San Franciscans are notably creative spirits. Amongst us you'll find artists, writers, bibliophiles, DIY enthusiasts, crafters, collectors, and art appreciators. Yet too few of us have visited, let alone are even aware of, the Arion Press, one of the nation's last printers of museum-quality, handmade books created with traditional letterpress printing equipment.
Founded in 1974 by publisher Andrew Hoyem, you'll find Arion Press in a former laundry facility in the Presidio, a space shared with its associated type foundry, M&H Type, and its non-profit and owner, the Grabhorn Institute. Together, the three divisions are a powerhouse dedicated to preserving the craft of fine printing and bookmaking.
While Arion Press only publishes about three books a year (up to 400 copies of each edition), every one is an exceptional work of art that's created using a human-touch process. Select literary texts are chosen and then matched with renowned contemporary artists who illustrate each work. M&H Type composes and casts the type from molten lead blocks, which is then handset and hand printed on 100-year-old letterpress machines. The printed pages are proofread by actually being read out loud. And then, once everything is perfect, the pages are meticulously hand bound – sewn, glued, and pressed together into a one-of-a-kind, tangible tribute to the literary work it houses.
Come for a Visit
The Arion Press gallery is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 to 5 pm and by appointment. Here you'll find Arion's recent projects and publications. But for a truly memorable and awe-inspiring visit, make a reservation for a 90 minute public demonstration tour, where for $10 you'll see the whole printmaking process in action, browse the facilities, including the floor-to-ceiling walls of typefaces (more than 3,888 typecases, 100 tons of type!), and go home with your very own printmaking souvenir.
Once you've visited this unique printmaker, gallery, publisher, and living museum, should you ever hear anyone claim that print is dead, you can kindly point them to Arion Press.
Arion Press is located just inside the 14th Avenue Gate in the Presidio's Public Health Service District, adjacent to the Richmond District. You'll know you're at the right place when you approach a building with a tall smokestack.