Working with Joe Green on the OA Caster at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry


Setting up the Orphan Annie to cast type at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry


Pantograph practice (on sign board) at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry


Monotype Ornament Prints in progress at Stumptown Printers


Working on the Vandercook SP-15, using my favorite tool (a Make-Up Rule) at Stumptown Printers

Studio tour with Rebecca Gilbert (Local 503 Shop FP)


Rebecca Gilbert is a co-owner/operator at Stumptown Printers Worker Cooperative, and an active Board member at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry non-profit working museum. She is a founding member and former Executive Director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) in Portland, Oregon. She has taught workshops on letterpress printing, book making and zine publishing at universities, colleges, primary & secondary schools and info centers around the United States. Rebecca Gilbert holds a BA degree from Pacific Northwest College of Art and a certificate for hot metal typecasting from Monotype University. She is also an avid urban gardener and beekeeper, a beginning sailor, and an enthusiastic camper & bicyclist.

What do you consider your impractical labor?

I think that I am slowly accepting that most of my labor is impractical in the traditional sense — most of my time is spent doing work that can be done more efficiently or exactly some other way. I waiver between being satisfied with that and feeling that I have wasted an opportunity to capitalize financially on my hours of hard work.

Why do you do it?

I am interested in problem solving in a physical way, and working with the limitations of metal type for letterpress printing appeals to me because of that. The production and composition of the characters and the process of printing itself all require precision to be done well. I struggle with the patience to practice with preciseness, so I continue to challenge myself & to learn through the experience.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished some new broadsides made from ornaments that I cast at the C.C. Stern Type Foundry during open museum hours there. I have a couple more ideas in the works following this same format. The project evolved out of a desire to get to know how the Orphan Annie sorts caster works, so I set up the parameters to cast only with the 18pt mould, working through the collection of ornament matrices in the collection. My idea is that by casting the ornaments first I’d familiarize myself with all the adjustments for set widths & alignment, pump & nozzle, etc. as well as have hours on the machine to discover the “ins and outs” before I move on to casting some 18pt. type. As it turns out, I really only have 3–5 hours a month to work on the machine so it’s been over two years now that I’ve just been casting ornaments! It is extremely satisfying to print from the freshly cast metal, though.

I always am tinkering on more than I can actually complete, seeing as how I work full time+ and also love to garden. I like to have a list, and these are top on it currently: I’m practicing engraving with very rudimentary patterns using the Gorton Pantograph, recording & transcribing oral histories related to work in the printing & typecasting field (focused on Portland, OR), gathering data for another set of prints related to honey bee colonies, collaborating with a stop-motion animator on a letterpress animation project, and scheming about starting some kind of journal or zine again.

How did you begin?

I started into printing from an interest in publishing, and a desire to have the means of producing my own media. As a teenager, I was active in the punk community of the late 80’s and early 1990’s and found a voice in the ethics of DIY and through zines. Over time I became curious about other methods of reproduction besides photocopying & screen printing, and pursued learning letterpress printing in the mid 90’s. I was really drawn to the physical type form, and the process of working with ink, paper and presses, and I managed to find part-time work at a small design and print studio for a few years. I eventually opened a shop in 1999 with my partners, Brian & Eric, who were interested in the commercial craft of printing (both offset and letterpress), and who had a commitment to a cooperative workplace model. In a quest to continue building skills beyond those we need for running a small business, I also wanted to learn about how to make metal type, intrigued by type designers throughout history & interested in preserving the knowledge to some degree. I was lucky enough to attend Monotype University (facilitated by Rich Hopkins of Hill & Dale Private Press) in 2002, and now continue to study typecasting in addition to letterpress printing.

In what ways does your practice connect you with other people, a community, the world? Is this important to you?

I love to work alone, but also find great pleasure in the dialogue with others. In my life, I have always searched for collaborators with which to publish zines, run a business, establish non-profit organizations, and to exchange projects with. The connections are of varying lengths — some a few hours, others have lasted for more than half my lifetime. As letterpress printing continues to gain in popularity, and shift in focus, I find an ever greater tie to the printers who are committed to working with metal type and find the labor of that satisfying. In many cases, I would say that the people who are into metal type also started printing because of a desire to publish either their own or other people’s work not necessarily to start a profitable line of products.

Of course, print as a medium has both a connection to an artistic community and then in a larger context as a purveyor of information. The importance of that cannot be underestimated, really. Though so much information is now catalogued in a digital/on-screen form, from the early days of print technology the production of literature, scientific manuals, official documents, history books, religious tracts, etc. have ultimately connected us to one another across continents. I find that very inspiring, and I do think that there is something very powerful about the ink on paper version of the printed word that holds a deep seated value for most people.

The importance of a connection with a broader world was set out early for me by my parents and their community of friends in rural Vermont, and I don’t know that I have ever lost the sense of pleasure of experiencing that whether an exchange through a written/printed form or directly person-to-person.

What sustains you?

Living as both student and teacher simultaneously, within a community of others who are exploring the same is a big part of what keeps me going. The sense of historical context for printing, and the occasional magical moment where I get deep enough into my practice that I transcend time and just focus on the moments that I am actually experiencing are the ones I strive for.

What questions are you grappling with?

When I started into printing, I was using the skills related to publishing as community organizing & empowerment tools, particularly for youth who felt disempowered by their situations. Gradually, my print work has become mostly about earning a living and less about encouraging the addition of unheard voices to the subjective histories of our era. I sometimes struggle with feeling like my efforts at educating myself and others about the printing, and my current print practice, lack a larger useful purpose in terms of building a more healthy world.

You can reach Rebecca at Local 503 Shop FP.

Are you an ILSSA member who would like to be interviewed? Please email us at markdown at impractical-labor.org.