Print fair turns conference center into colorful hubbub of collections and conversation

by | May 14, 2017

Dealers from near and far – and fairgoers young and old – descended on UMSL last weekend for the St. Louis Mercantile Library's 11th annual event.

Charles Brown has been to more than a few versions of the St. Louis Fine Print, Rare Book and Paper Arts Fair over the years. But for him the annual event has never gotten old – and it keeps getting bigger, too.

Joel Minor and daughter at St. Louis Print Fair

Joel Minor and his daughter, Madeline, explore a booth at UMSL during the fair earlier this month. (Photos by Evie Hemphill)

As he perused the wares at more than 30 booths at the University of Missouri–St. Louis last weekend, Brown noted that the fair “continues to grow by leaps and bounds.”

“I’ve seen dealers from New York, Virginia, New Mexico – and that’s just a fraction,” said Brown, a 1975 UMSL alumnus and longtime reference librarian for the St. Louis Mercantile Library, which organizes the effort. “That’s a good sign when you get both the returning vendors and the new ones.”

The hubbub filled the university’s J.C. Penney Conference Center May 5 to 7 as hundreds of interested collectors and browsers descended on campus to explore everything from fine art and photography to rare books and contemporary letterpress prints.

John Hoover, director of the Mercantile, said he was “very happy” with the quality of this year’s dealers’ stock as well as the overall turnout and welcoming atmosphere.

Among visitors, primary reasons for their respective trips varied. Washington University Libraries employee Joel Minor and his young daughter, Madeline, paid particular attention to the book offerings and also took in Sunday afternoon’s live letterpress demonstration by Firecracker Press.

Fair conversation

A dealer chats with John Hoover (at left), director of UMSL’s St. Louis Mercantile Library, on the final day of the event.

As Eric Woods prepared a relatively lightweight press for the demo, he offered those gathered a brief history lesson on St. Louis’ role as the first major type foundry city in the Midwest.

“In the late 1800s we [St. Louis] were the bee’s knees for typesetting and what was happening worldwide,” Woods said.

For St. Louis resident Masao Nishi, it was the wide variety of maps that drew him in. And Meghan Doil, who works at a local Michael’s store, decided to come because of her interest in framing.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the event,” Doil said.

Firecracker Press demo

Eric Woods of Firecracker Press talks shop during a letterpress presentation.

Vendors including local watercolor artist Barbara Martin Smith often enjoy the interaction with others invested in the St. Louis arts and cultural scene during the spring weekend, and Smith said this year was no different in that respect. It’s also a great chance to get feedback from all sorts of people as they explore her work.

On top of that, she takes pleasure in building up the Mercantile Library, where several of her friends serve as docents.

“I’m very connected at this point in St. Louis, and I really appreciate all the people who are supportive of the Mercantile Library,” Smith said.

Media coverage:

Ladue News
Riverfront Times
St. Louis Magazine

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill