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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts

Small-Press Owner Gray Zeitz
Monterey, Kentucky

Gray Zeitz

Who Gray Zeitz’s interest in the art of printing and bookmaking began while he was a student at the University of Kentucky. As an apprentice to Carolyn Hammer at UK’s King Library Press, he learned the old-fashioned techniques of typesetting, printer operations, and materials as well as the history of printing. In 1974, he moved to Monterey, Kentucky, in Owen County, to join the burgeoning local craft community. With a small press given to him by his mentor, Mrs. Hammer, and a few sets of type, he began work on printing his first book, Bluegrass, a collection of poems by his friend Richard Taylor. Zeitz’s main goals are the publication of the best selection of contemporary Kentucky literature and the design of books that look more like original works of art than mass-produced objects. He continues to run Larkspur Press in the same old-fashioned way to this day and has produced works for numerous local, national, and international clients.

Larkspur Press is featured in Program 517 of the KET series Kentucky Life.

What “I spend my day at the press and coordinating publications with artists, authors, and other clients. I solicit manuscripts and build the design concept with the author. This includes any ideas concerning illustration, which I print using a woodblock or engraving made by another, contracted artist. I operate two early-1900s-style presses. When in the production phase, I set all the type by hand and spend most of my time readying the press. This means inking and taking care of regular maintenance, as well as the time it takes to do the actual printing. It usually takes about two years for a book to be published. From time to time I also have an apprentice working with me during the time it takes to make a book.”

When “My day usually begins at 7:30 am and ends at dusk.”

How “My biggest challenge is keeping the business going. Chances on first authors don’t always work out the way we intend. We promote our books by word of mouth and through a small newsletter that we mail to a few subscribers that lists all of our publications, so we don’t really have the same promotional resources as the big publishing companies. But the finished book is always something much more unique for our clients. We sell special editions to collectors that we construct with handmade paper and binding and that cost quite a bit more. We also sell more affordable editions to our regular customers and to bookstores throughout the country.”

Why “I began at UK, publishing a literary magazine called Handsel. I always wanted to be a publisher, and when I began working at the King Library I immediately fell in love with lead type. The whole idea of giving a work of literature a unique external beauty through design fascinated me. And when I began working with Kentucky authors, I really became interested in giving the literary work of our state a beauty all its own. Everything about this job is rewarding. It’s all fun. I couldn’t have picked a more enjoyable job. This work connects me to authors, illustrators, and other artists throughout the world, and allows me to bring the beauty of this collective work together in a finished product.”

Getting There “Patience is a necessity in this business. Whenever I take on an apprentice, their first day is spent at the table, setting type, which can be pretty tedious work. By the end of the day they know immediately if this work is for them. If you’re interested in publishing of any kind, really look at the books on the shelf—try to get a sense of their design, or even the lack of it. If you’re interested in learning about running a traditional press, there are still a few good university presses in operation, and some smaller presses take on apprentices. Working with books, especially in today’s world of publishing, it is extremely important to understand the older techniques of bookmaking. Understanding the way letters, words, and lines rest on a page has a direct effect upon the design, content, style, and experience of a work of literature. This is what separates the mass-produced copy from a fully developed idea of a book as a beautiful piece of art.”

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951