On the 26th January 2015, Chris Fritton aka ‘The Itinerant Printer’, set out on a coast-to-coast journey to redefine the idea of itinerant or “tramp” printers in modern times. Fascinated by the concept of ‘a union card’ back in 1852 where a member of the International Typographical Union (ITU) could travel anywhere in the states and pick up a printing job, Chris aimed to relive history. With only paper and ink, he hit the road, envisioning it would be a lot more like ‘a mid-level touring band’.
Poet, print practitioner, fine artist, and former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center Chris Fritton has over a decade of experience writing, printing, publishing his own books, and has collaborated directly with the likes of influential American artist Richard Tuttle, Pulitzer-winning poet Carl Dennis and renowned type designer Richard Kegler to name but a few.
Having travelled by car, plane, and train to tick off his 50,000 miles across the rich North American landscape, Chris Fritton created prints at every shop he visited, working exclusively from ‘their idiosyncratic collections of wood type, metal type, border, ornament, cuts, and photopolymer plates’. From a studio cabin nestled amongst the live oaks covered with Spanish moss to a printing lodge situated in the wide expanse of western Texas, Chris has produced a total of 15,000 prints from 120 letterpress shops in the 38 US states and Canada. What’s more, he also visited schools and universities, private boutiques, non-profits, and historical preservationists to capture the culture and spirit of modern printers, educators, and art practitioners who have been working hard to keep letterpress alive through these rapidly changing times.
“That’s what the trip is about: printers. And printers are people. And people make places.” – Chris Fritton.
Chris originally planned that this whole trip would only take a year, but in the end, it had stretched into two long, trying years. Every letterpress shop has a unique tale and still, Chris Fritton is now on his mission to New England to recount the glories of this once obsolete technology. For most people, it must be hard to imagine what it feels like after two years travelling solo, but maybe for Chris, it must feel like coming home.
“It’s a place where I was constantly reminded of my humble size by the vastness of nature, the scope and scale of the human population, and the endless drives. It’s a place where the world affirms its turning, and lives went on and lives ended without me. It’s a place where I discovered how much and how little I need people, and how much and how little I want from them. It’s difficult to explain, but every single day I wanted the trip to end, and every day I wanted it to go on forever.”– Chris Fritton.