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Printer Scott King (from left), artist Art Kenyon and poet Robert Hedin collaborated on "Poems Prose Poems," a new limited edition collection. The three are part of the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Tower View in Red Wing, Minn. (Photos by Ruth Nerhaugen/contributor)

Art and the printed word

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By Ruth Nerhaugen

Three of the Anderson Center's creative minds came together to create a new publication, "Poems Prose Poems."

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Robert Hedin, director of Red Wing's artist community, wrote the poems. Art Kenyon, a resident artist at Tower View, created etch drawings to illustrate them. Scott King of Red Dragonfly Press hand-set the type and printed 120 copies of the limited edition book.

"We're always looking for ways to put artists in a position to work together," Kenyon said. "That's part of our mission" as a center for interdisciplinary studies.

"One of the great things about being here," he added, "is that we get to talk with each other, exchange ideas and look at ways to create artwork with more than one discipline."

Hedin proposed the project about two years ago, Kenyon said, by suggesting, "Wouldn't it be great to get three artists from the Anderson Center to collaborate on something?"

Hedin had completed a group of poems, which he brought to King.

"They all were written in the early morning, about the time the sun was coming up," he said, resulting in a lot of light imagery. "The tone is more playful than anything else of my work," he said, citing "Why I Can't Sleep" and "My Mother's Hats."

The poems also contain historical references, from Charles Lindbergh to Mohammed Ali, from airships to ocean liners.

"They place the poems in time," noted King, who quickly embraced the idea of collaborating.

"It had been years since I had done a project with (Hedin)," King said. "I was happy to have his manuscript. His work is of consistently high standards," he added.

"Red Dragonfly Press happens to be one of the finest presses in the state," Hedin said. He believes that King's selection of a classic Plantin metal type and French mould-made paper "made the poems better. ... That is what every poet hopes for — a wonderful coming together of poems and the ancient art of printing."

Next, Hedin said, "We needed an artist of real quality, one who could capture the sensibility of many of the poems." To them, Kenyon was the obvious choice.

"One of the great things for me, as a visual artist," Kenyon said, is having freedom to create illustrations without a lot of direction.

"(Hedin) said, 'Read the poems and just do what you think is appropriate'," Kenyon explained.

He did just that — picked out poems that he particularly liked, then sought out certain lines that he could use as visuals. It helped, Kenyon said, that Hedin's poems are strong and to the point.

Working together on the technical aspects of printing the collection, King and Kenyon decided that black-and-white images with the look of etchings would be the best choice for illustrations.

An etch drawing is what an artist would create before doing an etching, Kenyon explained. It is entirely lineart, with no half-tones.

He especially liked working with King on the printing of the book, which enabled him to get back to the raw creative process. "I got to run the press, Kenyon said. "It's an old traditional press. I could smell the ink."

"This is how books were done 40 years ago, before the arrival of e-press," Hedin pointed out. "It's a book that fits nicely in the hand. It's infinitely readable and feels good to the eye, all because of Scott's beautiful work on the letterpress. Very few books are done this way anymore."

King agreed, "This is the way books should be made." It took him about one day of labor for each page.

"Poems Prose Poems" is among few recent projects in which the entire book was created by hand. Red Dragonfly Press is one of only two privately owned literary presses remaining in Minnesota that use letterpress printing.

King printed 120 copies using a French mould-made paper. The cover, which features Kenyon's illustration of the Titanic, is St. Armand, a handmade paper from Canada. The binding also was done by hand.

Copies cost $35 each. They are available through the Website reddragonflypress.org. "There will be only one edition," Hedin noted; all copies will be signed.

Hedin is an author, translator and editor of 22 books of poetry and prose. The recipient of numerous awards, fellowships and other honors, he also has taught at the college level and been poet-in-residence.

Kenyon has focused on art since retiring after 32 years at Red Wing Shoe Co. He works in several media, including printmaking, and currently serves on the board of directors of the Anderson Center, where he is a studio artist.

King established Red Dragonfly Press in 1997 at his home and has built it into a literary press that produces limited edition letterpress books; he has published poets from around the world at Red Dragonfly, which is the press-in-residence at the Anderson Center. He is also a poet and writer.

My Mother's Hats

She kept them high on the top shelf,

In boxes big as drums —

Bright, crescent-shaped boats

With little fishnets dangling down —

And wore them with her best dress

To teas, coffee parties, department stores.

What a lovely catch, my father used to say,

Watching her sail off into the afternoon waters.

— By Robert Hedin

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