Hot off the (Scripps College) Press

Photo courtesy of Scripps College

Photo courtesy of Scripps College

Professor Kitty Maryatt knows a thing or two about books.

Since 1986, Maryatt has run the Scripps College Press from a back room of Lang. Hired to rescue a dying component of the Scripps experience, Maryatt was tasked with somehow getting enough funds to save the press. Already there existed a class in which students were to learn how to make their own books, producing enough copies for themselves and a few friends. However, this course offered no formal instruction in metal typesetting, nor in other important components of printing. Frustrated by the fruitlessness of a class in which each student made only about ten copies of his or her individual book, Maryatt decided to redesign the curriculum. “I thought that I would change the class,” she remembered in a recent interview. “I would have everybody work together on one book, which we would then sell, and then the Scripps College Press name would get out in the world.”

Her plan worked extremely well. The first class made about forty books from a small budget and sold them all for a profit. This profit was then used to buy materials for the next year’s book and so on, until Maryatt had built the program into what it is today.

Today, Maryatt holds court over a class called “Typography and the Book Arts,” the modern descendant of the course she inherited in 1986. Each semester, the class works together to produce an artist book on a theme preselected by Maryatt. Students produce their own text and images and then decide how best to represent their theme in the book’s structure, type and coloring. Over the course of the semester, Maryatt teaches her class how to use the printing press, hand set metal type, bind a typical codex book and work as a team to produce a professional-level artist book, which is then sent to standing buyers in major cities across the country. Students are expected to spend about nine hours a week on the book as it is being produced, with about six weeks dedicated solely to printing. Printing is done, of course, on the Scripps College Press.

The press came to be in 1941 when, as their class gift, the graduating seniors of Scripps bestowed the college with both that and the funds for the design of Scripps College Oldstyle Typeface, Scripps’ own personalized font, designed by Frederic W. Goudy. Since Maryatt began, the press has produced almost sixty artist books, all of which reside in Denison Library. When asked which was her favorite, however, Maryatt simply laughed. “If I had made only one book, it would be my favorite,” she explained, “but we have made 58 of them. Of course, some have been more rewarding than others because of either the subject or because of how the students came together to produce [them].”

One of the two books that Maryatt thought most impressive by these standards was a book created in 2004, entitled “Beorum II.” The students’ mission was to reproduce a page of the famed Gutenberg Bible, the first work to be produced by printing in the West. One page of the original work resides in the Rare Books Room of Denison Library, so students studied it, and, after buying a half-font of metal type for $5,000, created a replica on the press. The theme of the book became “risk,” springing from the number of risks Gutenberg took on when he created his own technologies.

The other book, based on a theme of spices, led the class to investigate how spices traveled from east to west along the Silk Road. Research led to the Dun Huang scrolls, dating from the tenth century, one of which was actually in Denison as well. Late in the semester, an expert on the Dun Huang caves was scheduled to come from England to the 5Cs to speak. The typography class decided to ask her if she would come speak to them as well and possibly verify the Denison Dun Huang scroll. She did so happily, and then announced its legitimacy at her lecture, adding the Denison scroll to an international census that existed. “These kinds of things happen in our books,” Maryatt said. “Not all the time. But they’re just so unbelievably wonderfully educational experiences that we have by making these books.”  

Not only are they academically educational, Maryatt says, the books often teach students about their own abilities and creativity. Maryatt teaches her students not to worry about the result too much, as the point of the exercise is learning all of the skills used in bookmaking. When asked what she would tell students who wanted to know more about the process, she responded, “At the end of the day, you never know whether a book will be well-received. All you can do is do your research, write something that you think is important, make images that enhance the text, and produce it as well as a human being can do when all the students are beginners. With all the technology, it can be very daunting. But they learn fast because they’re smart here, and I’m very lucky to work with them.”