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By the Way: Printing the old fashioned way

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Rebecca Kutys pursues an ancient craft with an energetic and very sensitive passion. You can almost hear her 19th-century letter press purr after she coats its disk with ink and steps on the treadle. Then the press starts to clank and click.

Rebecca is creating handsome business cards, note cards, wedding invitations for “people who love paper.” The cards and invitations not only look good, they feel good because the letters and images are pressed into the soft cotton paper.

A gutsy young woman with a varied background she has stepped back into an era a bit removed from our current technology craze, slipping away from the magic of Manhattan and into the rural beauty of Durham Township.

She didn’t dream of becoming a printer when she was growing up in Drexel Hill, or later as a student at McGill University in Montreal. Nor did she dream about it when she taught English in a rural village in Japan, the only Westerner there for two years.

It was when she moved to Brooklyn and worked for CBS and later NBC selling programming to other countries that her future was determined. In the evenings, she decided to take a class in printing at the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan, a nonprofit print shop and book bindery that considers and promotes those processes as an art.

“It just seemed cool at the time,” Rebecca said, but one touch of that first press and her life’s work was decided for her. “I just loved it, the feel of it,” she explained.

Rebecca now owns her own 1898 letterpress. She bought it in non-working order. “It’s an 1898 Chandler letterpress,” Rebecca said. “It had no rollers, no foot treadle. I found a printer in Atlanta with old parts and later a company in Lancaster that had what I needed.” She has chosen to work mechanically, without the aid of electricity.

The Chandler is basically the same machine invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. It does the relief printing of text and images using movable type or plates in which a reversed, raised surface is inked and pressed into a sheet of paper.

Eventually Rebecca left her television career and established a studio in Brooklyn after colleagues, friends and their friends started to ask her to print wedding invitations or business cards.

She named her business Moontree Press after tree seedlings were launched into orbit during a 1972 NASA mission to study the flight’s effect on their development.

“They called them moontrees,” said Rebecca who bought a later-generation sycamore moontree seedling, and planted it in her backyard.

Initially, to rev up business, she visited high-end shops in the city and dropped off samples of her work. The calls started coming in and among them, commissions for special projects. When a business with restaurants in New York and San Francisco ordered 10,000 business cards, Rebecca said, “I realized I could get paid for this.”

Ten years ago, the then city girl, pining for the natural world she loves so much, bought her house in Durham. She was familiar with the area because her aunt, photographer Kathleen Connally, lives in Durham, Its proximity to her major markets in New York City and Philadelphia was nice, too. “Everything just fell in place,” she said.

She converted half of her garage into a charming, sun-filled, white-walled print shop. A green vine trails gracefully from an antique printer’s type drawer hanging on the wall behind the press – always that touch of natural beauty that marks her designs as well.

While wedding invitations with designs inspired by nature are her bread and butter, along with business cards and social stationery, she admitted her special projects have captured her heart.

She worked for the J.P. Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. In 2011, Rebecca created notebook covers, food labels, table signs, and tags for a White House vegetable garden luncheon hosted by Michelle Obama.

She was also awarded a fellowship for Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences to research the life cycle and migration patterns of monarch butterflies in order to create prints.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net


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