The Merry Inksters: Print it Yourself in Corvallis

Photo by Scott Givens

Scott Givens knew he had a great opportunity when he first laid eyes on a collection of old fashioned printing presses and printing equipment. However, what the Browsers’ Bookstore owner didn’t have was much space.

To assure he was getting a good value and that the equipment was in working order, Givens called on a friend and longtime Browsers’ customer, Ed Rettig. Rettig, being the son of a commercial printer, knows much about the technology involved and the difference between useful and useless equipment.

“We took a look at the equipment, and it all looked good,” said Givens.

Though he didn’t know what to initially do with the equipment, Scott really wanted to buy it. This is where the idea of a place where Corvallis citizens could artistically print arose. Givens and a handful of others, known as the “Merry Inksters,” would give it a shot and take up the project.

Givens and Rettig knew this could be the beginning of an excellent community opportunity.

The Merry Inksters are a group of Corvallis residents with an interest in old fashioned printing and publishing as an art form. Guided by both Givens and Rettig, their plan is to involve Corvallis in some amazing activities from some seemingly archaic printing equipment.

“The tech is hundreds of years old, but there is still creativity going into it,” said Givens when describing the Inksters and their goals.

And though the days of commercial printing are ending, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the equipment.

As Givens took me to the workshop known as “the barn” (and it’s quite literally a barn), we glanced at the equipment. One of the largest devices was a pedal operated printing press from the 1890s.

Givens said his primary goal after buying the equipment was to get more people involved. If nobody was interested, they would simply sell the equipment again. Thankfully many were interested early on; Givens, Rettig and the other Inksters witnessed an exceptional turnout at this year’s DaVinci Days festival when they showed everything off.

Givens also went on to describe the significance of print over digital media, and how some commercial opportunities still existed. For instance, custom wedding invitations are an apparent favorite among hobbyists.

One of the biggest reasons Givens and the Inkers are confident about the project’s success is because of the ease of accessibility to community members. For most print enthusiasts, owning personal equipment is very costly when it comes to both space and cash.

“If you’re a hobbyist, you’d need to invest heavily to get the equipment you need,” said Scott. “For a lot of people, that’s not feasible.”

The best part? Press printing is art anyone can enjoy. Even if you’re not an everyday Picasso, there’s still plenty of fun to be had, so long as you know how to use the equipment.

“It’s fun and it doesn’t take a great amount of artistic talent,” Givens said when describing the workshops.

The Merry Inksters plan on fully assembling classes by October. Though monthly membership will cost $30, lab fee prices and other expenses are still being discussed for individual workshops. With Corvallis being the artistically inclined city it is, Givens is confident that he and the rest of the Inksters have a bright future ahead of them.

“We’re very much open to having more people involved,” said Givens. “It’s a good fit for our community.”

By Sean Bassinger