Pressing forward

UC Santa Cruz's Cowell Press, a decades-old program that teaches the traditional arts of typography and printing, has received a major gift on the road to endowment.

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Students hard at work at the Cowell Press. (photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)
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Gary Young, distinguished poet and director of the Cowell Press, was present when the Rebeles stepped forward with their pledge.

The Cowell Press is both totally contemporary and a step back in time.

In a world of Snapchat and emojis, the press requires both creativity and exacting patience.

Like other letterpresses, the Cowell Press preserves an art form that is part of Western history and culture. Now it looks like the Cowell Press, which dates to the early 1970s on campus, will inspire students and help artisans make unique books and artworks for many years to come.

Rowland and Patricia Rebele, Santa Cruz-area philanthropists and former newspaper publishers, have come forward with a $500,000 gift to help endow the press.

Patricia Rebele graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1988 with a degree in art history and has a strong interest in arts on campus. Rowland Rebele said the Cowell Press gift is a way of continuing their involvement in fine arts at UC Santa Cruz; previously the couple gave $1 million to help establish the campus's new Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

Cowell provost Faye Crosby is thrilled with the news of the gift. She described Cowell Press as a link between the past and the future.

"Think of Steve Jobs and his obsession with fonts," she said. "Think of Gutenberg and moveable type. Now combine those thoughts and you can see why people become addicted to working and playing at a letterpress."

Stepping up for the Press

The Rebele gift has emboldened fundraisers who hope to raise the Cowell Press endowment to $1.5 million to guarantee an annual payout that covers the salary of a print master teaching classes at the press.

Gary Young, distinguished poet and director of the Cowell Press, was present when the Rebeles stepped forward with their pledge.

"In an era that puts a premium on digital media, the Cowell Press offers students an opportunity to work in an age-old tradition: to set type by hand, to pull proof, adjust type, leading, and line, and to proof again until the piece is just right," he said.

Young, a 1973 graduate of UC Santa Cruz, arrived on campus in the late 1960s.

"The campus was rightly famous for innovation and experimentation at that time," he said. "Many of those early educational experiments are now gone, but the Cowell Press has carried on a letterpress tradition.”

Ensuring opportunity

At the time of the Rebele gift, Michael Williams, a film producer in Los Angeles and a friend of Crosby’s, had already established the Cowell Press endowment with a $10,000 gift, and with additional help from  Sean Keilen, provost of Porter College. Keilen was making sure that Porter students—even those not majoring in art—could continue to work and learn at the press.

The first new contribution to the endowment came from alumna Sara Walsh, honoring the memory of her late husband Joe Walsh, who is also a UC Santa Cruz graduate. An additional gift came from alumna S.B. Master, whose company, Master-McNeil, Inc., has established numerous companies and brands, the most famous of which is PayPal.

The press gives students the chance to study and make everything from monoprints to woodcuts and engravings. Many students in a wide variety of majors have been involved with the press; after graduation they have gone on to do graduate studies or professional work in book arts, publishing, and library science.

Cowell College will highlight the work of the Cowell Press this winter with the following events:

 • The opening reception of the "Pressing On" exhibit on Friday, January 22, 2016, at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery. All work on display at that show will come from Cowell Press.

• A panel featuring Gary Young, artist and alumnus Tom Killion, and alumna Felicia Rice, manager for UCSC's Digital Arts and New Media M.F.A. program, followed by a brief open house at the press.

For more information on these events, please call the Cowell College Academic Program Coordinator at (831) 459-2251 or email cwprvassta@ucsc.edu.