Sunday, May 10, 2009

Somerville Printer Shelley Barandes Makes You Read the “Fine” Print.

( Left Becca Wasilewsai. Right Shelley Barandes)
Photo by Dianne Robitaille

Somerville Printer Shelley Barandes Makes You Read the “Fine” Print.

By Doug Holder

It was a stormy afternoon when my wife Dianne Robitaille and I made a trip to an off the beaten path factory building on Windsor St. in Somerville, Mass. We slowly walked up a winding staircase, smelling the faint hint of chocolate from Taza Stone-Ground Chocolate, a business housed in the factory. Our destination? Albertine Press. As you might know I am a publisher, and I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with printing, etc… A few years back I interviewed Gary Metras of the Adastra Press, who has a small but well-respected poetry press that prints books and chapbooks with Letterpress printing. Letterpress is basically an “antique” printing method which became obsolete a few decades ago with the arrival of desktop publishing. Unlike the stuff you get from Kinko’s or their ilk the old fashioned Letterpress method is elegant and fairly expensive. It leaves an impression in the paper ( and on the customer hopefully!), and according to Shelley Barandes, the owner of this enterprise, it is very much in demand, especially for the young Somerville couple looking for finely printed wedding invitations and related stationary.

Barandes, who is a graduate of Columbia University, studied Letterpress at the Printing Center in Book Arts in New York City. The Albertine Press was birthed in 2005 in the city of Lynn, Mass. Later Barandes moved her press to Somerville and has no regrets. Barandes, a resident of the Republic of Cambridge, loves our city and is actively involved with the arts community. She told me that the rent at the factory is reasonable, and she sells her greeting cards, etc…at a number of local venues like the Magpie Gallery. Although her bread and butter are marriage-related printing she does a brisk business in business cards, and designer greeting cards. The greeting cards are noted for their minimalist splashes of words and phrases on their fronts. Barandes said: “ I like to keep it simple.’

Barandes said that Letterpress printing has been taken up by a new breed of young women and this is evidenced by the eager students who take classes in the art she offers.

Barandes once entertained the idea of a career in architecture, but found the work institutional and banal. Her press allows her to be more creative.

In this climate of recession Barandes said: “Business is there. People have a great awareness of where things come from. They love things produced locally, rather than massed produced in China.”
Later, this young printer introduced me to her print room manager Becca Wasilewsai. She presides over a Sturbridge Village-like group of antique presses. Wasilewsai, a talented printmaker, described the Letterpress process to this clueless layman. Barandes and Wasilewsai are not total Luddites however. They do use the computer in the fine tuning of their artistic printing.

Generally Albertine does small press runs of a few hundred, but it is not unusual to do runs over 500 as well. The machines like the Vandercook Proof Press are not being made anymore so they are handled with the utmost care. Parts are very difficult if not impossible to replace, Brandes said.

In the background Barandes’ husband, a PhD candidate at Harvard University tended to the couple’s new baby. It seems that Barandes’ life is full of creations: both biological and artistic. She invites you to drop by the studio. For information go to

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