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Saturday, March 25, 2017

When words collide

Photo: Kristen Davis / Otterbein360

Blue painter’s tape held a thick piece of paper onto a large metal drum. The crank attached turned smoothly as it propelled the drum over the top of the letterpress.

Carly Marburger cranked the drum back to reveal an embossed Shakespeare quote.

She pulled the paper away from the drum, examined it and set it on a pile of discarded paper and scrap cardboard that all experienced a similar beginning.

The old machine is a No. 14 Vandercook Proof Press. Marburger, who is a sophomore English education and art double major, has a job working with the press and teaching others how to use it.

“This one is still wet,” Marburger said as she held one of the scrapped pieces. “Usually, the first one is a little too inky.”

The ink she used on the letters was still shiny like fresh paint.

The words pressed into the paper are Theseus’s from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“And as imagination bodies forth,” Theseus said, “The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen/turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing/a local habitation and a name.”

A professor’s husband donated the letterpress to Otterbein in spring 2012.

It came with a number of mostly-complete font sets, though lots of the individual letters were oxidized or covered in ink.

“I am planning to do an independent study,” Marburger said of her work with the press. “And I don’t know how much I’ll use (the press) yet. I’m still kind of in a ‘figuring-things-out’ sort of phase.”

Marburger has been an artist since she was young, but her career was almost derailed before it even began.

“I always kind of did art as a kid, but I never thought ‘Oh, I could do this as a career,’” Marburger said.

When school forced her to follow a teacher’s directions for her art, she quit taking visual arts classes. She fulfilled her high school art requirement by taking a choir class instead.

It wasn’t until she took a two-year independent art class during her junior and senior years of high school that her career path shifted from marine biology to people and art.

“When I realized I wanted to work with people, I went the teacher route,” she said. Although she originally wanted to teach art, Marburger decided to focus on English instead.

Visual art and English aren’t unrelated for the Westerville native, though. Through a few creative writing classes and a poetry class required for her English major, she began to see a relationship between the two disciplines.

“I really saw a connection in my creative processes in both mediums and how we can connect words to images,” Marburger said. “We do that all the time without even realizing it.”

Despite spending a considerable amount of time with the press — sometimes, she said, a few hours can easily slip away — she also likes to spend time outside, which made spring a welcomed sight.

A class that is focused on Shakespeare inspired the project that was on the press. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was written in Shakespeare’s iconic iambic pentameter, a way of writing that stresses every second syllable in a ten-syllable line.

After setting the letters of the quote on the press, Marburger inked every letter in each stressed syllable. When she cranked the drum back and forth over the inked letters, it revealed a work that was every bit as visual as it was literary. Some of the letters came from different fonts, but that’s just the way Marburger wanted it.

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