Lettre Sauvage Interview

Fiona Spring is co-founder of Lettre Sauvage, a family run letterpress printing and design studio located in Santa Paula, California (www.lettresauvage.com). We chatted over email about the press’ origination, artistic mission, and its role in the changing terrain of publishing.

KY: What was your vision in establishing Lettre Sauvage?

FS: Lettre Sauvage was founded by me and my friend Genevieve Yue. When we knew we wanted to found a press we sat around one afternoon reading graffiti from the Mai 68 rebellions in France. The phrases painted on walls and walks by the communist youth ranged from cryptic to enlightening. The common thread was a juxtaposition of ideas and imagery to cause a shift in perspective. One of the phrases roughly translates to “under this pavement is the beach.” There are so many ways that can be interpreted, but I read in it a statement about looking beyond the utilitarian constructs. There is something else under the city: it’s the earth. There’s something else within the citizen: it’s her soul. If we’re going to lay something down over it and her, it better be right! Also, the path way or road can disappear so that everything once associated with it is no longer a sign post along a trajectory, but a location to get lost in.

We simply wanted to create dialogues in which image and word hashed it out to create new textures. Also, we wanted to emphasize process, chance occurrences, and natural inclinations.

KY: Can you describe the press’ aesthetic or artistic mission?

FS: Our mission flows from our vision. We work where we are with what we have. We print our own work in a very spontaneous process. We’ve happened upon some great material by other writers and artists, always through friends and conversations. We favor photography and abstract imagery and a sparse, austere quality which is inspired in part by ancient Greek aesthetics and minimalism. We use the bare materials found in the press room such as glue, tape, blank linoleum blocks and scraps of plastic to build forms to print from right in the bed of the press. The printing can become more of a fine art process rather than only skilled duplication. In fact, in most of our editions, every copy is slightly or greatly varied.

Recently our circle is expanding through our poetry contest. We’ve met a lot of great poets and consistently print work from the finalists as well as publishing the two winners. In this way our aesthetic will expand organically with new voices.

KY: I recently heard an interview with Margaret Atwood where she commented on the changing nature of big publishing houses and emphasized the need for writers to re-imagine publishing and to take responsibility for this art we care about so much. How do you feel Lettre Sauvage fits in to this new wave of publishing?

FS: There’s a need for authentic community among readers and writers. Some of us shrink from entertainment and formulas for sensation. A small press can have a distinct personality and create an intimate group. Right now Lettre Sauvage connects a very small group of like-minded people from around the world. We’re able to find each other thanks to the internet. The same globalization that makes the mega-monopolies possible also supports our fine (nearly invisible) web.

We’re taking responsibility by putting our physical, intellectual and spiritual energy into the very strenuous and time consuming craft of letterpress. It’s also a sacrifice because we use sustainable and beautiful materials leaving little room for profit to fund our next project. It’s a whole lifestyle shift for me with many positive bi-products. I’ve simplified my life, choosing to homeschool my child, prepare most of my food from whole foods, ride a bike instead of driving my 12 year old vehicle, buy only used products, and have lots of time to be with people and nature and make books slowly.

KY: What have been some of your favorite projects at the press?

My favorite thing is how different every project is. If you line up all our stuff on a table it doesn’t look like a “brand” at all. This pretty much bars us from traditional retail.

We did a little collection of poems called the Forest Drive recently. I enjoyed working on it because I gave myself plenty of time and space to work on the cover. I must have put three days of hard labor running the Vandercook cylinder press just printing this little 5×9 cover. Placing the word “drive” upside down brought the whole thing together somehow. It turned out exactly the way I wanted it to be even though I started with no end in mind.