Last Saturday, I drove over to the Heritage Farm holiday market in Huntington, W.V.
Like many holiday markets, it featured handmade crafts, with a West Virginia touch: pottery, jewelry, framed religious passages, Joe Manchin sacks made from Joe Manchin scarves (I didn’t know elected officials and/or candidates hadtheir own lines of scarves until now), axes, guns, and a few other surprises.
I wish I had a use for my own handmade (I think?) axe.
Joe Manchin bags?
I had mixed emotions about these earrings made from rattlesnake vertebrae, which this picture does not represent very well. I asked the couple attending the table about the jewelry, and they explained that they or a friend had killed the snake, skinned it for leather, eaten the meat at a campground, and decided to use the bones for these earrings. A little girl apparently bought a pair earlier that day. Badass.
Austin Jones, the man running this booth, operates a letterpress at Heritage Farm and has restored a number of presses, some from as early as the Revolutionary War. He featured mostly reprinted West Virginia-related historical documents at the market (which he’s been doing for decades), although he also does other kinds of papers as well.
Pleased that someone had actually stopped to talk to him, he showed me the small examples of moveable type at his booth. Because of the expense of the operation, however,he questioned the longevity of the business and whether, or how long, it could sustain itself. Imagine, he told me, like a man fascinated with a disease eating away at his own life, that increasing the font size meant not the click of a down tab but thousands of dollars spent in large blocks of metal Roman letters.
Being someone who has so far declined to buy a Kindle or a Nook, I had mixed emotions about our discussion. The fact that he keeps this technology on life support Means Something. Right? It acts as a reminder that written communication was once a slow, painstaking, physical process, a mess of metal and black ink, and also that there was a time when saloon-style font was taken seriously.
And when I examined his reprints, like the “GENERAL ORDER” he framed for sale, I was startled into reflecting that someone, a person, actually composed those words and wrote them, and I think that the physical existence of it, even a reprint, more forcefully reflects that time gap, as opposed to reading the same document as a PDF.
On the other hand, I’m sure that when people began using the presses, the upper crust with their libraries full of handwritten books felt sure the new technology signaled the end of times, and then I think of dying languages, which are both a tragedy and just life.
Then I googled him and found that he used to work for IBM. It’s a crazy world.
These framed religious phrases and Biblical passages, which James O. Robinson laboriously crafted in cursive using metal wire, almost made me wish I were the kind of person who would hang phrases like that on my walls. I especially liked the wire man opening his arms to the rising sun with little tiny wire birds hovering above him.