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Ellicottville Students Mind their Ps and Qs

By Louisa Benatovich

ECS Student Reporter

On Thursday, April 19, Ellicottville Central School’s ESPRA (Ellicottville Students Preserving the Reading of America) Club visited another acronymic organization. WNYBAC, or the Western New York Book Arts Center, is a group of craftsmen and artisans dedicated to the preservation and love of the art of book-making. Located on Washington St. in Buffalo, WNYBAC’s quaint storefront doesn’t even begin to reveal the magic going on inside.

The smell is what hit us first: ink and old wood. The basement was full of old-fashioned printing presses, the kind where you painstakingly place each letter of type and roll the paper through.

Rosemary Williams, WNYBAC’s program director, explained every step in the printing process and taught us typesetter lingo. The little letter blocks are called sorts, and the big, organized boxes of them are called California job cases, though no one knew the history of the term. We learned the reason behind the saying “mind your Ps and Qs,” for those are the letters most confused by typesetters. ESPRA agreed that the saying should be changed to “mind your Bs, Ds, Ps, and Qs” because as we were challenged to sort the letters back into the job case, they all looked the same.

After we became acquainted with the process, it was finally time to use the printing press.  “So many books, so little time”, a quote by Frank Zappa, had been set in the press prior to our arrival, and ESPRA chose a vibrant blue ink mixed with yellow to print onto the paper. In the process, we learned about pica, the printer’s measurement unit of choice. (It’s about 1/6 of an inch).

As the ink mesmerizingly spread across the rollers, we took a look around the basement. Many posters and book pages were set up across the room. Some sorts were smaller than half my pinky nail! Ginna Hensel, ESPRA’S co-president loved learning about the printing process. “With all of the mainstream technology infiltrating our lives, a step back to observe and preserve the love of books and bookmaking was the most refreshing thing I’ve done this year!”

ESPRA didn’t stop there, however. We decided to get down to the nitty-gritty, expose the roots of bookmaking…literally. We learned how to make real paper. Janna Willoughby-Loehr, the artist behind Papercraft Miracles, is WNYBAC’s papermaking instructor. She showed us that the art of papercraft was a simple, soothing pastime, and even let us put our hands directly into her pulp bucket. The sensation can only be described as touching a cloud. We mixed glitter, ferns, and old paper scraps into the pulp, then strained and placed our very own custom sheets of beautiful paper onto felt. Willoughby-Loehr then brought our paper back to her studio to press and dry them. ESPRA will be receiving our handmade paper shortly in the mail.

ECS student Meganne Chapman was very taken with the papermaking experience. “The pulp was a weird soggy texture,” she said, “but the process of paper-making felt relaxing and therapeutic. I had such a fun time.”

Sophomore Megan Hartsell loved the whole trip. “When can we go back?” she asked.

Holly Richardson, the club’s advisor, was ecstatic with the success of the field trip. “WNYBAC’s dedication to the preservation of the written word is admirable,” the Ellicottville English teacher said. “Using a 1930s printing press and creating handmade paper are experiences that don’t happen in a typical classroom. Field trips like these are invaluable in the education of a well-rounded student.”

As we sat on the bus ride home, picking bits of dried pulp off our fingers and comparing souvenirs from the gift shop, Becky Nannen was thoughtful. “The love of books is not only about what is in them,” said the English teacher and avid bibliophile, “it’s about their history and physical qualities as well. Today we were able to celebrate all three of these when we visited the Western New York Book Arts Center.” The WNYBAC experience is a trip ESPRA will never forget.

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