Local renowned Horse & Buggy Press’ Dave Wofford is having his platinum anniversary (ergo 20 years), but it feels a little more golden in its significance.
So, Sunday, June 5 (2 to 5 p.m., rsvp to email@example.com) will hopefully find you at Durham/Chapel Hill’s (the land between) lifelong arts project and loving partnership Cassilhaus for the closing reception of Wofford’s 20-year-anniversary retrospective exhibition: “20 Years of Horse & Buggy Press AND FRIENDS.” If the event space and the exhibit’s artful artifacts alone don’t entice you (they should), perhaps the special guests, free raffle giveaways, surprises and more will motivate.
As Cassilhaus is a quasi-private venue (open to public on event days), the June 5 event gives guests the opp to Funday up their Sunday in “Durham’s best showcase venue,” says Wofford, “although technically it is an Orange County address, I consider it to be Durham. Like Bobby Brown says, ‘It’s my prerogative.'”
Beyond the show, “you would be remiss to not see the exhibit in the Cassilhaus environs,” Wofford adds. “There are all kinds of unique touches and custom furniture created for the show, which, combined with the magical aura of Cassilhaus as a place, make it something special.”
Horse & Buggy Press is Wofford’s graphic design/letterpress printing/fine press book production — he’s founder and sole proprietor — now in its 20th year. “This anniversary exhibit focuses on the fine press book collaborations with a diverse range of writers, photographers and other visual artists, and historians,” says Wofford. “It includes titles long out of print, such as the 1997 fable-esque ‘It Had Wings’ by Allan Gurganus, which he himself illustrated and was the H&B title to feature handmade paper covers.”
Hungry for more? Post the Cassilhaus closing reception at which you will look, linger and likely acquisition found art for your private collection, the 20-year recollective exhibit is setting up post at “Raleigh’s best venue (outside the state art museum),” says Wofford: CAM Raleigh (mid-June through Aug. 7), which incidentally is across the tracks from his first studio at Antfarm. Talk about a full-circle retrospective.
A can’t-miss arts event that at once tributes local lore, history and geography — designed and curated by Wofford (with, he notes, insightful guidance from Cassilhaus and CAM) — the exhibit also features more than 50 pieces of framed artwork, and custom furniture and display materials created to showcase printed matter projects in an intimate and aesthetically rich environment.
ArtsNow caught up with the H&B founder on the eve of the highly anticipated closing at Cassilhaus to canvas his exhibit and his perspective of 20 years of art and life on the local art scene.
This mid-career retrospective opens at Cassilhaus and then heads to CAM Raleigh. What is the significance of the venues and the move from one to the other?
I’ve been working out of downtown Durham since 2003 (currently at the Bull City Arts Collaborative which I co-founded in 2005). Cassilhaus is a dream home/art gallery/artist studio and residency of life and creative partners Frank Konhaus and architect Ellen Cassilly, who both run their individual businesses less than two blocks from my studio. For the last five-plus years, they have been curating amazing exhibits at Cassilhaus that draw a rich selection of people from across our area and beyond. It is a fantastic place to install an exhibit, as every inch of space and every material choice has been oh-so-thoughtfully considered. And, of course, I’m super-excited that the exhibit will travel to my old stomping grounds in Raleigh as I kick-started H&B just across the railroad tracks from CAM at Antfarm where I worked from 1996 to 2003. I wanted this show to land in both cities that I’m proud to have lived and worked in, and which I call home.
So your first exhibit was in 1996. What’s changed since then?
I started Horse & Buggy Press in 1996. Jesse Helms was our senator. Seems like a long time ago, huh? Back then, people didn’t have cellphones, send email or use the Internet, etc.; so, yeah, the world has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Raleigh was still a pretty small town (in a good way); now we have high-rise condo-plexes sprouting up like weeds and chain hotels taking over the nooks and crannies where places like Sadlack’s used to function as our front porch. Through all this change, Horse & Buggy Press has been stubbornly working to showcase the important and beauty of print culture through a variety of projects, including collaborative fine press book editions with writers, photographers and other visual artists; historians; and scientists who have important and/or emotionally compelling things to share. There’s more to life than the ever-growing digital overload of information, beeps and unneeded apps and proclamations that we are bombarded with constantly. Like Flavor Flav said, ‘Yo, why don’t you back up from the TV, read a book or something.’
Give us a glimpse of what we’ll find at the retrospective:
It’s called ’20 Years of Horse & Buggy Press AND FRIENDS’ because it’s a collaborative show, just like the books I work on are collaborative in nature. All 18 of the fine press books I’ve produced with writers like Allan Gurganus, poets such as John Lane, illustrators such as Ippy Patterson, and photographers including Roger May and Rob McDonald are here. Many of these titles have been out of print for some time, or there are just a few copies left, and its fun to see these books alongside newer titles such as the just-completed book of wood engravings by John McWilliams.
Additionally, there are over 30 framed pieces of art by 12 different visual artists, some of these being standalone images pulled out of the books (including a 30-by-42-inch print of Roger May’s coal cars image that is unbelievably visceral in its power), and dozens of choice letterpress projects that I’ve pulled out of the flat file drawer and framed. A few favorite non-letterpress oriented design projects round out the show and provide a time-capsule flavoring to the exhibit. And there are small little treasures and surprises for those that look for them.
With this focus on fine press book collaborations, what are some standouts?
Inevitably, my favorite book is always the one I’m working on, but ‘Maji Moto: Dispatches From a Drought’ by Courtney Fitzpatrick is a standout as it tackles — in both macro and micro ways, in both prose and photographs — tough issues such as climate change, loss of wildlife habitat, and what it is like to live (or not live) through a brutal drought for humans and other mammals. It is a difficult, but important, and amazingly prescient book. Stephen Gibson’s ‘City of Midnight Skies’ features a gathering of his writing and drawings that he made in sketchbooks I made him over a five-year time period, some of which was time he spent as a bike messenger in DC. ‘Song of the Line’ by Jack Gilbert and ‘In the Light From Stained Glass’ by Frank Ryan are special because the writings cover a 20 to 30 year period of work by those poets.
Walking through the exhibit reflecting on 20 years, what are you thinking?
That I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some amazingly talented people who have placed their trust in me to bring their work to life in print form. That some of the best design is about solutions that let people soak in the content slowly rather than hitting them over their head to get their attention.
As a sort of reflection and summation of your career, what, for you, are the highlights of the exhibit and why?
The highlight of the exhibit for me is getting to see people interact with the book or hear their thoughts after spending time with one of the book projects; to see their eyes, heart and mind touched; and know they are moving through the world differently as a result.
Your biggest career influence to date?
Going to the Penland School of Crafts in the mid-’90s as a year-round core student (this was after I graduated from the School of Design at NC State) and rubbing elbows with a ton of talented craftspersons from all walks of life who were daily, monthly, yearly challenging themselves — and others — with their work. Especially inspiring were the potters, woodworkers and metalworkers who were getting to use their bodies and make things after they designed them, and they were interested in making everyday objects, not fetishized objects to put on a shelf in a hands-off conspicuous consumption kind of way, and as a result were turning people’s everyday actions (like drinking tea, eating off a plate, sitting on a chair, using a desk, using a fireplace poker) into more meaningful and intimate experiences. Reading ‘The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty,’ Ben Shahn’s ‘The Shape of Content,’ and Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’ in my early twenties were absolutely instrumental moments as well.
Advice for upcoming designers, craftspersons and artists?
Trust your instincts while constantly questioning both yourself and the conventional wisdom that most everyone else seems to follow.
Why is this exhibit a must-visit?
Because Cassilhaus is about the best thing to happen in Orange County since the retreating Ice Age left the gorge-like conditions that New Hope Creek runs through in Duke Forest (I realize this may not be 100 percent scientifically factual, but you get the point). You can walk down into the gorge from Cassilhaus and do a bunch of hiking as the dessert topping after seeing the exhibit. Getting to see Cassilhaus and its environs with an intelligent culling and purposeful presentation of 20 years of engagement with print culture in a time-capsule-oriented way is not likely to happen again. And if people can’t make the Cassilhaus closing reception on Sunday, June 5 from 2 to 5 p.m., then they have from mid June to early August to see it at CAM Raleigh — the best thing to happen to the Warehouse District in Raleigh since the railroad line was built across the state.
What do you hope viewers take away?
Well, in a literal way, I’m hoping people will actually be moved to purchase some of the books and take them home and read them. And share with their friends and neighbors. And read them again. Readers will get more and new things out of successive readings. In a more metaphoric way, I’m hoping people will be moved in different ways by the content of these works and will also see what it means to make things that are quietly beautiful and designed for the slow and repeated read instead of trying to compete with the loud attention-seeking noisemakers out there. And for people to see there is a large amount of amazing writers and artists working right here in the Southeast. You don’t have to leave this area to find great work and amazingly talented people.
Past this “mid-career” retrospective, what do the next 20 years look like?
More book collaborations. More designing books for other publishers. More hand-printing bookplates, literary broadsides, and special projects for clients that want the tactile beauty of well-designed letterpress goods because they know readers pay more attention to beautifully produced artifacts. Hopefully getting connected with museums and galleries and organizations that want to hire me to design their catalogues, brochures and such because they want them to be immensely beautiful, built to last and something that people will treasure enough to pass on to the next generation. More memoir book projects where I bring to life the exciting and varied stories of senior citizens who have a lot to share if we’d take the time to listen to them. Probably starting to teach workshops again in a couple years once my son is a bit older.
What: Closing Reception, “20 Years of Horse & Buggy Press AND FRIENDS”
Where: Cassilhaus, 6301 Mimosa Drive, Chapel Hill
When: Closing at Cassilhaus, Sunday June 5, 2 to 5 p.m.
RSVP: Email firstname.lastname@example.org so they can get a head count on refreshments and send you directions if needed.