson’s most interesting, unique, and unheard-of anomalies: Kseniya Thomas’s print shop. Thomas, a Dickinson alum, has taken her passion for printmaking back to the old alma mater, making Dickinson the only school, and more generally one of the only anythings, in the area to host working printing presses that the public can see. Kseniya welcomes visitors to come by the shop and is always on the look out for apprentices who want to learn this skill that she has made into an art form.
Thomas first honed her printing skills after graduating from Dickinson, when she got an internship at the Gutenberg Museum, which memorializes the German dude who changed the world by inventing the printing press and movable type. Talk about engaging the world: “They took six month interns at this place and I got to be one. When I got back, I started investigating how I could do it here.” Thus, the print shop’s inception.
Thomas’s print shop is a patchwork of vintage equipment, all of which is used to fill very contemporary orders. “We have two presses, one large one from 1926 and one small one from about 1903, which was found in a barn in Maryland,” Kseniya notes. The spacious shop also has a design area filled with a large typesetting desk and a slew of fonts organized as they would have been in the old days. Kseniya boasts, “We inherited all this stuff from the Danville State Hospital, which was a local mental hospital.” Which is not to say that printmaking is the new basket-weaving: until the 1920s, private institutions would have to have presses in order to print their own important documents, etc.
Anyway, setting the type is enough to drive a very sane person very crazy, although Kseniya seems to remain very calm and serene as she practices her art. Impressive, because setting the tiny letters of these fonts can be hard to tackle, especially when dealing with a small font. If you want to find out more about the process, get in contact with Kseniya about apprenticing: she can explain it far better than I can.
Although Thomas uses equipment from a bygone era, she has made her art more modern by incorporating modern technology and aesthetics. “Computer design has made the printing press ‘contemporary,’ if such is possible,” Kseniya admits, showing off a highly embossed piece of clear plastic. This thing that she holds is a photopolymer plate, which is a UV photosensitive material that can be used to carry computer designs into the printing press. Although this modernization takes away from the bygone feel, it allows Kseniya to work with her customers to get exactly what they want, and anyway, she’s still required to physically press the computer generated images one by one onto her prints.
Clearly, print making involves a great deal of patience and technical know-how, but Kseniya’s utilization of the presses also reflects her keen artistic eye. “I’m really interested in the varying of typefaces in general, but especially when working with poetry,” she gushes. Kseniya, once an avid student in the English department, has taken her love of poetry to even higher levels at Dickinson through her prints. “I’ve had the privilege of working with poets when setting their work. Most recently, I worked with Kazim Ali, who teaches at Shippensburg, to make a broadside for one of his poems.” She also did broadsides to celebrate the visits of Lucie Brock-Broido, Rita Dove, and Helen Vendler (inscribed versions of which may be available at Whistlestop Books). She also prints a poem for the minutes of every monthly faculty meeting as part of Poetry is not a Luxury’s guerilla poetry campaign.
Additionally, Thomas uses her equipment and flair for private commissions such as wedding invitations, business cards, and stationary. “This vintage, handmade stuff has become really chic for personal use thanks to people like Martha Stewart,” Kseniya notes. These items will all have a personal touch and can be printed on beautiful imported paper or handmade, artisan paper.
Kseniya is always looking for brave young apprentices who have an artistic knack and a desire to learn an offbeat but valuable craft. “I especially encourage women apprentices because I think print making gives women both an artistic outlet and an ultimately affordable and practical art to pick up, especially if they are frustrated graphic artists. It also gives them the power to run their own business on their own terms.” Regardless of the number of Y-chromosomes you have, you should consider trying your hand at printmaking. Kseniya will be glad to have you!
For Apprenticeship opportunities, commission inquiries, etc, contact Kseniya Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.