North Bay Letterpress Arts was formed as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) group in the spring of 2015. It grew out of the work of Eric Johnson’s Iota Press, which has had a public shop in Sebastopol since June 2009. Iota began at first with the idea of teaching the craft of old-style printing, and exploring its range for making books and artistic prints. A quick evolution occurred in order to accommodate surprising interest. A group was formed to organize shared usage of the shop, and shared inspiration about what exactly to use it for. Things snowballed from there, as the need for more space and more presses to accommodate more printers led to a move to the present shop of 1600 sq ft, housing 8 presses and 200 cases of type, with a dozen active printers.
In the past four years, the printers associated with the NBLA have made a significant impact on the literary & artistic scene of Sonoma County. Over 160 books and book art pieces have been printed to date and many have been shown in galleries and book fairs. We have held numerous Open House events at the shop, as well as hosting readings & theater events. A portfolio of resident printers’ work called eRrAtiCa was debuted at a letterpress show in the Quicksilver Mine Gallery in 2012. It continued as an annual for four editions. We launched a month-long gallery show of letterpress art at the RiskPress Gallery in Sebastopol in 2014. We also had an exhibit at the 2015 & 2017 Codex International Book Fairs in Richmond, and were participants in the Bibliphoria events of Sebastopol Center for the Arts in 2011 & 2014. The printshop has conducted tours and demonstrations for local college and high school students as well as other groupings. And more than 200 people have participated in workshops in printing.
There is increasing interest in letterpress nationally; in university book arts departments and as a graphic arts business. The NBLA wants to encourage new practitioners to see the importance of the old art of hand-set type and foot- and hand-powered presses. It is not an obsession with antiques nor a purist’s doctrine that informs us. It is dedication to the intimate experience of shaping words and letterforms.