As we free fall through a post-factual era in the United States, it is more important than ever to acknowledge the power and importance of a free press in American society. We may do this through protest, we may do this by subscribing to our favorite fact-checked publication, and for a fun-filled weekend in early April, we can do this by attending Power of the Press Fest, hosted by letterpress shop Signal-Return. Throughout Signal-Return’s home base of Eastern Market, and at many points beyond, from April 5-9 there is a busy schedule of activities, workshops, readings, and sales by artists who embrace a hands-on approach to making their truth heard.
Things kick off on Wednesday, April 5th, with a special edition of the Motor Signal Reading Series, which typically takes place on the third Thursday of every month at Signal-Return, and is hosted by hosted by story artist Cornetta Lane and hip-hop artist Brent Smith. Each event involves an activity of literary co-creation between performer and audience, and the special POPF opening night event, which begins at 7pm, will feature readings by Jan Worth-Nelson, editor of East Village Magazine in Flint, as well as well-known local poet, social justice organizer, youth advocate, and educator Tawana "Honeycomb" Petty.
“Flint, Michigan has been ailing for quite some time now,” said Smith, in an email interview. “There was a time in Flint when the water was undrinkable, but it hadn't made national news. What was being said about the water crisis before Rachel Maddow covered it? Who are the water warriors of the State of Michigan? And how have these water warriors used press to get information and messages out? Jan and Tawana are both water warriors and their social justice work predates the national Flint Water Crisis story. Cornetta and I are really excited about this one!”
The following evening, the Woodward Lecture Series over at CCS will host a presentation by print media artist Lesley Dill, whose current work focuses on the idea of the wilderness in early American history and literature.
“These themes of divinity and deviltry of the time stir something deep in my New England roots,” said Dill by email. “My work remains about the marriage language and image, and I find my art in their potent combination. And now I am focusing on other writers of this time period: Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville....and especially Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
In addition to her presentation, Dill has been working with Signal-Return’s longtime resident artist Lee Marchalonis to create a special print to debut at the festival, which uses a phrase from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter—"I have learned many new secrets in the wilderness—whatever's in a word are spiritualized by unusual light"—in a work titled Hester.
“I am so happy to be making a piece that is strong, yet also speaks to spiritual poignancy,” said Dill about “giving tenderness to the times we live in now.”
The rest of the weekend features a whirlwind of demonstrations, hands-on activities, and delightful offerings from vendors whose practice is intimately connected with various analog printing technologies, such as bookmaker Shanna Leino, who recently relocated to Northern Michigan from New Hampshire. Leino will be selling some of her custom book-making tools, which developed out of her own practice.
“I accidentally became a tool maker out of necessity,” said Leino. “I wished for certain tools to fulfill a specific need while making books. I found that simply making one was the best option. As a vendor at Power of the Press Fest, I will be offering the simple hand tools I produce that artists use while making their own work.”
To get 'em started early, mother-and-daughter team Starshaped Press will be on hand, visiting from Chicago with their small presses made out of simple materials that enable relief printing (a super basic runner-up activity to letterpress) with kids at events.
“We’ll be bringing two of these to Detroit to show how easy making prints can be,” said Jen Farrell of Starshaped.
Not to be forgotten, of course, are the artists. Local printmaker and publishing powerhouse Ryan Standfest, who manages Rotland Press, will be vending during the weekend, while also opening an exhibition at Signal-Return on Friday, April 7th. This will serve as the official release of the long-anticipated Detroit Sequential No. 1, the first issue of a serialized picture newspaper edited by Standfest and published by Detroit Novelty Press.
“Detroit Sequential is AN ANTHOLOGY of comic strips by over 60 Detroit-based artists and writers, responding to the idea of the ‘daily strip’—a black-and-white horizontal sequence of four to six panels that was the format used in the comic strip pages of many American newspapers during weekday editions,” said Standfest, via email. “This is the first of several planned exhibitions to showcase the process work that led to the final comic strips—prepatory sketches, notation, discarded versions—by a selection of the contributors.”
Linocut print artist Carl Wilson will be on hand, promoting a new evolution of his print work into graphic novel form, an ongoing work titled Dead and Lost in Detroit.
“Dead and Lost in Detroit is an autoworker’s tale dealing with the suppression of the human spirit,” said Wilson in an email. In the first installment of the story, the protagonist is overwhelmed by the dissolution of his marriage occurring at the same time he begins working at a huge, dangerous, and dehumanizing auto assembly plant.” Before signing off, Wilson gave a nod to the underlying reasons that POPF represents not only fun, but a crucially important means of communication.
“In these troubling times when there is an outright attempt at censorship of the free press in this country, it’s comforting to know that Detroit artists are continuing to speak about whatever they see fit using traditional graphic print methods,” said Wilson.
For more information about Power of the Press Fest, which takes place from April 5-9 with a multitude of free public events and low-cost activities, click here.