Thursday night was an open-studio meet-and-greet at Signal Return, a community letterpress shop (and Knight Arts grantee) that opened in the Eastern Market this summer, and is seeking to gain purchase within the Detroit DIY and art community. The facility is impressive, with a wide range of letterpress equipment, including flatbed cylinder and platen-type printing machines, and endless drawers of typeface in all sizes.
The structure of Signal Return is designed to grant letterpress knowledge and access to anyone who wishes to enroll in two of their workshops. Once students have achieved this basic level of equipment training, they are free to attend open shop hours and work on projects of their own devising. During this open studio event, the presses were opened and arranged so attendees could run a three-color text design, utilizing different styles of letterpress devices. The analog feel of the mechanisms and materials, as well as the hands-on quality of the work was quite appealing to me, and it’s fun to see your finished product appear at the other end.
The Signal Return crew was also engaging and helpful, walking this rank amateur through the process with grace. Shop Director Ryan Schirmang was on hand to answer questions, and Joel Grothaus helpfully walked me through some of the finer points of the process by which loose pieces of individual type assemble into structured layouts for letterpress prints and cards. Instructor Lynne Avadenka was also on hand, and cheerfully discussed the functionality and horrific health hazards of a (currently) dysfunctional linotype machine, which serves more as a museum piece and point of interest than as a working addition to the shop.
It will be exciting to see the printshop collective concept unfold as Signal Return works to engage and embody the best collectivist concepts — bearing the cost of equipment and maintenance collectively, in order to teach the largest number of people a working skill. If you want to join up, check in or just get some made-in-Detroit merch from the shop’s store, Signal Return is currently open Tuesday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; or by appointment.
The video above was produced by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.