Lindsay Schmittle believes in doing things the old-fashioned way, and that includes using a Chandler & Price letterpress built in 1915.
The 3-ton contraption and other vintage equipment are housed at Ice House Artist Studios in Lawrenceville, where the young redhead runs Gingerly Press. Inside the historic building, she painstakingly creates everything from art prints, fabric produce bags, handbound journals and recipe cards. The products are not only beautiful but sustainable and educational, too. And while high-tech gadgets power down in a year or two, Schmittle’s tools improve the more they’re put to work.
“By using it, we’re preserving it,” she says, watching the gears of the machine turn the way they did 106 years ago.
The process of pressing
Schmittle grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania with a love of antiques and art. She attended the University of Delaware for visual communication, but the days spent in front of a computer didn’t suit her old soul. She continues to find inspiration in elbow grease and the Great Outdoors.
Luckily, the university is home to Raven Press, an experimental letterpress printing facility. There, she learned how to operate the old machines and hand-set the metal and wood type that are used to transfer rubber- or oil-based paint to rolls of paper. A five-week internship at Starshaped Press in Chicago – another one-woman enterprise – solidified her decision to buy her own equipment.
She procured the Chandler & Price letterpress (she named it Sullivan) from an 87-year-old man who was retiring from the business. (Thanks to a renewed interest in the time-honored trade, there’s a lot more letterpress operators than you’d think, but Schmittle says she probably knows all of them.)
Schmittle set up a makeshift studio in her parents’ garage until she found the Ice House space, a cavernous workshop with concrete floors, exposed brickwork and ceiling beams and a black shop cat.
Her work is truly a labor of love.
From outdoors to on paper
“Most prints are comprised of four or five colors and the press only prints one color at a time,” she says. “It’ll take a good, solid week of production for one print.”
The artist spends as much time in the studio as she does outside. In 2017, the avid adventurer hiked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail solo for six months. She detailed her experience from Georgia to Maine in journals, photographs and drawings and by collecting samples of different natural textures, including bark, to incorporate into her letterpress prints.
The Printed Walk, the Kickstarter-funded project that followed, was comprised of one poster print for every 100 miles of her journey. On the backs of each large, abstract work of art, she included the location, dates, elevation profile and a narrative about the area.
Once the project was completed, she went on another excursion, showcasing The Printed Walk in galleries from Alabama and Georgia to Seattle and Wisconsin, home of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum.
In January 2022, she’s going way off the beaten path: the rainforests of Peru. Her former college advisor, a photographer for National Geographic, asked her to be part of a pilot program that draws attention to deforestation and the plight of the region’s Indigenous people, the Maijuna tribe, whose ancestral lands are being threatened by modernization.
Schmittle and a group of other artists, activists, documentarians and researchers will spend 20 days in the jungle.
“We are there to be an advocate for the tribe all while making artwork about the experience,” she says.
She’s packing a lot of notebooks and colored pencils, along with jelly plates and acrylic paint, which will enable her to make prints of the textures she encounters.
Upon her return, she’ll get to work on another art print series and products such as postcards. Using ol’ Sullivan to confront modern issues is a job she takes seriously. She’s made Black Lives Matter posters to hand out at protests (online sales of the posters went to social justice organizations).
Each Gingerly Press product is printed on 100% recycled paper. Through a Small Business Partnership, Schmittle donates a dollar to the National Forest Foundation for every full-priced item purchased from her online shop. The campaign has planted 1,634 native trees so far.
“I have a voice. I have a platform. I have a printing press,” she says. “I have the tools to make positive change.”
All photos by LeAnn K Photography