Jon Drew's 126-year-old letterpress: Minnesota Sounds and Voices

Jon Drew works on his 1886 Golding Pearl
Jon Drew works on his 1886 Golding Pearl letterpress at LegUp Studio in Minneapolis, Minn. Nov. 27, 2012. Drew, who is a printer and teacher, restored the Pearl which was handed down to him by his high school graphic arts instructor.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

There is an alternative to mass-produced holiday greeting cards: Those that are printed, one at a time, on a 126-year old letterpress.

That's Jon Drew's specialty. And this year he's making the cards as a labor of love for the widow of Robert Papas, the high school teacher who taught him the craft.

• Click on the slideshow link at right to see more photos of Jon Drew

"I'm going to do the Christmas card using some of his type, on his press," says the 60-year-old commercial printer and Minneapolis Southwest High School graduate. And when Donita Papas hands out the cards, "it'll be a beautiful thing."

Now he's opening his passion for the letterpress to anyone. After decades of collecting and restoring old letterpresses, he's moved thousands of dollars worth of antique printers and other equipment into the Legup Studio in northeast Minneapolis, where a new generation of artists can sign up and learn a creative process that's been pushed aside by hi-tech printing.

"I've finally let go a little bit to put in the public domain as it were where people can sign up for a membership and use it," he says.

Drew specializes in the detective work it takes to find and restore the antique presses and their little blocks of lead letters; they're not common and are very expensive to replace. And he won't reveal his source for the precious antique letterpress type he continues to amass.

A box of letterpress letters
A box of letterpress letters are organized in Jon Drew's workspace at LegUp Studio in Minneapolis, Minn. Nov. 27, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

But he's happy to share his Christmas creations.

"May God's joy and love comfort you this year and always. . . let's see. . .," he says, fussing over the language on the card. It will be seen by lots of eyes, including other printers, and he wants it just right.

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