The Curwen Studio was started by the mighty Curwen Press in 1958. Stanley Jones was hired to set it up and run it, and he’s still there, as dedicated as ever to lithographic print making. Phil had the good fortune to go to the studio with the Double Crown Club yesterday.
It’s an awe-inspiring place, with a tradition and artefacts going back to the 1920s and 1930s and beyond. There was one of the plates that the Curwen Press used to print Barnett Freedman‘s illustrations of Anna Karenina; a stone on which Freedman had drawn the tools of the trade over which he had such mastery; and an Ardizzone plate, possibly for Stig of the Dump or The Otterbury Incident, we thought, but more likely a Little Tim book given the size. There are some pictures of them here.
The presses were impressive too. Sitting outside is a German proofing press from the 1920s that the Studio used for years. Metal fatigue finally took its toll, and now it is a rusting sculpture among the trees. We were shown a stone litho press that had been used by the Press for music printing. It has burn marks from the fire that followed the bombing of the Curwen Press during the Second World War. And there are two massive B1 proofing presses, made by FAG, one of whose letterpress proofers we have in Pinchin Street. Interestingly, Stanley, and Jenny Roland who is managing director of the Studio, believe that eventually the printing trade will completely move over to computer to plate, the film and plates they use will no longer be available and litho print making will revert to using stones only. Like film-setting, it’s the intermediate technologies that go, the new ones march on and the earlier ones continue as a medium for artists and craftsmen.
Stanley took us through the different ways of preparing a lithographic image, and for illustration there was a pile of proofs that included a Paul Hogarth colour separation, David Gentleman trying out different pencils and pens on sheet of exquisite figure drawings, a Paula Rego and some Henry Moores.
There are lots of wonderful prints on the walls too, as might be expected, and a plan chest where Angie Lewin shares a drawer with Bob Dylan.
Each of the group of seven was given a piece of A4 drafting film, pens, pencils, crayons, markers and scalpels with which we made their own images. They were put up together on one sheet and exposed on plate. Then we could see the magical process of the plate being developed and watched as prints were made. There was no Freedman or Gentleman present, but t we did have Ian Beck in the party, and it was a great deal of fun.