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Learning by book and by hand

Carl Montford, Photo by Eric Shalit

It started with an Idaho potato. “With my cut-in-half potato, I think I carved a star. There was an inkpad and that was my first print.”

Wood engraver, print press artist and teacher, Carl Montford is entirely self-taught. From his potato prints in elementary school, Carl ventured into commercial printing. He worked for his town’s local newspaper as a teen, melting down lead for Linotype slugs. From that job forward, “ink was in my veins,” he said.

Yet, as an adult, Carl worked as a design engineer for Boeing. He spent long hours in dark rooms, on projects such as the B-2 Bomber and other top secret work in Boeing’s defense department. There was little time for anything else.

When he finally did find time to pursue his passion, Carl turned to his local library to find information on wood engraving and letterpress technique. “This is way before the internet, so I relied on the library. I got most of my book learning there.”

With books and practice, Carl’s work progressed. One workday, he took a long lunch to check out an equipment sale at a print shop. He didn’t find anything to add to his collection of printing and engraving tools but he did meet a fellow printing enthusiast. His new acquaintance invited him to attend a meeting of the Book Arts Guild, a group hosted by the University of Washington Libraries Book Arts and Rare Book Curator, Sandra Kroupa. Through the Book Arts Guild, Carl met his artistic cohort, “the rest is history.”

Today, Carl is an active member of the book arts, letterpress and wood engraving communities. His creations are wide ranging, from a limited run print of the Allen Library commissioned for Paul Allen to printed images designed to accompany the poetry of patients at Children’s Hospital. In his home, turned workshop, he has 23 operable presses.

In 2010, he donated a Reliance Iron Handpress to the UW Libraries, the only operable press of its kind at the University of Washington. With Carl’s donation, students learn through step-by-step demonstration how the very first books would have been made. In Carl’s own collection, his iron hand press is his favorite. “It’s the most creative. Every single step is by hand. It’s very aptly named.”

Montford 2, Photo by Eric Shalit

Reliance Iron Handpress 1

Montford 1, Photo by Eric Shalit