Letter perfect

Davis brothers donate printing press to Maryville College

Brothers Mike and Lee Davis donated a complete print shop to Maryville College, including their 1,800-pound Chandler & Price Letterpress, a small letterpress, approximately 48 wooden drawers full of steel-faced type, furniture to hold the drawers and paper for proofing. The equipment is housed in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Print Shop.

Brothers Mike and Lee Davis donated a complete print shop to Maryville College, including their 1,800-pound Chandler & Price Letterpress, a small letterpress, approximately 48 wooden drawers full of steel-faced type, furniture to hold the drawers and paper for proofing. The equipment is housed in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Print Shop.

The 1,800-pound Chandler & Price Letterpress was moved to campus on Tuesday. It took six men and a medium-duty wrecker to move the heavy letterpress.

The 1,800-pound Chandler & Price Letterpress was moved to campus on Tuesday. It took six men and a medium-duty wrecker to move the heavy letterpress.

Brothers Mike and Lee Davis have spent the last 10 years looking for the perfect home for their 1,800-pound Chandler & Price Letterpress and print shop.

Now they’ve found it.

The Davis brothers have donated their complete print shop, including the press, to Maryville College. It is housed in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Print Shop.

“As we all grow older, we have assets we would like to see preserved but can’t take with us,” said Mike Davis, a Maryville resident. “The timing was right, and we’re glad to find a home for it where it will be appreciated.”

The print shop includes “everything but the ink,” Mike Davis said. In addition to the Chandler & Price Letterpress, which was made in the early 1900s, the Davis brothers have donated a small letterpress, approximately 48 wooden drawers full of steel-faced type, furniture to hold the drawers, as well as paper for proofing.

“The new Chandler & Price Letterpress will be a wonderful addition to the Maryville College Art Department,” said Adrienne Schwarte, assistant professor of art at Maryville College. “It will provide an opportunity for students in all specialties of art to use it for creative production, but especially the graphic design students who study the subject of typography.”

Mark Hall, chair of the Division of Fine Arts at Maryville College, said that many schools have print studios, but “few have the letterpress capability that this will give us.”

“We are all excited about the potential,” Hall said. “We’ve dreamed about having something like this but thought we’d have to do it in stages.”

The print shop was moved to campus Tuesday morning. It took six men - and a medium-duty wrecker - to move the heavy letterpress, and several truckloads moved the rest of the equipment. Airport Motor Mile Wrecker Service supplied the truck and moved the letterpress free of charge.

Mike and Lee Davis said it was an easy decision to donate the print shop to the College, where their family has strong ties. Lee Davis, who now lives in Oregon, taught in the College’s English Department for six years. Their late mother, Connie, taught physical education at the College, and their father, Carle, served as chairman of the College’s Board of Directors. Mike Davis’ wife, Ibby, attended Maryville College and served on the Alumni Board, and their son, Todd, graduated from Maryville College in 2000. Ibby Davis’ parents, the late Ed and Elizabeth Shelley, both graduated from the College in 1931, and Ed Shelley served on the board.

“My hope is for students to have an opportunity to work with a technology that has all but disappeared but also has the possibility of being an art form,” Lee Davis said. “It’s exciting to think that students will be able to work in a medium other than electronic.”

Mike and Lee Davis acquired the equipment in 1960, when they were teenagers in Pittsburgh, Pa. Their father, Carle Davis, met a widow who was selling some of her husband’s printing equipment. He bought the equipment, because he was looking for a project to work on with his sons, Lee Davis said.

Soon their interest in printing became a fun hobby - and a lucrative business, called Davis Brothers Printing. The brothers spent evenings after school printing tickets, letterheads, cards, posters, and prom and church programs, among other things. In 1964, when their family moved to East Tennessee, the print shop - and the business - came with them.

The brothers have not used the press in years, but Schwarte is excited about putting it to use quickly. She said the press will be used within the College’s art curriculum, specifically in ART 349: Introduction to Typography, which will be offered in the Spring.

“This course explores the history of the visual letterform, font technology, anatomy of type, and how to use type in various layouts and visual formats to create dynamic, clear and organized written visual language,” she said. “As students study topics such as leading, alignments, punctuation, kerning, tracking, legibility and readability, the press will give them an opportunity to learn in an experiential approach about these topics and their origins through the traditional typesetting process, compared to the digital format they engage in today. It will reinforce the rules of typography and also the beautiful aesthetic of this art form.”

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