Printmaker Nancy Reinke is rolling works of art off the press these days in rare form. Rare book form that is.
Reinke's miniature - 4 1/2 by 6 inches - original books are her first attempt at the fine art of bookmaking by hand.
To produce a book on her own, the artist painstakingly handset the tiny pages of type, added finely drawn wood engravings as illustrations, then printed the nine pages and cover on delicate, handmade Nepalese paper "flecked with mysterious things that sometimes made printing difficult," she says.
It was then time to assemble her bookbinding materials - needle, wax, thread, holepuncher - and to use skills she is learning in a 12-week course at the Smithsonian Institution.
Next, the small pages and front cover were folded by hand, several [WORD ILLEGIBLE] were punched along the fold, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] hand-waxed coarse olive thread. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] through a needle and into [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in the fibrous cream paper for the actual sewing, or binding, of the book. A final step was applying the cover title label, which she "eyeballed" into correct alignment, Reinke said.
"My real interest was in combining three things: handmade paper, letter-press printing and bookbinding," she explained, working as she talked.
But Alexandria's Torpedo Factory Art Center, where she works, has a policy that artists must sell there only what they make on the premises - and Reinke had her hands set on making a book. She said she asked herself, "How can I do it," without a luggable printing press that she could take to the center?
Her enthusiasm for doing a book was made possible last summer with the discovery and purchase of a tiny, antique letterpress. The press, more than 100 years old, stands no more than a foot tall, sits on a base of about 6 by 14 inches and prints up to a chase (page) size of 1 1/4 by 3 3/4 inches.
The mite-size machine challenged the artist, she said, into designing her first diminutive book. It's a "collection of exquisite recipes for bird feeding," according to the front-page blurb.
The limited-edition text (56 copies) is called, "A Jigger of Ant Eggs." It will be displayed and for sale along with more than two dozen of Reinke's prints on exhibition through June in the art center's Studio 95.
Reinke's first book was "a learning experience" and gave her the bookmaker's bug. She plans eventually to make her own paper, she said. "It's entirely possible . . . you can do it in your own kitchen."
Her artisan's eagerness for the roar of the printing press, the smell of the ink, has pulsed in her veins since childhood.
"My father's a newspaper publisher. I grew up thinking being covered with newspaper ink was the best kind of dirty. The roaring sound of those old presses - I've never got it out of my system. I'm still fascinated with it."
She learned typesetting on her own. "As children, we had a little neighborhood newspaper. Once you get hold of that type, nothing wil stop you from getting in there and doing it.
"I don't know that you can do anything else, really. There's no place you can go to learn letterpress typesetting and printing . . . The nice part of doing it is that anyone else who's interested will always share with you." She plans to collaborate soon with a professional bookbinder on "a very elegant book."
Reinke's father publishes the Chattanooga New-Free Press in Tennessee, where she was born. She now lives in Alexandria with her husband, Roger, two daughters, Jeanne and Martha, and twin sons, David and Bryan.
A printmaker for seven years, this prolific artist indicates she is confident of the art center's firm foothold in her community.
"The signs are all good . . . I think the people of Alexandria will be forever sorry if they let it fold," she commented.
"We get people from every state in the union visiting here. On Memorial Day, you wouldn't have believed this place. Thousands and thousands of people."
She said there are many artists "who support themselves entirely on what they earn on sales from work made here. We have professional full-time artists - grateful to find a place to be, full-time artists."
Reinke is one of 11 members of Printmakers, Inc. The Torpedo Factory group includes Frances W. Brown, Cecelia Burnett, Phyllis Cohen, Isabel Field, June Hoke, Marion Howard, Betty KubalaK, Krystyna Marel Marek, Barbara Romney and Marian Van Landingham, director of the art center, and its estimated 200 artists, 100 studios, seven workshops and four galleries.