A small yellow cinderblock building on the grounds of the Ashantilly Center in Darien, Georgia houses the restored Ashantilly Press. Inside the unassuming building volunteers from the Ashantilly Center have revived this historic letterpress printshop. Several legacy printing presses of varying sizes once again turn out posters and notecards.

Ashantilly is an enchanted place on the shores of the marsh. Spanish moss hangs from the live oaks and a dirt road leads to the house. Next door is St. Andrews Cemetery where wealthy Georgia planter Thomas Spalding, the original owner of Ashantilly, is buried with his family. Spalding owned a large plantation on Sapelo Island and hundreds of slaves who toiled there to grow sea island cotton and rice; their labor made his fortune. He built Ashantilly in 1820 as his mainland home.

The original tabby home burned in 1937, and the current house was restored by artist William Haynes, Jr. and his family. Bill Haynes was an artist and environmentalist. He took up letterpress printing and launched the Ashantilly Press in 1956. The press produced books, maps, posters and stationery. In 1993 the Haynes family established the non-profit Ashantilly Center, an educational and cultural historic site. Haynes died in 2001. The Center reopened the letterpress printshop in 2009.

I have visited the Ashantilly Center several times, most recently in October 2020. Harriet Langford, president of the Center’s board of directors, and Sarah Blocker, vice-president and printer extraordinaire, gave our small group a personal tour of the mansion and printshop, and Blocker showed us how letterpress printing is done. She explained how printing got in her blood, and she has honed her craft through classes and workshops, including at the renowned Penland School of Craft in the North Carolina mountains.

Letterpress printing was invented in the 1400s by Johannes Gutenberg with the goal of making books, especially the Bible, available to ordinary people. As modern printing technology developed, letterpress printing nearly disappeared. But a revival of letterpress printing began in the 1990s and today small letterpresses around the world are once again producing unique works of printed art.

I was struck by the beauty of the hand-carved letterblocks of various shapes, sizes and fonts, and the unique blocks of artistic designs used to illustrate the printed words. Numerous type cases (compartmentalized wooden boxes of moveable type) hold the letters and rough-hewn shelves hold the colored inks used for printing. It was fascinating to see the words and designs appear on the sheets of paper fed into Haynes’ refurbished presses.

I came away from my visit to Ashantilly Press with a new appreciation of the history, beauty, and craft of printing. I hope that these photos will inspire others to visit the Ashantilly Center and support the work of the Ashantilly Press to train new generations of printers in the historic art of letterpress printing through workshops and residencies. I am grateful to Harriet Langford, Sarah Blocker and the other volunteers who work to maintain and preserve the legacy of Ashantilly Center and the Ashantilly Press.

For more information or to arrange your own visit to Ashantilly Center, see  https://ashantillycenter.org

 

BIO:Marla Puziss moved to Atlanta from Maryland in 1989 and is still getting to know the South. She lives in Hapeville with her husband and cat and works in the clinical laboratory at Grady Memorial Hospital. She is a self-taught photographer, inspired by looking at great photography since childhood. Her work has appeared online in South x Southeast, Lenscratch, and in various local and statewide juried photography exhibits – including Slow Exposures, Decatur Fine Arts Exhibition, LaGrange Southeast Regional, Arts Clayton Gallery, The Bowen Center for the Arts, South x Southeast Gallery, Atlanta Photography Group and others.

mpuziss@comcast.net

https://www.marlapuzissphotos.com

IG:  @mpuziss