For the crowd of 65 students shoehorned into the gallery at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor on a recent Thursday, visiting exhibitor Virgil Scott worked a bit of minor magic — creating something fresh and new from vintage hand-operated technology.
Scott, 59, and his partner and wife, Kim Neiman, traveled to Belton from their Arlington-based business, Studio 204, to open an exhibit of Scott’s letterpress posters. Before his gallery talk and demonstration of traditional letterpress techniques, Scott worked with students in a hands-on workshop that had members of the hashtag generation laughing in delight at the artful results.
The machinery may have been old, but as substrates veered from heavy poster media to T-shirts, Scott succinctly revealed to the undergraduate participants the heart of his stated mission: “Re-purposing vintage letterpress equipment as a modern day creative tool of expression.”
An assistant professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, “I’ve got tenure now, so they can’t fire me,” he quipped, Scott teaches in the Communications Design program at the Universities Center at Dallas campus. He instructs undergraduates and graduate students in typography, design and creative methodology.
The 27 letterpress examples on the Baugh Center for the Visual Arts gallery walls, each crisply framed in light ash, shone with a sophisticated professionalism — to be expected from a creator who’s consistently won design awards on local and national levels.
Besides his academic credentials, Scott has an extensive resume of private business experience, and his portfolio includes some of the biggest: American Airlines, Walt Disney and Frito-Lay, among others.
In 2008, “after much joyous collecting, rescuing and resurrecting” of old letterpress equipment, Scott opened Studio 204 in the same downtown Arlington building that originally housed his father’s Motorola TV shop.
UMHB students were shown vintage metal and wood type as well as hand-carved linoleum blocks used for the presses.
One perplexing constant is the reversed images; originals are a mirror image of the final piece, “and that’s really fun for dyslexics like me,” Scott said.
A large scale poster featuring a profile of Lyndon B. Johnson is shown, with the hand-carved linoleum original displayed on the wall directly opposite.
Intrigued by work
Blair Pan, 19, a student from China, was intrigued by Scott’s presswork.
“My mom’s an art teacher in China,” she said, “and this (Scott’s) technique is the same principle as in my country.” Her iPhone brimmed with colorful letterpress examples sent from her mother.
Scott’s affinity for old iron isn’t limited to printing equipment.
He’s also a fan of flathead Fords, and there’s even a poster in the exhibit that pays homage to his love of the vintage V-8s.
He seems to have found his niche as he talks about his true calling: “I’ve got Tuscan Condensed (type) that’s 100 years old, restored a press from 1893, got a 1960 restored press and a 2-ton 1948 Vandercook flathead press,” Scott said. “I love this: it’s historic preservation, poster and craft, and vintage machines.”