Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Fire Extinguisher Family Reunion

I'll just jump right in here with the latest Olfactory Press project, "The Fire Extinguisher Family Album".

The idea began back when I was in the Book Arts/Printmaking MFA program at University of the Arts around 1992-'94. I was working with book artist/letterpress printer Mary Phelan in her studio she shared with book artist/papermaker, Bobbie Lippman and book artist/printer/type caster, Kent Kasuboske. Kent had a great collection of printer's cuts, a considerable amount of them related to fire equipment.

His friend's (I know him as Bob, the Brush-man) father used to print catalogs for firemen's equipment and when he was getting rid of these cuts Kent snapped them up (this is the story as I know it. I can't say for sure how it went down).

I've always suspected that inanimate objects have personalities, emotions, grudges and vendettas (rendering them anything BUT inanimate). These hot dog salt n pepper shakers definitely are holding something against me. I can feel it.

More about this another time though. To me the fire extinguisher cuts exhibited very different personalities from each other. Imagining the relationships between them and their tawdry stories became unavoidable. One cut in particular, looked like a group shot like from a family reunion. I used it as such in a greeting card from '95 (I think).

While this idea was just beginning to take hold in my mind, an unfortunate turn of events occurred. Without going too deeply into that here, I'll just say that the fire extinguishers took on a new significance. I wanted to do something with them worthy of Kent. It's a tall order and as many of the cuts came to me and I remained paralyzed by the pressure I put on myself. Also, I allowed life and other ideas to take over. But it stayed, fermenting in my mind the whole time.

Finally, after 15 years and many other events I decided I was ready to think about planning to start the project.

I picked out the fire extinguishers that jumped out as possible family members, wrote possible identities on scraps of paper and laid them out on a big table in my studio. There they sat all summer until there was a call for entries to a juried alumni show at UArts. I plotted out a loose idea of a layout, title page and possible spreads in InDesign and submitted them.

I figured, "well, it's no where near done, so it probably won't get accepted, but at least I tried." Lame, but sometimes enough. Anyway it was accepted and had to be in Philadelphia in about a month and a half. I though, "Shit! What have I done?"

I spent January and a lot of February '09 on writing the stories of the different extinguishers, family members. Originally I planned to just have the fire extinguisher and their name on the page. But as usual, I can't ever keep things simple; I began writing more and more. At first the family members were based on generic characters you might find on TV. The bickering, competitive brothers, the playboy cousin and dull scenarios like that. Then people I knew started to creep in. My own family, co-workers, friends, myself—everyone really—became source material. No characters in the book are one person specifically, but more of a conglomeration of people I know. Some are less anchored in real people and remained more strictly imaginary, but hopefully they blend in. In the end I hope anyone reading the book will recognize people in their own lives and get a laugh.

To see more pictures that tell the story of how the book was built, click on the flickr link above to the right.

The letterpress shop (Imposition Press) at Montserrat College of Art, where I printed the book.