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Hutch couple giving new life to printing press

Published on -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

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HUTCHINSON (MCT) — Louisiana has New Orleans, aka The Big Easy, but Hutchinson is home to The Big Nasty Press.
Tucked away in the basement of 211 W. Ninth Ave., beneath a main level filled with antique and retro furniture, homemade mosaics crafted from shards of broken and discarded ceramics, and other small collections of items is Scott Brown's prized discovery.
Named after his Labrador, Hank, which he owned for 15 years and throughout his graduate studies at Wichita State University, Brown and his wife, Michele, discovered a small, vintage Line-O-Scribe printing press -- originally used by Long's of Hutchinson to create advertisements, they later learned -- in the back room of a second-hand store about 2 1/2  years ago. Ever since, the couple has been using the machine as an outlet for their creative tendencies.
"I always told myself, if I had a press, it'd be The Big Nasty Press," said Scott Brown, a print maker by trade. "Hank was nasty. He kind of became The Big Nasty over the years."
As is their habit, the Browns have been using the old, cast-off machine to create new works of art, printed under the banner of The Big Nasty Press. Their latest is "50/50," a trade portfolio featuring the collaborative efforts of 11 area artists and 12 regional writers -- all published, including former Kansas poet laureates Denise Low and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, plus Wyatt Townley, who currently holds the title.
The piece is a follow-up to their 2013 creation, "Introduction," a collection of 11 original artworks paired with a short message from the artist. In "50/50," writers were asked to compose a short poem, for which an artist was then tasked with creating an accompanying image by carving it out of a block of linoleum to be used in the final letterpress print.
"We just kind of immediately latched onto this idea," Scott Brown said of working with other creative minds to create a broader piece of art that could be shared, rather than hidden for only he and his family to see.
That idea already is paying dividends. Scott Brown said Hutchinson Community College English instructor Bill Sheldon, who contributed to both portfolios as an artist, recently took a copy of "50/50" to a writer's conference in Topeka, after which Washburn University's Mabee Library inducted the portfolio into its Special Collection of Kansas Writers. It also is on display at Bluebird Books, 2 S. Main St., until the end of July. Similarly, "Introduction" has been displayed at the Walnut Street Gallery in Wichita.
From conception to creation, the portfolio projects span about 3 1/2  months. Typically, the Browns hold a meeting around Christmas with everyone involved to go over the guidelines. The artists are then given 1 1/2  months to make their carvings, and the finished product is put together in a flurry of activity in March -- when curses are uttered and vows are made, but ultimately broken, never again to get involved with another such undertaking -- as the Browns fight time and space constraints as they work against a self-imposed deadline.
"It's kind of a labor-intensive process," Scott Brown said. "It's usually about a week of really intense work until the signing party," when the writers and artists get together to sign and number each page.
Another portfolio is planned for next year. Artwork for both "Introduction" and "50/50" included just a single color, but now the Browns are trying to perfect a process for multicolored printing.
"Next time, we're trying to do something that will give us a real rainbow of color," Scott Brown said.
The couple does sell their work to help offset the cost of supplies -- each writer and artist is given a complete portfolio, and a couple extra copies are made for sale. But for them, there's so much more to be gained from what they're doing.
There's an enjoyable social aspect of getting together with people who are like-minded and have shared interests. But for Scott, the primal act of making something that is "smashed into paper" is equally gratifying, much more so than if the images were compiled using computer software.
"There's something about the medium," he said. "Everything's unique. There's a physicality to the thing that doesn't happen with digital."
There's also a feeling of obligation that's aroused when he finds something, be it a forgotten printing press or discarded glass bottles, that can still be used to make something beautiful.
"If you don't do it, nobody else will," he said.
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(c)2014 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)
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