A moring with 'The Indiana Kid'

Susan Smith Pruchnicki


Editor’s note: Caxtonian Pruchnicki is an artist and the proprietor of Bronte Press, who produces miniature books by letterpress in her delightful shop, Ancient Oaks, in Bourbonnaise, IL. We welcome her piece here on James Weygand, another miniature book publisher.

A

n interest in meeting James Weygald was aroused by two miniature book titles from the Press of the Indiana Kid: Bewick and Rockne. I own two original Bewick wood engraving blocks and my uncle, Maurice “Clipper” Smith, was a football star at Notre Dame University under Knute Rockne. I had read about the Weygand books but had never met the publisher or seen any of his books. I was curious.

After a phone talk with James and, then, his English wife Joyce, a date for a visit was fixed. Weygand’s hometown, Napanee, IN, is surrounded by Amish farms with rambling homesteads, old-fashioned barns, cows, horses, and buggies — a community of distinction.

The day of our visit, an April day, was breezy and sunny; the trees were lacy with burgeoning leaves.

The Weygand white clapboard house with sage green shutters looked spring-like with a tree in blossom just to the left of the front door. Though Mr. Weygand had sustained a stroke in January 2002, he greeted us at the door. He and his wife, who hails from England’s Newcastle on Tyne, welcomed us to their home.

We immediately noticed framed pictures of scenic subjects on the fireplace mantel. These intricate works were in needlepoint. A needle-point map of Northumberland, done by Joyce, hung on the wall. Joyce pointed out the town from which she came, brought us books of photographs of Newcastle, and, in a lively manner, drew our attention to St. Nicholas Cathedral, in which she had been baptized, as well as a statue of Earl Grey, the tea merchant. She told us of visiting the haunts of wood engraver Thomas Bewick, who lived at Cherryburn and had a shop in Newcastle at “Amen Corner.”

Joyce was a widow with two children when she and James met on a cruise. She lived at Corbridge in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall. They were married in 1976.

In English fashion, Joyce made tea, and we enjoyed it from porcelain cups, which she said had an interesting history also. They were the first tea cups she had bought when she began teaching school. At first, her subject was domestic science, but later, she taught math, needlepoint, and music.

When we talked about the recent death of Queen Mum of England, at the age of 101, Joyce recalled standing outdoors in the cold with a row of students, who lined the road on which King George and Queen Elizabeth were passing. Joyce vividly recalls the Queen’s vigorous tapping of the King’s shoulder and insisting that the King step back from the car and walkover to greet each chilled child. From that day, Joyce thought highly of her queen.

We could have talked England and English places for hours, when my companion, husband Paul, suggested we see the miniatures. James then showed us into his book-filled study, where an elaborate box housed his miniatures. Seated in a chair near the bookcase lined with much larger, thinnish books with paper label titles, I found a book published by Phillip Hagreen, an English craftsman who worked with the famous English artist and type-designing sculpture, Eric Gill. Many of the Weygand books were printed on esthetically-textured, hand-made papers with cockled deckle edges. The paper suggest a homespun charm of bygone days, even as the design of the books, the type font and the timeless technical skill were exceptional. The fonts were not familiar to me but fit the subject and content perfectly. In examining the miniature books, I noted the brief colophons did not mention the name of the font or the point size of the type.

James and I talked about the illustrator and printer Valenti Angelo; we chatted about the Plantin Moretus Museum of Printing in Antwerp and, naturally, of the Gutenberg Museum.

After my perusal of the miniatures, a swap was made: three of my letterpress printed books for three of his — the Bewick and Rockne in particular. Joyce immediately told us that the Rockne title was not about the coach but rather about a member of the famed “Four Horsemen” of the immortal Notre Dame team. James, as a student, fortunately fell into a stroll across the domed campus with a teacher he did not know. The two had an absorbing exchange, and James learned only later that the professor was Elmer Layden, one of the illustrious Horsemen. After James sent a copy of his Rockne to President Ronald Reagan, who played the role of George Gipp in the Rockne motion picture, the President sent a signed thank-you note, which is now framed and hanging in a prominent place in the Weygand home.

Feeling our visit might be tiring James, Paul and I left, promising to write. Joyce told us she never writes. She has discovered a way to call England and Australia for less than the per-minute charge of calling Elkhart in Indiana!

On reflection, Weygand’s miniature books display a light wit, clever use of materials, and excellent printing above all: every part in proportion.

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