Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Friends of Globe Make MICA History

This is a guest post from Alexis, a friend of Gilah Press + Design. Thanks, Alexis!

James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, and The Jackson 5 have more in common than just musical genius and questionable emotional stability: all these musical superpowers, along with hundreds more, turned to Globe Poster to advertise their tours.

Globe was in operation here in Baltimore from 1929 until last summer, when it was finally forced out of business. While the shop also took on more nitty-gritty projects like "public auction" and "home for sale" signage, it's best known for its huge contribution to the visual history of R&B and rock and roll. The shop stopped operating its enormous letterpresses ("enormous" = 24,000 lb) in the late 1980s in favor of cheaper offset presses, and recently sold the old Miehle letterpresses off as scrap metal.

The shop's enormous collection of materials, equipment, type, cuts, photos, and posters is currently lying as it fell, in position in the company's huge Highlandtown warehouse. Owner Bob Cicero was stuck housing equipment that was no longer paying for itself – until recently, when help arrived in the form of 20 MICA students with matching t-shirts.

I recently spoke with Friends of Globe treasurer Sabrina Kogan about the process of saving Globe's collection from being auctioned off piece-by-piece and melted down into scrap metal.

Friends of Globe was inspired by Mary Mashburn, proprietor of local Typecast Press and letterpress instructor at MICA. She first heard about Globe's financial quagmire while trying to arrange a tour of the shop for her Fall 2009 letterpress class, and, as a hopeless letterpress romantic, she thought it would be a tragedy if the collection was split up. She began to work with people from various fields – designers, art editors, folklorists – to try to find a way to save it, but it wasn't until MICA students got involved that a solution was reached.

Sabrina told me that the project began with a blog and a run of screenprinted t-shirts. The shirts were donned by about 20 pro-Globe students at one of the quarterly "town hall" meetings where MICA President Fred Lazarus hears the opinions and ideas of his plebes. Apparently Lazarus was "pretty taken aback" by this color-coordinated display, and began exploring the possibility of purchasing the collection.

The Friends of Globe were then tasked with explaining why the purchase would be good for the school's curriculum. Sabrina, a graphic design major, explained one of the points they made: "I think it's crucial, when learning about type, that you have a chance to actually use type. So when you're talking about things like kerning and spacing, they're real things, not just buttons on the computer. It brings it to life."

The group also pointed out the value of the collection as a piece of art history, and one that no other art college can match.

After a few more meetings, the group successfully convinced the school to move forward, in a happy reaffirmation of grassroots power. The purchase was publicly announced last week, though specific details have not been released yet.

Of course, the sheer size of the collection is a problem. The school's purchase won't comprise everything in Globe's arsenal. They'll be taking about 2/3 of the wood type and 1/2 of the metal cuts, and only some of it will be moved into active rotation in the school's print studio. Much of the rest will be put into storage, and there has also been talk of using some of the archive space at Johns Hopkins, since they're much better equipped for historic preservation.

Bob Cicero is apparently very excited that his collection is being reborn as an art medium. There are tentative plans for him to teach a history class with the materials.

In the meantime, Friends of Globe is still fighting the good fight and raising money to help Globe pay its March (and final) month's rent. They're selling their badass "Friends of Globe" t-shirts on Globe's Etsy site (the t-shirts that melted Fred Lazarus' heart!), and they have more shirts in the works. You can also buy reprints of some of Globe's most popular old-school show posters there:

The Friends themselves plan to spend the upcoming spring break closing the deal, choosing which pieces to take, and beginning what will be a long moving process.

This is a huge victory for the rebirth of letterpress as an artistic craft. I suspect that this will ultimately save more than just the Globe collection. Such a major recognition of the value of historic letterpress, from such a well-renowned institution, will do a lot to raise the profile and prestige of the medium. Who knows? This could be the start of a trend.