John K. Landis, Printer

Prof. John K. Landis.
Prof. John K. Landis.

Professor Emeritus John Landis returned to Kutztown University for the dedication of the Landis Press. It’s a rather small press in a very small room, but the event was large. Prof. Vicki Meloney recalled her days studying typography with Prof. Landis at Kutztown in the 1990’s.

Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney
Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney

She saw the first Apple computers arrive on campus. The visionaries of the digital revolution persuaded educators all across the nation to trash their letterpresses and make room for computers.

landisplaque

Vicki Meloney recalled learning her love of typography in Landis’s Letterforms class. She told current students how she drew lines of type with ruling pens and rapidographs on illustration board. “It’s how I learned to love type,” she said. “Kerning was something we did by hand and eye. There was no a keyboard command for kerning.”

John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.
John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.

When Prof. Meloney was granted a sabbatical she tracked down press equipment John Landis had saved from the dumpster. She brought a rusted Thayer and Chandler platen press (circa 1900) to her home and asked her stepfather to help restore it. It was a family bonding experience. Her stepdad, unbeknownst to her, had worked on a similar press as a teenager. Meloney thanked Ron Lamm, KU’s Studio Art Technician for work on the press, and Prof. Ann Lemon, who poured enormous energy into making the Landis Press room a reality.

Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.
Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.

John Landis brought dozens of samples of student work he had saved. He said student designs were ganged together and sent to Reading, PA for photoengraving. The plates came back to KU to be inked and printed on the university letterpress under his watchful eyes.

Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL
Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL.

These images are about the size of index cards. I asked if they were meant to be luggage decals. He said, no, just graphic designs, mini-posters, really, their small size dictated by the size of the press.

Chigago Landmark.
U.S. Landmarks by students of John Landis

Besides foreign nations, he assigned a variety of projects based on landmarks, great cities, and unusual numbers.

Design like this is coming back, I hope.
KU student design showing “visual verbal synergy.”

John Landis taught many of the KU profs who now teach Communication Design at Kutztown including Professors Cunfer, Kresge, Bosler, Doll-Myers, Meloney, and Chairperson Todd McFeely. I’m told that makes him a “grandprof.” Someone said he is “great-grand prof” since he taught Prof. Cunfer, who taught Prof. Doll Myers.

From the odd numbers file, student of JKL
From the odd numbers file, student of JKL

Looking at the student samples, Prof. Landis remarked that what he hoped for in the typography project was “visual-verbal synergy.” That phrase still echoes in the studios at Kutztown. Speaking to current students Prof. Landis said printing is a proud part of our history. “Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia did many great things in his life -signer of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to France, experimenting with electricity. But for the inscription on his tombstone he chose simply, ‘Ben Franklin, Printer’.”

Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.
Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.

More info about The Landis Press, including hours of operation can be found here.

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