Sometimes a great notion takes on a life of its own.
Such is the case of “Maple & Lead,” a new book that holds its coming-out party at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Holter Museum of Art.
Festivities include meeting the book and its creators, Aaron Parrett and Seth Roby, as well as enjoying live music by Steve Laster and John Dendy while you sip beer or wine.
The vision to create this letterpress book was so vast it required Aaron Parrett and his Territorial Press to move into a new building this past year, so it could hold a larger printing press than his previous shop on Rodney Street.
“Maple & Lead” merges bookmaking and art.
The book made by letterpress uses relief printing, which presses the lettering and illustrations into each page.
It is both beautiful to look at and immediately engaging as you turn the pages and read the words.
All were written by Parrett.
“These are all short stories I wrote over the past 15 years” that were published in a variety of publications, he said.
The illustrations are striking woodblock prints by Helena artist Seth Roby.
Printing was limited to 100 copies.
The book prices range from $100 to $300 depending on whether it’s an artist’s proof, a handbound hardcover copy or a professionally bound one.
Parrett sent the stories to Roby, who took his own artistic liberties in creating the woodblock prints to illustrate the book.
“I wanted them to have my own personality,” Roby said.
In the day of the e-Book, Parrett and Roby are decidedly veering off into a different place and time -- one where making a book engages the whole mind and body, from creating the polymer plate, to running the pages multiple times through the press to add different ink colors and yet another time to add a woodcut print to a page.
And then there’s also folding the printed pages, punching holes into the paper and then sewing the binding.
“This is not a commercial enterprise,” said Parrett. “It’s an art.”
He also admits, “It’s an obsession that makes no sense.”
He estimates he’s lucky if he’ll make 25 cents per hour once the books are sold.
No doubt that’s why he calls the Territorial Press “largely a philosophical enterprise.”
“Letterpress was actually the way people printed until 1975, when everything went to offset,” said Parrett. “Then letterpress became obsolete.”
“In the past 15 years there’s been a resurgence of letterpress in the art market.”
He admits it’s a “ridiculously expensive” way to make a book. “It’s book as art object.”
Parrett just returned from the Codex Book Fair, where letterpress books were selling for $5,000 to $6,000 to up to $25,000.
Being pragmatic and grounded in Helena’s financial reality, Parrett and Roby are also offering a paperback version of their book for $20.
“Maple & Lead,” which was produced on Parrett’s newer Vandercook Press, is actually much less labor intensive than Parrett’s other printing jobs -- 95 percent of which are done with handset wood and metal type on his C&P platen press.
This was the type of printing Parrett was doing in his hole-in-the-wall shop on Rodney Street, where he was interviewed by the Independent Record in January of 2016, and continues to do for a number of small jobs.
Hand-setting type was just totally impractical for printing a book of 70,000 words, he said.
Besides collaborating on books, Roby and Parrett also lead other lives.
Roby is an artist and teaches art as an adjunct faculty member at Carroll College and Helena College.
Parrett teaches English at the University of Providence, formerly the University of Great Falls. He’s written short stories and nonfiction books and is a musician in the band, Balled in Burlap.
Copies of the paperback book are also available at Montana Book & Toy Company, where they will hold a book signing this fall.
“Maple & Lead” is more than an arts book -- it’s an embodiment of community. It and the new Territorial Press print shop hidden away in a back alley off Front Street would never have happened without community support, say Roby and Parrett.
To reach them about printing or book ideas visit the Territorial Press website at https://www.territorialpress.com/.