Art Notes: The Art and Craft of the Stinehour Press

Thursday, May 02, 2013
I n the 1970s , the book arts in New England reached a pinnacle. Years before the advent of desktop publishing, printers, bookbinders and book designers were turning out all sorts of interesting work on everything from letterpresses to more modern offset presses.

People who are more knowledgeable about the book business might disagree with me. There was plenty of great work being done in the 1950s and 1960s, too. But I think of the 1970s as something of a shining decade, when the many people crafting books in the region were working in a mature, self-reflective industry that was aware of and reveled in its diversity and abilities.

The Stinehour Press was responsible for a healthy share of that activity. According to Joseph Blumenthal’s 1977 survey, The Printed Book in America , Stinehour had 40 employees at a shop Blumenthal described as “primarily a letterpress house with Monotype machines and small cylinder presses” that had also installed photocomposition and offset equipment.

To someone who isn’t interested in printing, that might sound like gibberish. What it means is that Stinehour, based in tiny Lunenburg, Vt., did it all, from cost estimates to design, printing and binding. And Stinehour not only did it well; it made books better than just about anyplace else.

Until May 31, Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library is exhibiting a concise history of the esteemed printing company, “Designed and Printed at the Stinehour Press.” On April 11, the library honored Roderick “Rocky” Stinehour, who founded the press after graduating from Dartmouth in 1950.

Unlike a lot of Dartmouth students, who decamp to the Hanover plain to figure out what to make of their lives, Stinehour knew exactly what he wanted to do. He had been working for Bisbee Press, which made personal stationery in Lunenburg, after serving in World War II. He went to Dartmouth to study with art professor Ray Nash, who ran what was then called the Graphic Arts Workshop. (It is now known as the Book Arts Workshop.)

After Bisbee passed away, his widow sold the press to Stinehour. Quickly, the press gained a reputation for quality work and Stinehour could count many New England museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, as clients.

The exhibition also includes a priceless exchange of letters between legendary publisher Alfred A. Knopf and Stinehour. These courteous but direct typewritten letters are worth the visit to Baker Library’s main hall all by themselves. The result was Stinehour’s first job for Knopf, the design and printing of 1,750 copies of a volume of poems, Witter Bynner’s Book of Lyrics , in 1955.

During its 58-year history, Stinehour became known for exceptional design and typography. Blumenthal wrote that Stinehour was “the only fine press in New England with a scholarly staff and a plant of sufficient size to be capable of turning out substantial, well designed books and catalogues that sustain a high degree of craftsmanship.” The company added a bindery in 1979.

But changes in the book industry conspired to end Stinehour’s run. Lower-cost printing in Italy and China, among other places, turned the book industry in another direction, and book design became a freelance job, done long before the book arrived at the printer’s.

Still, Stinehour remained influential to the last. Designers Lance Hidy and Stephen Harvard were among the first type designers at Adobe, the preeminent maker of digital design tools. And Stinehour hosted a Northeast Kingdom Typographic Congress that drew participants from around New England. Stinehour closed in April 2008.

Jay Satterfield, Dartmouth’s special collections librarian and a co-curator of the Stinehour exhibition with Stephanie Wolff, said the book arts are still robust in New England, but less in the historic trades and more in artists books that turn text and book boards into art.

“The Stinehour Press was always an anomaly,” Satterfield said. That a relatively small company, in a remote part of the country did such consistently excellent work seemed, at times, miraculous. “What’s so cool about them was they were a commercial publisher,” he added. Rocky Stinehour was a printer who saw his work as a trade.

The exhibition came about because Stinehour gave the records of his business to Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections Library. The library has a two-year grant to organize and catalogue the papers for researchers.

“I think the exhibition suggests many avenues of research,” Satterfield said. For example, “how does the ideal of craft play out during the second half of the 20th century, during a period of globalization” and seismic change.

The event honoring Rocky Stinehour drew 100 to 150 people from all over New England, Satterfield said.

“It was one of those events,” he said, “where you honor someone you have a lot of respect for, and a lot of people show up and there’s a lot of love in the room.”

Of Note

Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art hosts a pair of events on Saturday. At 2 p.m., the museum offers a tour of “Word and Image in Contemporary Art,” a show curated in collaboration with 24 senior studio art majors that includes Ed Ruscha’s great 1963 painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas. And from 1 to 3, families can attend a workshop on Japanese woodblock prints. The workshop is for children ages 6 to 10 and their adult companions. The tour is free and open to the public. The workshop also is free, but participation is limited. Call 603-646-1469 to register.

Also on view at the Hood: “The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints” and “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art.”

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio holds a workshop this weekend on “Monotype and the Figure.” Taught by Bert Yarborough with the collaboration of a live model, the workshop will explore representation of the figure on plexiglass and aluminum plates using both additive and subtractive methods. The workshop is open to printmakers of all levels and costs $195, plus a $20 materials fee.

∎ The Woodstock Arts Festival is calling for entries for September on the Woodstock Green. Entries will be juried and the deadline is June 10. Go to www.woodstockvt.com for more information.

∎ At the end of the month, the Hood Museum of Art and Hanover’s Howe Library will team up to hold a book discussion and gallery tour that look back at the art and literature of early 20th-century Japan. The book in question is Naomi, by Junichiro Tanizaki. Published in the mid-1920s, Naomi explores issues of class, identity and sexual obsession, issues raised by the Hood’s current exhibtion of “The Women of Shin Hanga.” The Hood show focuses on Japanese woodblock prints that depict “modern girls” from the same period as Tanizaki’s novel.

The discussion is set for May 29 at 7 p.m., and is limited to 16 participants. Register with the Howe after May 7 by calling 603-643-4120.

Openings and Receptions

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio opens an exhibition of monoprints by Elinor Randall that celebrate the life and work of Molly Keane, a 20th-century Anglo-Irish playwright and novelist. A reception is planned for tomorrow evening, 5 to 8, with a talk by the artist at 6.

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction celebrates its first birthday tomorrow evening with a wine tasting starting at 5:30. The gallery hosts “Oceana,” panels by Jenny Lynn Hall and also shows woodware by Ria Blaas and jewelry by gallery owner Stacy Hopkins. Hall will talk about how she makes her panels.

∎ “Pages from the Center for Cartoon Studies,” an exhibition of student work curated by CCS student Sasha Steinberg, is on view at the Hotel Coolidge’s Zollikofer Gallery. A reception is planned for tomorrow evening, 5 to 7 p.m.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon holds a closing reception for “AVA Beginnings: Work by Founding and Longtime AVA Artists,” part of AVA’s ongoing celebration of its 40th anniversary, and “Musings,” watercolors by Stephanie Reininger, tomorrow evening, 5 to 7.

∎ West Branch Gallery in Stowe, Vt., will show work by Upper Valley artists Aline Ordman and Sheryl Trainor this month. The show opens Saturday with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m.

Last Chance

Dartmouth College’s Studio Art Exhibition Program shows work by artist-in-residence Luke Fowler and “no kill shelter,” art by Jodie Mack, a professor of film and media studies, in the Hopkins Center galleries, through Sunday.


The Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden has opened its 11th season with an exhibition of sculptures by Paul Bowen, who works with found materials, and “Forms in Space,” the museum’s 21st exhibition of its namesake artist. “Forms in Space” consists of paintings from a 1970 exhibition in South Africa, when Duckworth was head of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Natal.

∎ Newport’s Library Arts Center hosts its annual Juried Regional Exhibition. Jurors Camellia Sousa of Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, N.H., and Amanda McGowan Lacasse of McGowan Fine Art in Concord chose roughly half of the 125 works submitted. They also selected seven artists who will be invited to show a larger body of work at the LAC next February. They are: Rosemary Conroy, Weare, N.H.; Shawna Gibbs, Claremont; Christine Hawkins, Claremont; Evan Clayton Horback, Sunapee; Bea Jillette, Goshen, N.H.; Hal Shukovsky, Sunapee; and Rick Stockwell, Sutton, N.H.

∎ “Generous Spirits,” pottery, basketry and furniture by Walt Hazelton and driftwood-found-object sculpture by Bruce Marshall, are on view at Nuance Gallery in Windsor.

∎ Hanover’s Howe Library hosts an exhibition of photographs by John Douglas that features library patrons and community leaders holding a favorite book.

∎ “Sleepwalking and Other Circumstances,” art by Darri Colton, is on view at Newbury, Vt.’s Tenney Memorial Library. Colton is best known in the Upper Valley as an actress with a long list of credits.

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., hosts “Masterworks,” which features both sculpture and prints by the late Hugh Townley as well as works from his collection, which includes pieces by Eugene Atget, Harry Callahan, Salvador Dali, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Aaron Siskind, H.C. Westermann and Ossip Zadkine. Hood Musem of Art Director Michael Taylor will lead an informal discussion on the show on May 18 at 4 p.m.

∎ BALE, the South Royalton nonprofit, hosts an exhibition of hooked rugs by Royalton fiber artist Gisele McHarg at its community space on the green.

∎ Chandler Gallery in Randolph holds its annual “Area Artists Show.”

∎ Williamstown, Vt., artist Jan Rogers shows graphite, pastel and colored pencil drawings at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

∎ “Picture Show: As Seen Through My Eyes,” a solo show by Tunbridge photographer Fred Carty, is on view at Tunbridge Public Library.

∎ “My Favorite Places,” mixed media on canvas by Christine Hauck, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ Spring art exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include oil paintings by Deborah Frankel Reese and Gillian Tyler and watercolors by Marlene Kramer and Lynn Hoeft.

∎ “How People Make Things,” an exhibition that looks at how all sorts of objects are made, is on view at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich through June 2. Admission to the Montshire is $12 for adults, $10 for children ages 2 to 17.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to artno tes@vnews.com.