June 16, 2016 mgoudz

Learning from Experience, an Interview with Sarah Smith

Sarah and Amos

Text by Sarah Smith and Mike Goudzwaard. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 4th and final post in a series on experiential learning originally published on Teaching Out Loud. on June 17, 2016. Also see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

In this post Sarah Smith, Book Arts Workshop Coordinator reflects on printing with Amos Kennedy and the Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy class in a conversation with Mike Goudzwaard, Instructional Designer. 

MIKE: Visiting artist Amos Kennedy came to Dartmouth a few weeks ago to work with students in Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy. You originally suggested Amos for this Experiential Learning Initiative project. What did you think students would learn from him in particular?

SARAH: There’s a number of reasons why bringing Amos was a good idea. One is that he puts on a great show and so he is very engaging. He’s also one of the few letter press printers really doing a lot of political messages in his work. Some people will have little bits and pieces, but a lot of his work is about politics or about the human condition. He would show students how to work with wood type and get a message out. That’s something Amos says frequently, “Get the message to the people and move on.”

Additionally, I think just to get them engaged in the process using language in this way, rather than just setting type or worrying too much about the result is empowering. Obviously we have rules on how to use type, but it’s great to be able to just jump in and print.

MIKE: How did you prepare for the learning experience with this class?

SARAH: Well, Michael [Evans] and I talked a lot about what we wanted students to get out of the class, and the experience with Amos in particular. We have a project later in the term in which students will print political broadsides. It made sense for students to spend time with someone who actually does that, and to see how much fun Amos has with his work. He also takes printing seriously, and prints every day that he can.

MIKE: I spent some time in Book Arts while Amos was here and noticed that he likes to offer his life’s wisdom while he is working with students.

SARAH: Well, and that was a big part of it, too. Aside from working with type and the specifics of the project, our students learned from someone who loves what they do, and perhaps it makes them think about what they want to do with their lives. That’s really great. That’s one of the things that I hope people get out of the workshop anyway, that there’s a creative outlet outside the busyness of regular life. Students find they might be interested in book arts as a hobby, or maybe it becomes more than that. It is so inspiring to be around someone who loves what they do.

life isn't hard

MIKE: What are some of the things that changed between your plan and when Amos was here?

SARAH: Partly what changed was based on learning from hosting a visiting artist for a week. Aside from the work with Film 7 students, we had plans for all these public dinner conversations, however people were either too busy or Amos wasn’t really interested in big dinners. Instead we ended up going to Bob Metzler’s studio. He also teaches in Book Arts, and that was really a great experience for Amos and for me.

In the workshop itself, I expected Amos to start with more instruction for students, but his style is to first let students play around with type. This was more free form than I was anticipating.

Amos loves printing backgrounds and students shared this interest in learning about layers and textures. Students came back and wanted to do more and get involved in printing in multiple layers, demonstrating that they were really interested in printing more posters. Next time I would order even more paper.

MIKE: How did Amos’s visit fit into the Film 7 course overall, and how does it relate to what students are working on now?

SARAH: Amos’s visit gave students a lot of ideas of what they might want to do when they come to Book Arts to work on their political broadside projects. They also had a lot more questions, more focused questions, for me than they probably would have otherwise. Printing with Amos allowed students to have some experience with the presses before planning their own projects. There was a lot that they already knew, so I didn’t have to repeat the basics. We could talk a little bit more about the pressure you use, because they could really feel the difference. With Amos, they were using a lot of pressure, because it was that big wood type. Today we were using little metal type, and they didn’t feel it at all, really, and so that was surprising to them.

We talked a lot about how the backgrounds were made for the posters and what was involved with that, and what else they could do with it. So I think it just gave them lots of ideas.


MIKE: Amos has come to Dartmouth before, and I’m wondering if you’ve had other printers come in as visiting artists, and if so, what’s able to happen for students with a visiting artist that can’t happen with Book Arts alone?

SARAH: I wasn’t here when he came before, but what Amos brings that probably would be different than most other visiting artists is that he is so open to having just these crazy open printing days, where anybody can come in and make stuff.

It generates interest and excitement in what can happen here. I think it’s healthy to have more voices than just me or just Bob telling people how to do things, and to see how somebody really uses this material or this method to do their work.

I also like having visiting artists, because we used to joke that we should have a visiting artist mask if we were trying to get a point across to students, because they’re not listening to us anymore. As soon as someone new comes in they say, “Oh, I get it now.” So it just brings in a different point of view. I guess. Two weeks after Amos visited, we had a stone carver come in and he brought a whole new perspective. Hopefully we can do more of that.

MIKE: What’s the most important thing you learned from this experience?

SARAH: How to plan. There were many, many moving parts to Amos’s visit. We were not only making this work for the Film 7 class, but also for other classes and the public during the week. I wanted to make sure Amos had a positive experience, which is not difficult, but required planning many print sessions, meals, and public talks.

During the week, many nights we were in the shop until nine at night preparing everything for the next day, and talking a lot about the planned activities and life. All the snippets of wisdom that the students were getting, I was getting tenfold.

this is your democracy blocks

I talked with Amos about how he manages his presses, and what he’s trying to do in Detroit. I feel like maybe I got the most out of Amos’s visit, but the good thing about that is that I can pass it along after he’s left.

MIKE: I think that happens when you are teaching, you often learn as much or more than your students.

SARAH: Right. There’s a trick on the press that I learned from a student early in my career. When this student demonstrated, I thought it was way better than the way you’re supposed to “officially” do it. And so I’ve been teaching that way ever since, and it’s awesome. So yeah, definitely you learn from the students.

MIKE: I see there is a stack of posters over here.

SARAH: Students got really excited working with Amos. I didn’t expect that level of excitement, or that it would continue after Amos left. All of a sudden I had all these people wanting to come in and make posters. The students were so into it that they went into production mode and printed a ton of these posters, so I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them

MIKE: Readers, if you want a poster, they’re still in the hallway of Book Arts in the basement of Baker Library. Come on down and pick one up.

To learn more about the Dartmouth Library Book Arts Workshop visit their webpage or sign up for the Book Arts listserv

show up on purpose