Two legendary figures from the world of print, both of whom
worked closely in Northampton and died within months of each other
last year, were honored last month by the Society of Printers
at a dinner meeting on Beacon Hill in Boston.
Artist Leonard Baskin, creator of the Gehenna Press in Northampton
and his long-time pressman, Harold McGrath of Florence, were remembered
with fondness and admiration by a gathering of some 70 people
at the Club of Odd Volumes, a federal townhouse in swank Louisburg
Those on hand for the evening, said David Bourbeau, of the Thistle
Bindery in the Arts and Industry building on Pine Street in Florence,
represesented "the ruling class of print," drawn largely from
Boston's literary and publishing establishment.
In an interview, Bourbeau described the club where the event was
held as "the ultimate Boston crumpled," the interior of the building
"casually cared for, not fussy, but with elegant little touches
all over the place."
Bourbeau was among a small group from the book arts community
in this area to attend the dinner meeting and lecture. Others
making the pilgrimmage to Boston were Daniel Kelleher of the Wild
Carrot Letter Press in Hadley, who Bourbeau describes as "the
elder statesman of printing in the valley"; Art Larsen of Horton
Tank Graphics in Hadley; Carol Blinn of the Warwick Press in Easthampton;
and Barry Moser, the artist from Hatfield, who read from a monograph
he had written about Baskin's artistic legacy.
The evening of tribute was organized by Bruce Chandler, who operates
a fine press in Boston, but spent his early years as a printer
in the 1970s living in Williamsburg and working with Baskin and
McGrath at the Gehenna Press on Clark Avenue. He spoke about that
formative experience and how working with Baskin and McGrath influenced
his own work and life, according to Bourbeau.
Another speaker was Lance Hidy, a book designer from Cambridge,
who also lived in this area at one point in the late 1960s and
who, along with David Godine, the celebrated Boston publisher,
did an apprenticeship with Baskin. Hidy also had studied with
Baskin at Yale.
According to Bourbeau, Moser, besides reading from his mongraph
"made a very emotional speech about Harold and how he thinks of
him every day."
Says Bourbeau, who knew both men well, "Harold was down home,
he was a neighbor." McGrath would have felt very uncomfortable,
for example, attending a dinner at the Club of Odd Volumes on
Based on his own recollection of both Baskin and McGrath, Bourbeau
said that Gehenna Press achieved its fabled reputation because
of the "symbiotic relationship of Baskin and McGrath; it was one
of those wonderfully happy marriages."
Their's was a "friendship that depended on the press, the world
of printing, " he continued.
According to Bourbeau, Leonard Baskin was neither a pressman nor
a mechanic, "he was a man of letters, erudite, a man of high aesthetic
values - with an incredibily long view of historical printing
Harold McGrath, on the other hand, "was the mechanic, a sensitive
mechanic, a consummate craftsman. He did not conceive of projects,
he did what Leonard had on the bench. He was fortunate to be at
the right place at the right time."
What made their relationship so unusual, so mutually creative,
so distinctive, Bourbeau speculates, is that "Baskin would not
have looked for the printing refinements unless Harold led him
to the possibilities.''
Noting that while two of the three speakers at the dinner no longer
live or work in this area, Bourbeau observed that they still "maintain
a strong relationship to the valley through the book arts."
Showing a visitor a series of finely-crafted and printed illustrated
volumes he had bound for Baskin, Bourbeau declared with enormous
feeling and sense of debt: "The entire book arts community here
owes its existence to Leonard Baskin. It would not have existed
if it weren't for Leonard."
As for McGrath, he said: "Harold would have continued to print
baseball tickets, wedding invitations and business forms, but
he rose to the level. Leonard gave him the opportunity and Harold
went beyond the opportunity."