Jenny Wilkson on the Wayzgoose Letterpress Event

The Wayzgoose is an annual festival that celebrates letterpress printing. Now in its eleventh year, the Wayzgoose will be held in the parking lot outside the School of Visual Concepts in South Lake Union on Saturday, Aug. 25. Organizer, printer and teacher Jenny Wilkson spoke with us about the origins of the Wayzgoose, building a letterpress community and the Steamroller Smackdown.

How did the Wayzgoose get started? 

We threw a Wayzgoose the very first year we started offering letterpress classes, 2002. That first year, I wanted to get the word out about the new letterpress program at the School of Visual Concepts (the first teaching shop open to the public in Seattle) as well as build buzz about the local letterpress printing community. The first Wayzgoose included an invitational gallery show featuring printers from all over the region. It was a way to let Seattle know that letterpress printing is still happening all around them, that it’s not a dying art by any means. 

How has the Wayzgoose changed over the years?

The spirit of the Wayzgoose hasn’t changed—it’s still a community-building event, a way for local letterpress printers to gain exposure and a come-one come-all open house for SVC’s letterpress shop. It has gotten progressively bigger and crazier; what used to be a low-key gathering of savvy typophiles has morphed into a three-ring circus requiring months of planning and dozens of volunteers. The addition of the Steamroller Smackdown a few years ago—where we invited local artists and designers to print giant posters in the parking lot using a huge asphalt roller as a printing press—is what made it really explode in popularity. We’ve also added an Equipment Swap and a Letterpress Marketplace as a way to engage and support local letterpress printers. It’s free for them to have a table, and they can use the event to self-promote and sell their hand-printed goods. 

Are there attendees who’ve never printed anything before?

Absolutely. Many are drawn to the performance art aspect of the Steamroller Smackdown. Word has also gotten out about the Equipment Swap as an excellent place to score printer-to-printer prices on presses and lead type. But everyone, whether or not they’ve ever heard of a letterpress, has the opportunity to get up close and personal with one up in the SVC letterpress shop as they print a free keepsake. 

Do you see letterpress printing’s popularity growing in response to our computerized world?

It’s remarkable that something so labor intensive is gaining in popularity when we can all just hit print on our desktop computers. Letterpress printing has a lot going for it: beautiful antique equipment, sensuous tactility, evocative machine sounds and inky smells. It’s satisfying on many levels. Since becoming the darling of the graphic design set, it’s evolved into so much more than a form of reproduction. It’s an art with many subcultures and subtleties. There’s something for everyone: It can be luxe, delicate and high-craft, or bold, funky and low-brow.

Does a letterpress community form out of the need for handmade printed materials?

I wouldn’t say the community has formed out of a need for handmade printed materials, because frankly many printers don’t even make a profit on their labor. Rather, a community is formed out of a need to create handmade printed materials. A community is formed when printers reach out to other printers and take the time to educate themselves and others so that the knowledge of the craft is passed on and survives another generation.