Back in the early 1970s, a couple of UC Santa Cruz students wanted to take a class in letterpress book printing. There being no such class, SB Masters and Tom Whitridge lined up a potential teacher, respected San Francisco typographer Jack Stauffacher, and then a grant to cover his pay. Soon after that, poet and printer William Everson began teaching at UCSC, too. Over time, the program grew to offer UCSC students all sorts of classes, in typography, design, printmaking and book making.
A new exhibit at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery that opens this weekend called Pressing On: Selected Works from the Cowell Press explores the legacy of the UCSC program. On Saturday, there will be a panel discussion at the Page Smith Library that features the current head of the program, Gary Young, and a couple of star alums, including Felicia Rice and Tom Killion.
"That was a wonderful moment in time at UC Santa Cruz," says Killion, whose work has been exhibited in California, New York and Europe. "There were all these wonderful professors who had come to participate in a world-class experiment."
Killion hails from Marin County and currently lives near Point Reyes. But for many decades, he lived in Santa Cruz County, starting with a stint at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1970s. That's where his career started -- "inadvertently," he says.
He was a history major making a book of linoleum prints of Mt. Tamalpais in his spare time when a friend told him about a class taught by Stauffacher. "He had a Zen way of teaching. He didn't show us how to print. So the students showed each other the technical aspects. He'd be talking about the great European type designers of the 20th century - which was way over our heads - but it got us inspired," Killion says.