In the world of print, Perry is about to become the hub of culture, thanks to a generous donation to the ladies of La Poste from the Koch Brothers corporation in Des Moines, Iowa. The donation, a post World-War 2 proof press, is now located in the basement of Betsy Peterson’s art gallery, where it will be used as a teaching tool for art classes on print, as well as a visiting point for the town.
Today, the cost of a proof press is $15,000 dollars.
“To get our hands on something like this - it’s unbelievable,” Jenny Eklund, President of Art on the Prairie said.
The donor, Susan Bridgford, was looking to send the proof press off to a new home when she discovered La Poste from a mutual friend and local Minburn artist, Rick Von Holdt. Along with Von Holdt, Jan Kaiser, a mutual friend of Bridgford and Eklund, connected the two together.
“Jan got wind of it and connected us with Susan,” Eklund explained. “Jan was the key to it.”
On February 16, the donation was confirmed to be in the hands of Perry and Eklund was blown away.
Bridgford’s contribution to the Perry community is one that is both incredibly rare and generous, Eklund says.
Weighing more than 1,500 pounds, the machine was purchased by Bridgford’s father after he came home from World War 2. The press previously assisted in the process of proofing county record books.
“We have larger presses that were specifically designed to print county record books that you see in every courthouse,” Bridgford described. “In order to proofread, because letterpress is all upside down and backwards, there was a smaller press next to where they set the type so they could run out a copy and proofread it before it could be set out on the big press.”
The donation is 1948 vintage, Bridgford says.
“It was really a tool you could proof half of a form, so the big press would do a 20 x 28 sheet and this proof press is probably 14 x 19 or 20,” Bridgford said. “If you ever look at a county record book, there all the titles above the columns, so the columns are all blue and green and pink lines, and then at the top it says “fee is paid,” “amount due,” and that type of things. It was a way to proofread all of those column heads.”
The Koch Brothers corporation dates back to when Bridgford’s Grandfather, siblings, and parents immigrated to the Amana Colonies. The siblings took part in jobs involving the printing trade: a type setter, pressman, and book binder. “My Grandfather’s older brother bought the commercial printing part of one of the newspapers and so the newspaper still operated independently and my great uncle took the commercial accounts, this was in 1889,” Bridgford recounts.
The business has involved several members of the family, and continued to morph and evolve as technology advanced.
“His [Bridgford’s father] technology lasted from 1889 until the 50’s, and I mean it was 70 years, and my technology lasted from the 60’s when I was trained until the mid 80’s, and it’s been digital ever since,” Bridgford explained. “There’s not slow-development anymore, it’s changing really fast.”
Donating the machine would assist in the further education of a once drawn-out craft.
“It would be pretty easy to sell, but I loved the idea of using it as a teaching tool,” Bridgford said.
Bridgford comments the machine’s weight, accompanied by the space it needs, 3 feet by 10 feet, made her question whether or not people would be interested.
“Lots of people wanted the type or table top things that they could work in their homes, but not many people wanted 1500 pounds of presses that needed 3 feet by 10 feet.”
The machine needed a location with a lot of space, which initially moved the original location from the basement of La Poste to the basement of Betsy Peterson Designs.
“We wanted to have it behind our blue doors down there [basement of La Poste], but then our dream started exploding with workshops and then she has these oak cabinets that hold the letters and she’s donating all of that,” Eklund said. “We went to visit Eric and Betsy and said we need a spot.”
With workshops in mind, the print press will be made a feature at the Post Print Festival in December this year.
“It’s going to be a big feature for Art on the Prairie, the Art Harvest Tour, and then we have the Post print Festival in December which is the backbone of this whole thing,” Eklund explained. “All of the art featured here and over there [Betsy Peterson Designs] will all be press work on the print press and letterpress.”
Bridgford plans to visit her equipment’s new home, as further plans develop for the revival and education of the proof press.
“Not everybody is in tune to art, and I’m not looking at this as art, this is more positives for Perry,” Eklund said.