Something old is new again: Limited edition calendars created with century-old printing press

By Jon Tewksbury Posted: January 8, 2019 1:00 p.m.

The letterpressed calendars with Leesa Streifler’s etched artwork
The letterpressed calendars with Leesa Streifler’s etched artwork Photos: U of R External Relations

Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance professor Robert Truszkowski has a passion for printmaking. As print master general of the University’s ever-expanding print media studio, he has overseen the growth of the department’s specialized production equipment which now includes a 110-year-old manual letterpress. But along with the resurgence of printmaking and the increasing number of students interested in the craft, so has the cost of art materials grown.

Robert with press
Leesa Streifler signs prints
with Rob Truszkowski
printing press
110-year-old antique
printing press

“Every year the students are paying more and more in lab fees,” says Truszkowski, standing next to an etching press in the University’s print media studio. “I developed the Forty Project to help offset the cost of class materials and to keep consumable fees at $40 per student. It’s upwards of a hundred dollars for materials fees at other universities and it just pains me that everything costs so much for students now.” 

The inaugural fundraising project pairs a unique etching created by long-time visual arts professor Leesa Streifler, widely known for her expressive painting and drawing style, with a manually letterpressed calendar, printed in-house by Truszkowski on the century-old letterpress. 

“Calendars and printmaking tend to go hand in hand,” says Truszkowski. “I like to do this sort of thing and thought it would be a great way to fundraise for students while raising the profile of the studio and the work done here.” 

Streifler was intrigued with Truszkowski’s Forty Project, and having studied printmaking during her time as a student in Winnipeg, she jumped at the chance to be able to work with printmaking again. 

“It’s been a great collaboration, but I didn’t even realize it would be a collaboration,” says Streifler. “I’m a painter/drawer and I work on my own, so I just expected to be working by myself on this project. All I usually need are paints and a canvas and an easel, that’s it. But if you’re a printmaker you have to be in a collaborative mode, and Rob helped with the printing press side of things, while I focused on the drawing. It was a very collaborative back-and-forth process. The etching process was very interesting. I’m very experienced at drawing, but not at this technique. Etching onto a small four-by-four-inch copper square is difficult. The square is static so you have to create all of the movement within your drawing.” 

The calendar itself was created on a 110-year-old workhorse of a letterpress. “The press is completely pedal-powered,” says Truszkowski. “The calendars were over 600 individual impressions because I printed 55 full calendars. Each month has its own print, so yeah, you get a good cardio workout!” 

Because the press is manual, Truszkowski was even able to take advantage of a province-wide power outage last month. 

“I was printing in the dark! That day the power went out and the University closed, I was able to print 30 impressions because there was an emergency light in the printing studio. I just rolled the press on its wheels right under the emergency light and was able to get a lot of the printing done because no one was around. I had to seize the day!” 

Forty-five calendars were made available for purchase and each quickly sold. Truszkowski hopes to make the Forty Project an annual tradition with a different faculty member creating the calendar artwork each year. 

“The whole idea here is how to keep the cost of this thing accessible to people,” says Truszkowski. “I knew that I wanted the calendars to stay below $50, and after expenses the project raised about $2,000 which will help keep material costs down for our students.” 

Streifler shares an unintended but happy secondary benefit of the project. 

“For me personally, it’s inspired this new love of printmaking,” says Streifler. “Now, I want to explore printing, and specifically, colour printmaking. I’m retiring in the near future and I plan to spend much of my free time making prints.”