POSTED ON MAY 16, 2012:
The Beast and the Feast
Letterpress Tulsa and the SummerStage festival keep classic arts alive
The Blue Dome district is known for Tulsa based businesses and an eclectic mix of restaurants and shopping. Who knew that a Letter press shop would join the call to revitalize downtown?
"I grew up in Arkansas and lived in the Tulsa area in the '80s," said Sharon Braun Hutton, owner of Letterpress Tulsa. "[I] moved out to LA for 20 years, worked for Geffen records, MGM for 15 years, and helped develop the DVD format, motion graphics and whatnot. Sony came in and bought out MGM so I decided it was a good time to come back home."
Braun-Hutton thinks the economy has been the greatest factor in the recent decision by many people to open businesses. "A lot of people like me, who are over-qualified for companies, and people being laid off, a lot of us are taking our destinies in our own hands."
Braun-Hutton describes how it feels to return to Tulsa, especially the Blue Dome District and how it has changed since the '80s.
"It's really exciting to be in Blue Dome because there is more activity in this area of downtown than others, as far as foot traffic; it's starting to feel like Austin, Texas or Kansas City. It's starting to feel like some other areas of the country where you can walk to several establishments. Tulsa was lacking that in the '80s."
Rachel Dennis, a protégé of Braun-Hutton, studied print making in college and is thrilled to be joining the team at the print making shop. She describes her journey to this unique destination.
"When I went to grad school, I watched as there is an area of Cherokee street that a print-collaborative started popping up and that helped grow the arts community. One of the things that Tulsa is really lacking is spaces like this where you can see art being made, and be a participant in the process by witnessing it. To have seasoned professionals who know what they are doing, to come in and help other people, who have ideas and teach them how to use equipment is exciting.
"Then, also, from another standpoint, someone like me, who has a Master's degree in printing and book arts, who wanted to be in a space like this, to be in it and printing, to be able to help make work ... I think that letterpress is so intimate in the way that you design."
Letterpress arts are surprisingly progressive and involve an evolution away from typical graphic design on a computer.
"Another form for designing," Dennis said, "is using polymer and printing it on here. Basically, this form of design has a really great relationship with contemporary computer design in that it helps people become more attuned to how they are designing.
"When I started printing on letterpresses, it helped me to take a step back from the computer and really start thinking about what I was doing, using economy, planning and making beautiful work."
Dennis and Braun-Hutton are both interested in nurturing the arts communities in the area.
"In growing art communities, print is one of those things that comes into a community, and really helps take that design community to the next level," Dennis said.
The actual letterpress was found in a barn in St. Louis, Mo. Braun-Hutton won her in an auction -- and she comes with an interesting history.
"She is 2008 lbs., Braun-Hutton said, "and was built in 1885. She, from what we know, was used to print the St. Louis Democrat, which was believed to be the forward-thinking newspaper that promoted anti-slavery, and some other groovy ideas.
Traditionally, presses receive a name -- usually a female name. Braun-Hutton said they kept calling her "The Beast," but eventually settled on "Beatrice."
"We did some research on come cool women named Beatrice and settled on Beatrice Shilling," Braun-Hutton said. "She was a motorcycle racer in the early 1900s and she developed aeronautical systems for planes in WW2."
Letterpress might seem like an old-fashioned concept, but this dynamic female duo seems to conjoin past techniques with contemporary ideas in a fresh, exciting way.
"One of the coolest things about letter print is that it marries contemporary design and traditional design," Dennis said. "Mass communication originated with letter press. That's how the multiplicity of printed work was first created and could be distributed, such as the Guttenberg Bible, etc.
"What's exciting about letterpress now is because right now the way you can design for letter press is to use traditional hand press type, where you take all the individual pieces and put it together. There's a very interesting thing happening when you design in real time, such as the letters that you are setting, so if there's a mistake, the whole thing has to be recalibrated, instead of just moving something left or right on the computer.
"Plus, if the apocalypse hit we could send out the newspapers!"
Letterpress Tulsa is located at 412 E. Second St. in the Blue Dome District.
SummerStage Delivers a Delicious Mix
The local movie theatre isn't the only place to soak up some entertainment and air conditioning as the weather warms. In June and July the place to be is the Tulsa Performing Arts center as the Tulsa PAC Trust kicks off the 2012 SummerStage Festival with everything from cabaret to concerts.
LOOK Light Opera begins the romp into summertime fun with three musicals, Gypsy June 15-July 8, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum June 23-July 6, and the infamous Avenue Q June 16-July 3. You can also catch them at Utica Square for "Summer's Fifth Night" on May 24 at 7pm for a free preview concert.
There's also some cultural and thought-provoking theatre that opens the festival as The Center for Racial Justice presents The Syringa Tree June 15 and 16 at the Norman Theatre. This evocative story is about two families, one black and one white, set in South Africa in the 1960s.
Tulsa Folkloric Dance Theatre presents A Night at Saint Dementia at the Doenges Theatre on June 15 and 16. This mix of international dance, music and song tells the story of residents of Santa Dominga, a hospital for Alzheimer's patients, and the arrival of a new patient who brings excitement to all she comes into contact with.
New this year to Summer Stage is a "Cabaret Theatre" located in the Robert J. LaFortune Studio.
Not to be missed is the farcical Wrong Way Broadway presented by Samuel Jeremy Stevens. This romp down the Great White Way is a naughty cabaret where nothing is as it should be. It runs July 10-12.
For a complete listing of all theatre, musicals, dance performances, cabaret offerings and festival pass information, please visit summerstagetulsa.org or call 918-596-7111.
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