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UMM's Vinzani collaborates on broadside with Virginia University

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MACHIAS -- UMM's Book Arts maestro, Bernie Vinzani, has collaborated with Longwood University of Virginia, to print a limited-edition handmade letterpress broadside, which includes original poetry by Vinzani. The 100-edition broadside was used as a major fundraiser for Hand Papermaking Journal, and included book arts students from both UMM and Longwood.

Vinzani has taught various art courses, book arts and papermaking at UMM since 1992. He also manages the university's art collection and the art gallery in Powers Hall.

'Bernie is well known for his papermaking skills, which fortunately he's passing on to his students. It's a tradition that has almost died out,' said Kerri Cushman, associate professor of art at Longwood and a sculptural book artist who teaches papermaking, bookbinding and letterpress printing.

Broadsides, historically poster-like announcements or advertisements, are popular these days among smaller printers and publishers as a fine art variant. Typically they consist of an image and text, such as a poem or quotation, and are meant be framed and hung on a wall.

Letterpress printing generally started becoming out-of-date in the 1950s with the rise of offset printing but has been revived as a craft art form, often being used for fine art and stationery. Hand papermaking, in which paper traditionally is fashioned from cotton fibers from rags, also has been reborn as an art form.

'It's considered an honor to be asked to do this,' said Cushman.

The 12-by-18-inch broadside features a watermark image and a poem by Vinzani, who coordinates the book arts program at the University of Maine at Machias. The broadside is double-layered, with a white sheet backed by a thicker gray sheet. Each is individually numbered and signed by Cushman and Vinzani, who has made paper since the mid-1970s.

The image on the broadside was redrawn from a diagram in the 1929 book 'Modern Papermaking.' The poem, 'From the Silk Road,' in embossed text, was inspired by a trip Vinzani took to Xian, China, where papermaking originated and the Silk Road begins.

The work at Longwood, which took about two weeks, began in early November after Vinzani sent unprinted sheets. The broadsides were printed in the letterpress studio in Bedford Hall, which has four letterpress presses and supports the book arts and printmaking concentration. The presses are used for announcements, wedding invitations, honorary diplomas and the broadsides for the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, which Cushman has printed for several years.

'We're really lucky. Not many schools have something like this,' said Cushman. 'We have one of the best papermaking facilities in the country. We can do the entire process here, from making paper to printing on it. A lot of creative work comes out of here.'

Three of the presses are Vandercook #4 printers, the most popular model of letterpress press manufactured by the now-defunct company that dominated the 20th-century proof press industry. The other printer is a Vandercook SP20, which is similar and slightly larger.

'These presses are probably from the 1950s. When printing started changing in the 1990s, these presses were being sold for scrap metal,' said Cushman.

Like Cushman on the printing end, Vinzani involved students in the papermaking. 'This was an interesting collaboration of two universities, which is rare and which I like,' he said. 'The students at both schools gained valuable experience. Between us, I think we came up with a beautiful broadside.'

One unusual feature of this broadside is its watermark, which is like the papermaker's invisible signature and is made by varying the paper's thickness. Usually the watermark is small and in a corner; Vinzani made the image the watermark.

In addition to the broadside's role in the organization's fundraising campaign, it also promotes the art of papermaking, said Cushman, a member of the governing board of directors of Hand Papermaking. This is the seventh year for the broadside.

Vinzani was also named to the Board of Directors of Hand Papermaking, which is housed in College Park, Maryland.

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