Less than a year ago, the quirkiest street in Minsk, Belarus, that boasts a row of trendy cafes and turn-of-the-twentieth-century factory buildings donning street art, received new tenants. They bring craftsmanship back into graphic design, pioneering the local terra incognita of printmaking, and their name is Papera Press.
The founders of this letterpress studio – Egor and Taras – are humble yet beaming with energy. They spent months and months to find the proof press they wanted, ending up in a German town, at a former meat processing plant packed with written-off print shop machinery of all sorts in a most surreal way. They scraped every bit of information on letterpress printing that in Belarus is only known to elderly art academics. And they are never tired of advocating the technique for both commercial and art prints.
Friends for years, Egor and Taras were both excited to rediscover the perks of manual operations versus the computer-powered reality of our everyday lives. Not less enthused about the history of printmaking, they went back to the origins of what came to change the European civilization. But the theory and practice of letterpress printing they generated for years have more than a business purpose: Papera Press should – and will – become a place to educate, inspire and network.
In terms of analogue printmaking, Belarus is still a no man’s land that takes certain courage and determination to pioneer. The founders of Papera Press look for inspiration at the letterpress studios of the neighboring countries – Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, and even on other continents (on his recent trip, Taras visited San Francisco Center for the Book). Older masters count as well – their website visitors are greeted by Francysk Skaryna, one of the first European book printers born in Belarus, as their customer support operator.
The lack of competition from local creatives seems to be frustrating yet positively challenging. To educate the local audience about the subtle distinctions that make letterpress prints unique, encourage today’s generation of designers to experiment with original typefaces, bring printmaking enthusiasts together – these are the boxes to tick for Papera Press in the near future.
For now, the studio life unfolds around the flatbed cylinder proof press Korrex Stuttgart built in 1968 that serves local businesses in art, marketing, hospitality, and more with vibrant imagery expertly printed on cotton paper. “Our service is not for everyone, but our client base is growing – yet mostly through word of mouth. As our products are tangible, tactile, they are good advertising vehicles in themselves,” they explain. In this regard, they inevitably fall in line with the current trend for all things crafty that bear a human touch and reveal a real story behind their origin, as opposed to mass production. Is it fashion, then? “There’s definitely a fashion element to what we do as well.”
Founded to provide a niche service for businesses in need of eye-catching miscellanea, Papera Press is now expected to take an art-wise turn by producing limited series of original postcards, to start with. As the local market is young, there is still a long way to go till Belarusian artists and designers alike will be ready to embrace the new medium whole-heartedly. Yet, Egor and Taras are among the ones who shape the culture of art consumption in Belarus, and they take this role graciously along with its many burdens.
Photography: Nastassia Borodina