Lloyd Schermer opens type sculpture exhibition at Anderson Ranch Arts Center
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Celebrating Lloyd Schermer and Wood Type’
Where: Patton-Malott Gallery, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village
When: Reception Tuesday, June 11, 5-6 p.m. Exhibition runs through June 16
More info: andersonranch.org
Lloyd Schermer kept presses spinning — and innovating — through his decades-long career in the newspaper business. In recent years, out of his studio in Basalt, the revered newspaperman and philanthropist has reinvented himself (and the tools of print media) once again and embarked on an artistic inquiry using print type for sculptures that have landed in major museums and collections around the U.S.
The Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village quietly opened an exhibition of Schermer’s work in its Patton-Malott Gallery in mid-May. Schermer will be on hand for a reception there today.
Schermer spent 50 years in the newspaper business, doing the dirty work of setting type early in his career in the Midwest, running papers in Iowa and Montana, and eventually around the globe.
As publisher of The Missoulan in the 1960s, he led printing out of the era of hot metal typeset, and into photographic typesetting that expedited the printing process and revolutionized the newspaper industry.
As the shift away from typesetting swept across the U.S., the raw materials of wood and metal type were tossed in landfills.
Schermer, perhaps sensing that these blocks of metal and wood letters had historic or aesthetic value, held onto some.
“They were hauling stuff out to the dump and I kept one cabinet of type,” he recalled last week. “I don’t know why. I guess I didn’t want to see it all destroyed.”
It sat in his basement for years in Montana, and then for 25 years in Davenport, Iowa. He lugged it to his home in Tucson, Arizona, and eventually here to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Schermer began making monotypes in the 1990s and then crafted a sculpture for a door in his Basalt home out of the type, which sparked the idea for his type-sculptures. The dynamic pieces use varied sizes and styles of letters and they have drawn the eyes of the art world.
The work has given Schermer a remarkable second act as an artist. His sought-after type sculptures are installed at the New York Times and the Washington Post, in the lobby of the Associated Press’s New York bureau, at the Newseum in Washington, at the Newspaper Association of America in Virginia, and in the journalism schools at the University of Denver, University of Iowa and University of Montana. They’re at the Smithsonian in Washington and the Luce Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arizona’s Desert Museum and the Aspen Institute.
Schermer credits his unlikely birth as an artist to a drawing class at Anderson Ranch in 1992 alongside the late Henry Catto. Schermer hadn’t made a piece of art since his boyhood days in the Cub Scouts. He recalled the tough-love encouragement of their instructor, Rice University’s Karen Broker, who guided Schermer through making his first monotypes. He described Broker as a “Marine sergeant”-like figure who reminded him of his time as a sailor in World War II.
“Henry and I were the only men in the class — we were terrified,” Schermer recalled with a laugh.
Collecting the old type for his sculptures brought Schermer across North America, exploring a cache of type in Bernard, Maine, where, he recalled, it was frozen in storage in an old lighthouse and “covered in mouse crap and cobwebs.” He bought it all and loaded 11,500 pounds of it into a moving van. He collected more from Chicago’s Printer’s Row.
“I had enough type to do whatever I wanted to do,” he said. “So that started everything off.”
Asked if he would run out of his finite materials, Schermer quipped, “I’m 92 now and I figure if I run out of it, I’ll be 120.”
These days, Schermer is preparing to install a massive sculpture for a display at the New York Public Library. Opening in July, it will hold one of the library’s Gutenberg Bibles at its center, reflecting on communication history from Gutenberg’s day to the modern press to the digital age. Another, for the Arch Museum in St. Louis, will hold a painting of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea at its center.
“I’m trying to make my art an educational experience,” Schermer said. “It isn’t just the art. You have to tell a story, which is what I’ve tried to do. … I’ve landed in this field because it’s fun and it’s interesting and I was lucky enough to put this collection together.”
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