Katherine Case’s letterpress prints are available at Riverside Studios in Truckee, about an hour east of Auburn.
After years of practice, Reno poet and letterpress artist Katherine Case has become adept at bringing together the worlds she loves: art, letterpress, words, and wilderness.
Case, who has flyaway hair the color of apricots and speaks with a hint of Wisconsin accent, spoke recently of her discovery of letterpress printing.
While earning an art degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Case always felt drawn to text as well as imagery.
“In school I felt I was being forced to choose between art and creative writing,” she said.
When applying to graduate schools, she was thrilled to discover Mills College’s book arts program, though she wasn’t quite sure what it was all about.
“I’d never heard of book arts,” Case said, “But I thought it just might be my thing.”
She took every book arts class available at the Oakland campus.
“I was finally able to bring together my work as a visual artist and my work with words,” she said. “It really clicked with me.”
Wood block letterpress became popular in Japan in the 12th century. It involves carving an image into a piece of wood, covering it in ink and pressing it onto a piece of paper. For a variety of colors or nuanced details the printer removes the block, cleans it, inks it with new color and presses it again. It may take several blocks to create one complete image. The final block – known as the key block – is usually black and adds detail to the piece.
The process gained popularity in the U.S. in the 30s and 40s, Case said.
Pablo Picasso was one of the first artists to use a linoleum block in place of wood, the process that Case uses today.
“Linoleum cuts have always retained their association with the hardware store,” Case said. “They’ve struggled to be seen as a fine art, but in the last 10 years it’s really turned a corner.”
What’s unique about Case’s letterpress prints is that she incorporates patterns influenced by the traditional African fabrics she found while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Ghana.
Currently, she combines those patterns with images of wildlife she finds in her own back yard in Reno – coyotes, quail and pinyon jays, for example.
Case moved to the area with her family and her antique Vandercook press nearly six years ago and started her own business, Meridian Press.
“When we first pulled up to the house in our moving truck, two red-tailed hawks flew really close to us, and I thought it was a good sign,” Case said. “It turns out this place is filled with birds. Birds of the High Sierra, Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin are all kind of mingling in Reno.”
Case was inspired. Her first series in her new home was prints of local birds. Now she’s moved onto the landscape of the Sierra Nevada with a focus on the most resilient wildlife, those that cohabitate with humans.
“The Sierra Nevada needs more attention and appreciation,” she said. “We have a great ecosystem here.”
For more information about Case's poetry and art, visit http://meridianletterpress.com.