This is the second in a two-part series about the art of letterpress. Click to see part one of Letterpress Love.
When Lance Wille wasn’t in the studio, he could be found in a shadowy corner of Vincent’s Ear with a drink, linoleum cutting tools, and a block to carve. What began as a solitary activity in a public place, quickly became a community activity, and people flocked his way to find out what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how they could get involved.
They were fascinated by the hand-carving process, and Lance was willing to share what he knew about it. Vincent’s Ear—a bar and café whose name now holds a special, nostalgic place in the hearts of locals who were passionate about subversive art, progressive community, and the underground political scene in Asheville in the late 1990s and early 2000s—was the place creative types went to meet up with likeminded people. And it was there that many important creative collaborations began.
Lance, a longtime graphic artist, learned the ropes of letterpress in 2000 with Yee-Haw Industries, a small local letterpress company founded in 1996. He learned to hand-set type through a work-trade agreement. When Lance went out on his own around 2002, The Orange Peel had just opened and, as a musician, it made perfect sense that he would find his niche creating posters for bands and printing line-ups for The Peel. Business grew and so did the community. Lance took the work-trade model he’d learned at Yee-Haw and practiced it himself, often welcoming curious folk he met at Vincent’s or around town into Tingle Alley to teach them the basics of letterpress. People were open and eager to get involved.
Collaboration was the heart of the Tingle Alley studio and warehouse space that Lance shared with his bride, Suzie Millions, who directed all the art for the young business’s print projects and really made her mark with the publication of The Complete Book of Retro Crafts. Artists got together to play music, make art, and set type, so when Hand-Cranked Letterpress was officially born in 2002, it marked the beginning of a true letterpress community in Asheville.
“Stop by Tingle Alley,” Lance said of the business when Hand-Cranked was still in the alley, “our hours are infrequent and we really don’t like to answer the phone, but there’s always good music playing and a true smoker-friendly environment.” Although the space was zoned for storage, Lance and Suzie followed the old Asheville adage, “Don’t ask permission; ask forgiveness.” They cranked up the music with their artist and musician friends on a regular basis.
“It was really the work of the ACRC (Asheville Community Resource Center) that paved the way for the type of community artist collective environment that Tingle Alley became,” Lance says. Combine the ACRC with BookWorks in West Asheville, add a lot of kitsch, and you get the Tingle Alley spot.
Lance and Suzie recently moved everything out of the Tingle Alley location after buying a house in Haw Creek, and although this has changed their lifestyles tremendously, Hand-Cranked has settled into a steady and comfortable existence that allows Lance to mostly focus on special projects for friends, bands, and events he’s passionate about.
In 2004, Vincent’s Ear and the Asheville Community Resource Center lost their leases and had to shut down, and although the loss of these community spaces was felt deeply throughout Asheville, new things were happening.
Asheville BookWorks began in 2004 as a community resource for print and books in response to the growing number of book artists and printmakers living and working in Western North Carolina. Founded by Laurie Corral, BookWorks picked up in many ways where ACRC, Vincent’s Ear, and Hand-Cranked left off, and it has become a hub for letterpress artist collaborations as well as a source for workshops taught by experienced printers, photographers, and bookbinders.
There was such a good response that after five years of business, Laurie decided to incorporate a cooperative into her business model, which encouraged the spirit of collaboration and made resources more readily available to letterpress and book artists at reasonable rates who may not have had access to all the equipment and supplies that BookWorks had to share.
Like a traditional co-op, there are membership fees, and members/shareholders often receive discounts on merchandise, classes, and services, but it’s the work-trade opportunities that make BookWorks unique. By offering opportunities for work-trade, Laurie has made learning the craft of letterpress something that is accessible to all. If you don’t have any money, but you’re willing to work and want to learn, you can do that at BookWorks.
To learn more about the services and learning opportunities Asheville BookWorks has to offer, visit AshevilleBookWorks.com. Contact Lance Wille and learn more about his business at HandCrankedLetterpress.com. If you would like to discover more letterpress artists in the area, printers not mentioned in articles I and II are listed below.
Ryan-Ashley Anderson studied Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and has a background in Fine Art. She made Asheville her home five years ago and is proud to call herself a member of a thriving craft community. Find out more at fray knot.com.