Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari – type maker, print maker

Like many people in the book arts, Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari started making books because they wanted to express themselves: Dan as a poet, and Julia as an artist and printmaker. But somewhere along the way, reality intervened, and, although they still print their own books of illustrated poetry when they can, it often seems that they spend more time working for others than on their books.

They started in Boston, where they crossed paths in Dan’s print shop when she came to apprentice and learn to print letterpress. Soon they were a couple, and soon thereafter the Boston real estate market forced them out of the city. In 1982 they settled in a town with the difficult name of Ashuelot, NH. [The word is Native American, and pronounced something like ash-wee-lot.] It’s just over the hill from the Pioneer Valley, and picturesque beyond imagination. Now real estate in town is getting pricey, but then they were able to get a large building, which serves downstairs as their type foundry and print shop and upstairs as their home.

Just before moving to Ashuelot, they had hit upon the idea of setting type to supplement their incomes while producing the books they loved. They acquired a Monotype casting machine and matrices, and started to make type for others. A few years later, they spent time at the factory in England to learn in greater detail about the machines. Dan learned the science of the casters and Julia that of the keyboard. “We know how to take them apart, adjust them, and put them back together from scratch,” explained Julia. In their heyday as type-casters they were shipping as much as three tons of metal type to clients every year. That’s down to a ton or so in recent years, but they are still keeping very busy with other projects.

For one thing, Dan is one of a handful of hand-cutters of type punches in the United States. He had the opportunity to apprentice with Christian Paput and Nelly Gable in Paris, and took it. The eventual result was the proprietary typeface of their press, called Regulus. And more recently, it has resulted in their involvement with the Parmenides project, an ambitious production of the one extant poem by Parmenides of Elea, involving the reprinting of the Greek text in a new font of Greek type called Diogenes — cut by Carr —as well as a new translation by Robert Bringhurst. Peter Koch of Berkeley is printing the whole thing from their type.

Another major client is the Limited Editions Club of New York. I was able to see a work in progress, a new poem by Maya Angelou, which they are designing and printing. And I was able to drool over The Heights of Machu Picchu, another Limited Editions Club project featuring beautiful gravure photographs by Edward Ranney with the poetry of Pablo Naruda. This was another translation project, involving parallel Spanish and English texts; by fiddling with the design, Carr was able to make the two poem blocks even in impact on each page, a remarkable achievement given the difference in actual space occupied by expression in the two languages.

When they get the chance, Dan and Julia still make their own books. I was shown the recent book Gifts of the Leaves, which combines Dan’s poetry with Julia’s etchings, and comes in a box with a letter struck in copper on the cover. It is printed in the Regulus type. [Stanford library named it one of the ten best acquisitions of the last ten years.] As Dan says, “When I set a poem in my own type, it’s in my own voice.”

“What we’ve done has been a path,” Julia says. “By finding other ways to contribute to the book arts, we have grown and learned, thereby enriching our own work.” And if appearances can be trusted, made themselves very happy in the process: a couple more relaxed and cheerful would be hard to imagine.

Golgonooza Letter Foundry and Trois Fontaines Press, 30 Main St., Ashuelot, NH 03441; 603/239-6830.

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