Ashlanders: Cathy DeForest

Cathy DeForest is having a grand time balancing the multiple worlds of art that she loves so much. She is one of a rare breed of letterpress printmakers, who still painstakingly sets metal or wooden type blocks by hand to roll out individual sheets of prose and poetry.

She is also owner of Gallery DeForest, which was a popular downtown destination for art lovers until November 2008. Rather than closing up shop entirely, she moved her gallery from its brick-and-mortar location to the Internet.

"It's the best of everything," DeForest said. "I still have a gallery, but now I can work at home in my studio, focus on my art and spend time with my family,"

DeForest is also a visual artist and photographer. She delights in creating art from the unexpected, often inspired by found objects and nature, working with range of media. She spoke with the Daily Tidings recently about her work, including the letter-pressed broadsides she makes every year for the Chautauqua Poets & Writers literary events.

DT: How long have you lived in Ashland?

CD: About nine years.

DT: What brought you here?

CD: I moved to Ashland because I wanted to be in this particular artistic community, do my work and bring my family to a place that is so peaceful and conscious. And I needed a home for my 1,200-pound printing press.

DT: What are you working on now?

CD: I'm very interested in artists books. Basically, they're original works of art made into books. I came to them through my photography, poetry and etchings. I've also been doing a lot of work with found objects, incorporating art, poetry, natural objects into them.

DT: Where do you find the objects?

CD: Everywhere: antique stores, flea markets, yard sales, just poking around anywhere I happen to come across things. My son Derek did a project with some antique toasters he found. He wrote and printed the text that flips out of the toaster. It's a satire about a toaster running for president.

DT: Talk about the art class you took to Florence, Italy.

CD: In August, I went to Florence with seven other artists. It was wonderful. The artist, Dan Welden, invited us — Mary Laird and me — to be part of his workshop faculty at Santa Reparata International School of Art, where we taught a course on creating artist books. I learned just as much as I taught. The women taking the course were creating such amazing, personal work. That's a big thing for me: to make books from the inside out. It's more important than structures or binding.

DT: What do you like about letter press work?

CD: It's very process-oriented. I love the tradition, the old tools and methods. The letter press dates from the time of Gutenberg and I love bringing back the craft of 500 years ago.

DT: Is there, in this digital age, still much interest in letterpress printing?

CD: Oh yes, definitely. I think the more digital we become, the more people are online or texting or on Facebook, the less connected we really are. There is a yearning for real connections, to speak in this old way, with our hands. It's a kind of yearning for beauty and for doing it ourselves. These etchings and letter-pressed poems will last beyond us. The work these artists create will speak about each of them.

DT: Tell us about the letter-pressed broadsides.

CD: The tradition of doing letterpress with poems is very strong. Especially in the U.S., (the poet Lawrence) Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books come to mind. But it is a strong tradition all over the world. We've done them for local poets and fundraisers. The Chautauqua events are special. I donate my time to do this because I think sharing these writers with students and the community is important. I like that people often put the Chautauqua broadsides up in their home. It's like the poetry reading lives on.

DT: How do you set type for a broadside?

CD: For some, we use the wooden blocks and lock each one of them together. Others we use metal type, but it would take so much type the room would be filled. For the Chautauqua poems and large editions, I send the digital image to a large printer in New York and they send me a plate with the digital type on it.

DT: How do you decide on a design?

CD: For the upcoming Chautauqua reading I worked with a designer, Susan Rouzie, and Patty Wixon, who's on the Chautauqua board. Patty chose the Mark Doty poem and Susan designed the image to go with it. I think it's intriguing. The poem is about the Twin Towers. We want the poem to be predominant but we want the image, in this case the towers, to enhance it. I mixed the ink specifically for the poem. He talks about the color blue, so I wanted the blue to be in the broadside. I hope he likes it. I always hold my breath a little with the Chautauqua poets because I'm not working with them as I would if it were someone local. So far they've all been happy.

DT: Why are they called broadsides?

CD: Before there were newspapers and before everyone had access to books, announcements, events and poems were printed on single sheets of paper and traditionally pasted on the broad side of a building or barn.

DT: What is your next project?

CD: I'm taking some time to dream and think. I want to work more with what I did in Florence and I want to work with found objects.

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