The Wellington Centre for Book Arts (WCBA) on Thorndon Quay is an exciting new addition to Wellington’s print ecosystem. Established to teach and pass on the skills of letterpress and all associated book arts, founding member Dan Tait-Jamieson, explained the aim of the centre is primarily to showcase book arts and generate enough interest and demand to establish a larger national printing museum in central Wellington. Inspired by book arts models in London, San Francisco and Minnesota, he believes this would be a valuable resource, especially for design students who don’t often have access to letterpress even though it is an integral aspect of graphic design and typography.
The print studio is well equipped with a unique range of both vintage and new technology. The Composing Room has a plentiful supply of metal type, much of which is cast by WCBA for specific projects and to generate income, selling mainly to Australian clients. There is also a wide selection of wood type, which is a useful learning tool for visiting school groups. In Europe, wood type has been used to teach children who struggle with conventional learning styles. Wood type offers a tactile learning approach which lays down new neural pathways providing a kinaesthetic option for learning to read and write, which Tait-Jamieson is interested in exploring further for use in schools here.
The Printery is the largest room in the studio and houses an impressive collection of printing presses; an Intertype linecaster, a Heidelberg Platen, a small Albion handpress, an Arab treadle and his favourite – a Vandercook SP-15 reproduction proof press. There are also more modern machines such as a photopolymer plate maker. The Printery is only able to accommodate ten per cent of the total number of presses they have; the rest are kept off-site where they are restored and re-homed. Selling refurbished machinery and providing workshops to train new owners on how to use them is one of WCBA’s biggest income streams. There is a waiting list for presses from around the country and they have recently sent two large letterpress machines to Taiwan. The WCBA continues to source equipment whenever they can and when the printing museum in Melbourne closed, brought two containers worth of their equipment.
The final room is The Bindery, where everything was acquired from the Parliamentary bindery in the General Assembly Library, including an impressive set of bookbinding tools, a book press, foiling press, card cutter and guillotine. The last bookbinding course offered was completely sold out and more are planned for the coming year.
As a way to raise the profile of the WCBA, regular classes, workshops and activities are planned in foil blocking, calligraphy, hand-made paper and paper marbling to name a few. As well as teaching these skills, Tait-Jamieson would also like to have people trained as future teachers. When people have the skills and experience, they can lead projects to engage the wider community, further promoting the aims of the WCBA. Consequently, he has had to source some teachers from abroad who specialise in particular skills such as book restoration and conservation, which has proved challenging since the COVID-19 travel restrictions were introduced.
Another initiative to highlight the activities of the centre is to create high-quality limited-edition publications. According to Tait-Jamieson, the finest letterpress book made in New Zealand was published in 1956 by Caxton Press in Christchurch called The voyage of the Hurunui: A ballad, by D’Arcy Cresswell. Sadly, there are few letterpress studios dedicated to maintaining this standard of hand-printed books and he plans to surpass this with a publication he is currently working on about the Wairau catastrophe. Tait-Jamieson states with confidence that it will be the finest letterpress book ever made in New Zealand. He is also compiling a book of poetry as he believes fine letterpress books are well-suited for this type of publication.
With the WCBA growing rapidly since it’s inauguration in February 2020, there is less time for Tait-Jamiesonand his team of volunteers to realise all of the ever-growing number of projects they have planned. Looking forward, they hope to be able to generate enough work onsite to employ a full-time person to run the centre. The WCBA is always welcoming new members and volunteers who in exchange for their time are offered the opportunity to be given hands on experience on publishing projects and an insight into the captivating world of letterpress.
The Wellington Centre for Book Arts: