Printing Arts

By: Al Lowman

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

To reach the level of art, a printer must consider the relationship between subject matter and format, then make tasteful choices of typeface, paper tone and texture, spacing and proportion in the page layout, binding materials, and other elements. Care must be exercised in typesetting to avoid bad spacing between letters and bad breaks at the ends of lines and pages. The press run must produce even inking. Illustrations must be integrated into the text in a manner that facilitates clarity. The tradition of modern fine printing began in 1890 with the establishment of the Kelmscott Press by William Morris in London. Morris's work quickly drew the attention of others, including such Americans as Bruce Rogers and, somewhat later, Porter Garnett. Rogers and Garnett had a significant influence on young Jean Carl Hertzog, Sr., who arrived at El Paso in 1923 and began his own crusade for higher standards in Texas and southwestern printing. The first Texas printer to achieve typographical distinction was Michigan-born Edwin B. Hill (1880–1949). An employee of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, he was transferred in 1918 from its Mesa, Arizona, office to the one in El Paso. Using an Excelsior press brought from Mesa and a small Caxton purchased in Texas, he undertook the printing of 200 pamphlets, folders, and broadsides, favoring brief passages from established English and American authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To each he affixed his printer's mark, a cowboy hat. A hobby printer, his attractive but unpretentious little works are generally restrained and tastefully executed-most often in Caslon type. He used ingenuity to achieve variety with his limited type and paper. His presswork was doubtless as good as his equipment allowed. Hill left El Paso in 1940, just as Hertzog was coming to prominence as a printer.

At the time of Hertzog's arrival, Texas books generally showed no taste in typography and no knowledge of spacing and proportion and were poorly printed on cheap paper. The sheets were then clapped haphazardly into bindings of whatever material happened to be lying at hand. Harmony between content and makeup was seldom considered. Hertzog's contribution must be appreciated against this background. His work produced Tom Lea's Peleliu Landing (1945), Ross Calvin's River of the Sun (1946), Cleve Hallenbeck's Journey of Fray Marcos de Niza (1949), and Tom Lea's The King Ranch (1957). At seventy-eight he produced a miniature reprint of Barbara Hofland's The Captive Boy (1981) for Stanley Marcus's Somesuch Press.

Dallas is widely known in the trade as a center for commercial and advertising typography. Typical of the Dallas firms was Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall, which started in 1925 as the Jaggers Typesetting Company. Five years later the names of Chiles and Stovall were added. They began producing plates and mats for advertisers. They also turned out some attractive catalogues and broadsides for such patrons as the Dallas Public Library and Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University. The best example is perhaps A Noble Heritage: Two Conjugate Leaves from the First Edition of the Bishops' Bible, produced for the Bridwell in 1973. In 1929 the Book Club of Texas rose up bravely under the aegis of twenty-three-year-old Stanley Marcus. In its prospectus it promised to "typify the best standards of bookmaking, in regard to subject matter, printing, binding, and typographical design." When the club suspended operations in 1941, it had published seven small books, only three of which were manufactured in Texas. After nearly a half century of dormancy, the club was revived in 1989 with the republication of John Graves's classic Goodbye to a River (1960) in a new format by W. Thomas Taylor of Austin. Bernhardt Wall (1872–1956) was a Connecticut Yankee who wintered in La Porte, Texas, his wife's family home, for many years. In the mid-1930s he produced at least three books of copper-plate engravings during his annual Texas sojourns: Following General Sam Houston, 1793–1863 (1935), Following Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas (1936), and Following Andrew Jackson (1937). The process was so tedious and time-consuming that the editions were always severely limited; however, these are the finished work of a well-rounded artisan. Wall wrote his books, designed them, etched the plates, printed and signed each etching, then cut, folded, gathered, sewed, bound, lettered, and labeled them. After his wife's death in 1938, Wall, like the horseman in his colophon, rode away-back to Connecticut, where he later remarried. He lived his own last years in Sierra Madre, California. In 1960 India-born Kim Taylor brought a new influence to southwestern bookmaking when he arrived at the University of Texas Humanities Research Center in Austin. During his Texas years Taylor produced an endless flow of books, exhibition catalogues, posters, and invitations. His work is readily recognizable, strongly personal, and strongly stated. It may in part be judged by two volumes that placed in the 1961 Fifty Books competition: The Craft & Context of Translation, edited by William Arrowsmith and Roger Shattuck, and Poor Heretic, a collection of poems by Kenneth Hopkins. The imaginative and richly diverse Tower Poetry Series was another of Taylor's finest contributions. He returned to England in 1969.

After a Blanco County boyhood and a university education in journalism, William D. Wittliff became business and production manager for the Southern Methodist University Press at Dallas. But he decided to design and publish his own books. The first item to bear the Encino Press imprint was a 1964 program for the dedication of Lyndon B. Johnson's boyhood home. For the next few years the press combined excellence of design and quality of content with the necessity for commercial success, invariably demonstrating an uncommon vitality and variety in all its ventures. It produced in limited editions works of history, biography, and belles lettres, which major publishers had passed by. The firm offered titles by established authors and took chances with unknowns. The last book from the Encino Press was Blue & Some Other Dogs by John Graves, issued in 1981. After building a reputation as an energetic and innovative library administrator in Galveston and San Antonio, Oklahoma-born William R. Holman found in San Francisco the perfect environment for cultivating his mania for hand-press printing. His equally talented wife, Barbara, shared his enthusiasm, and together they produced for Warren Howell a reprint of Platt and Slater's Traveler's Guide, which was included in the American Institute of Graphic Arts Fifty Books of the Year competition, a rare achievement for first-time entrants. In 1967 the Holmans returned to Texas, where he joined the staff of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Holman originated a succession of titles that unfailingly won praise from admirers of the printed word. Among them was a second Fifty Books winner, Harold Billings's Edward Dahlberg: American Ishmael of Letters (1969). Holman's best-known Texas book is Printing Arts in Texas (1975) by Al Lowman. In 1974 his son David Holman (1947-) compiled and printed his own first book: Letters of Hard Times in Texas. Working at the Wind River Press in Austin, Holman in 1986 designed and printed Of Birds and Texas, a massive portfolio of paintings by Fort Worth artists Stuart and Scott Gentling that reveals Holman's great proficiency in both letterpress and offset lithography. Barbara Whitehead (1940-) went from illustrator to designer in 1974 with the production of David Lindsey's compilation of Texas-Mexican border lore entitled The Wonderful Chirrionera for Heidelberg Publishers, Incorporated. She and Fred, her husband, (1937–92) were responsible for Journey to Pleasant Hill: The Civil War Letters of Captain Elijah P. Petty (1982). In Austin W. Thomas Taylor (1951-) made his printing debut in 1981 with an untitled pamphlet that was a funds appeal for the Browning Library at Baylor University. Taylor, a native Houstonian, had become an antiquarian bookseller while still a student at the University of Texas. He then became a self-taught printer and captured notice with such achievements as a new edition of Rupert N. Richardson's The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement (1991) for the 4-O-Imprint series at Hardin-Simmons University Press and, most strikingly, John Graves's Self-Portrait with Birds (1991) for the Chama Press of Dallas.

Oldest of the university presses in Texas is that of Southern Methodist University at Dallas. Established in 1937 with a $1,000 private donation it published its first book, Naturalists of the Frontier by Samuel Wood Geiser, the following November. Although it was a part-time effort of the legendary John H. McGinnis for the first five years, the press came into its own during the directorship of Allen Maxwell from 1946 to 1982. It turned out some exceptionally handsome books, including several designed by Carl Hertzog and, much later, by William D. Wittliff, who began his design career there in 1963 with publication of The Free World and Free Trade by Harry S. Truman. The University of Texas Press was reorganized in 1950 under Frank Wardlaw. Its first book, Florida of the Incas, appeared the following year. In the 1950s it placed two entries in the Fifty Books of the Year competition of the American Institute of Graphic Arts: Benjamin C. Tharp's Texas Range Grasses (1952), designed by Van Courtright Walton, and George Garrett's The Sleeping Gypsy (1958), designed by Jo Alys Downs (1930-). Design responsibilities at the University of Texas Press were assumed on a half-time basis by art department instructor George Lenox (1926-), who had been setting type since his Michigan boyhood. He was soon joined by Rich Hendel (1939-), who stayed with the press until 1978. After Hendel's departure Lenox began full-time. Mexican Masks (1974) by Donald and Dorothy Cordry became the first book Lenox designed in Texas. His most recognized work was the design of the illustrated edition of James Michener's Texas (1986). Lenox retired in 1992, but continued designing books for the Press. Meanwhile, at San Antonio, Trinity University started a press in 1961. The Principia Press's first book was Chaplain Davis and Hood's Texas Brigade (1962). One of its most notable achievements was Ferdinand Peter Herff's The Doctors Herff: A Three-Generation Memoir (1973), designed by William D. Wittliff. This press closed in 1989. In September 1974 Frank Wardlaw left the University of Texas Press to head the new Texas A&M University Press. To the new endeavor he brought the same insistence on proper design, an emphasis that continued with his successors. The first book from the A&M Press was Elizabeth A. H. John's Storms Brewed in Other Men's World (1975). From 1975 until his sudden death ten years later, designer Raymond M. Gramaila (1928–85), formerly of the Wesleyan University Press, won numerous design awards for the press. After Gramaila died, Jim Billingsley (1932-), formerly a freelancer for the press, bore major responsibility for its design efforts. The late 1980s saw the revival of several university presses. The Texas Christian University Press had a rebirth late in 1984 under director Keith Gregory; Texas Tech University Press was reorganized in 1986 under Wendell Broom; Hardin-Simmons University Press established its 4-O-Imprint in 1988, sparked by Randy Armstrong and Bill Curtis, and the University of North Texas Press began under the direction of Fran Vick in 1987. In each instance the presses were heavily dependent on outside designers like W. Thomas Taylor, Barbara Whitehead, Jim Billingsley, and Rich Hendel for their most inspired productions.

When Edwin B. Hill and Carl Hertzog began their Texas careers, typesetting was done with monotype or linotype casting and most printing was done letterpress. The trend toward offset lithography was greatly accelerated in the 1960s, and letterpress printing was virtually relegated to the past. In the late 1970s digital typesetting began displacing traditional typesetting methods. But regardless of technology fine printing remains dependent upon taste and a familiarity with tradition.

David R. Farmer, Stanley Marcus: A Life with Books (Dallas: Still Point Press, 1993). Al Lowman, Printing Arts in Texas (Austin?: R. Beacham, 1975; rpt., Austin: Jenkins, 1981).
  • Visual Arts
  • Genres and Media

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Al Lowman, “Printing Arts,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995