It took about fifteen passes through a Chandler and Price 10x15 Old Style press before Daniel Goscha realized that something was wrong. Small sections of hand-set type—14 point Bodoni to be exact—weren’t printing, making Max Garland’s poem almost unreadable.
Goscha knew it wasn’t the antique press, which had been a fixture at his Mill Paper and Book Arts Center in Rhinelander since it opened in 2012. Perhaps it was the paper. Peppered with barely legible letters and numbers, it was hand made by The Mill’s resident paper maker, Debra Jircik, and artists-in-residence Drew Matott and Margaret Mahan. They’d pulped a bunch of recycled junk mail for this special broadside in homage to Garland’s years working as a mail carrier before becoming a poet, and, eventually, Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate.
Goscha and poet Brent Goodman came up with the idea for the broadside while brainstorming about low-cost ways to support the poet laureate program. Goscha said he could volunteer paper resources and staff time to create a handmade, letter-pressed broadside to celebrate Garland’s term as Wisconsin Poet Laureate; Goodman (who is on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission) pointed out that they could sell the broadsides to generate much-needed revenue to support the program.
As Goscha started printing Garland’s poem, “Lessons from a Fifties Childhood,”, the first few sheets came out flawless, retaining the beautiful bite of letterpress. However, as the printing continued, some letters began to drop out of the prints. Goscha immediately spotted the problem: Little flecks of hard, brightly colored plastic embedded in the paper. A credit card had snuck into the pulping process and ruined all of the handmade paper.
Goscha could make some new paper, of course, but that could take several days. Considering that Goscha had promised the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission 150 of these hand-printed broadsides the following week, he was in trouble.
After a bit of thought, Goscha remembered a small sample of RiverPoint art paper he received from a colleague from Wausau on a visit a few weeks earlier; the 100% cotton paper was ideal for printing. Made at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, RiverPoint art paper was developed in response to requests from students and faculty in the visual arts for affordable yet high-quality, archival art paper. In 2012, members of the school’s Department of Art and Design, Department of Paper Science and Engineering, and the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) began experimenting with UWSP’s pilot paper machine (a smaller version of the behemoths in Wisconsin’s commercial paper mills) to create what became RiverPoint art paper. The best part about it was that because the paper was in such demand by the public, UWSP could supply the paper to art faculty and students for free.
“I knew it was a long shot,” says Goscha, recalling his late-Friday evening call to WIST. “I needed enough paper to make 150 sheets over the weekend. What were the chances they would support the project and be able to meet over a weekend—no less to provide me with this beautiful paper?”
Everyone except the receptionist had left for the day. But when Goscha explained the project and its urgency, the receptionist said she would try to help.
“I was completely floored when thirty minutes later I got a call from WIST executive director Paul Fowler,” say Goscha. “I explained to him what our organization was, the idea behind the project, and how we wanted to keep it 100% produced in Wisconsin. I must have said something right because he said he would see what he could do.”
Fowler asked WIST laboratory project specialist Casey Konopacky to meet Goscha that Sunday. Goscha drove down to Stevens Point on Sunday and, in addition to receiving enough sheets of River Point art paper, got an impromptu tour of the papermaking facility.
“I was impressed with the willingness of WIST to just jump headlong into this project,” says Goscha, “I could tell that these were people who understood the value—and sometimes frantic process—of collaboration.”
In the end, this informal coalition of printers, poets, and papermakers created what will go down in Wisconsin history as the first commemorative broadside for our state Poet Laureate.