The lore of letterpress

Andy Kahmann of Montevideo doesn’t see himself as an artist but more of a craftsman.

Since 2001, Kahmann has owned and operated A to Z Letterpress, where he creates specialty cards, letters, stationery and posters with hand set type.

Kahmann’s antique letterpress printing work will be on display through Aug. 9 at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council’s arts center.

He started as a “printer’s devil” for the Bird Island Union while he was still in high school, and that is where he first learned how to use letterpress equipment.

“I’ve been printing for almost 45 years,” he said.

Kahmann also helped out at the Minnesota Newspaper Association Museum at the Minnesota State Fair, where a press from the Maynard newspaper was used.

“I helped load it up and move it,” he said.

During his career, Kahmann moved from letterpress to offset printing. Then letterpress started making a resurgence with printmakers and artists, Kahmann said. Kahmann’s son, Zachary, was involved in printing up in Duluth. One day while at the Minnesota Newspaper Association Museum at the state fair, an older gentleman, Kahmann said, was looking to donate old equipment. Kahmann said to the man that he’d take his name and see what he could do. On the way home, Zachary said to him that they should buy the equipment, put it in the garage and do their own letterpress, Kahmann said. Instead, Kahmann bought an old building on Montevideo’s main street. Pretty soon, people just started showing up and dropping off letterpress-related items – tools, type, etc. Kahmann said he had about 350 drawers full of type. Then he got some more equipment with the understanding that it be used or given to those who wanted to learn printmaking.

“If I can’t use it, I pass it on to somebody else,” Kahmann said.

In 2004, the Minnesota River Valley Arts Meander started, and Kahmann worked with area artists to create the poster for the event. He’s done all the posters ever since.

“I just finished up 2013,” he said. A featured artist is selected for the poster. Kahmann then meets with the artist, and the design is limited to black, plus one color.

At his shop, Kahmann creates calendars and cards.

“I have a series of my ‘Bad Andy’ cards,” he said. He finds the wording for the cards from sayings or bumper stickers he’s seen. The calendars keep him busy, Kahmann said, as he did three last year and two this year.

“That gets to be quite an all-year process,” he said.

He also started printing on aluminum. He had met an artist who was having images put on aluminum, and he figured that since he had these aluminum plates, why not use them.

For the exhibit at MAFAC, Kahmann will have samples of blocks and type along with his works, as well as a video of printing with the press.

To him, Kahmann said, letterpress printing is second nature. He’s always thinking of the next job.

“I’ve never gotten tired of taking a piece of paper and putting it into the press, making that revolution of having something printed on it and taking it out,” Kahmann said.