One of the projects that Wil worked on was the 1977 Kananginak Calendar. For as long as I have been with the studios I had assumed that the pages were printed from Kananginak's originally hand cut lino blocks that we now have safely guarded in the archives.
What actually happened was that Wil had each block (mylar proofs or prints on paper) sent to the company that had to shot them on "lith" film as "line shots". Because there was no tonal detail (no grey areas) these images were ideal for this process. Zinc plates were prepared with photo emulsion on the surface and the negatives sandwiched between the emulsion and glass of a vacuum/exposure unit, then exposed with bright controlled light source onto the zinc photo plates. After the proper exposure the plates were then placed in an acid bath as you would an etching, probably in a 7:1 bath of nitric acid. Once the negative space (unexposed emulsion) was eaten away it left the image (exposed emulsion) area raised enough so it could be printed on the Cape Dorset Letterpress equipment.
The small holes scattered all over the plate were put there for small bard nails that would hold the plate onto a type high block of wood so the plate would fit into the configurations required for letterpress printing which is .918
You can also see some swirl marks where the plate is more grey that the rest of the non image areas this was done by a milling machine to be certain the image area and the non image area were separated from one another.
The other issue is the oxidation that has taken place. It looks like a sugar coating around the edges of the plate and this is caused by exposure to moisture. The plates were wrapped in acidic paper for storage for thirty seven years. The freeze thaw cycle in the out buildings is radical. It isn't unusual for the temperatures to reach -40C for months on end and then the summers can be plus 20C (for one or two days) so the interior of the building retains moisture and in turn that moisture gets absorbed by any absorbent material, in this case the thick paper wrapping.
I have moved all this material into the heated buildings to stop this process and contacted a company that was remarkably forth coming about the process. Andrew Irlmeier was my contact and we corresponded for some time.
"Though this is very sad news, by displaying his work Hudson his existence carries on forever.
So I got some answers from Bob. This is very blunt but I think he answered most of the questions. Also, if you had any other questions involving plate making, Bob is more than welcome to schedule a meeting to discuss more.
- Most of these should be zinc but the Ex Libris die he believes is magnesium.
- Most likely created in a acid bath etcher.
- The zinc dies shouldn't oxidation but it is possible with the range of humidity.
- You can try taking bristle brush and WD40 to remove the oxidation but I is possible to ruin the die more.
- Metal dies offer a higher level in detail and a longer run
- We use the negative process then take that negative and expose it onto the emulsion plate. Their are a few other companies around NY that do the same process.
So I just summarized what he said. Again please call Bob whenever you have any questions, he would be the best person to chat with.
The edition was then locked up with all the elements required for each page, some in colour others in black and white.
In 2010 the actual original lino cut blocks were printed by hand in the stone-cut shop by Qavavau Manumee, Qiatsuq Niviaqsie and Cee Pootoogook . This was the first time these blocks were editioned from the original blocks. Wil obviously had to print the blocks to make the matrix for the zinc plates but the blocks were in remarkable shape even after all this time. Dorset Fine Arts offered these as a special collection and many of the prints are still available today.
The Inuit World
The reason Wil decided to make the zinc plates was probably because of the delicate nature of the original lino blocks.
In the afterward of the Inuit World book Wil credits Pia Pootoogook and Udjualuk Etidlooie responsible for the printing of this volume. The book was set with 14 point Van Dijck Roman and Italic and has been printed at Cape Dorset in an edition of 1000 copies.
Wil was a stickler for detail so didn't have the accompanying book plate signed as if an edition, it was just signed by the artist Kananginak as it should be.
The printed book was a soft cover, the book plate was inserted into a sleeve and the whole project put into a lovely blue box with a spine plate that says what's inside. The effort to hand print 1000 of these and to have them so beautifully presented is testimony in itself to the skill of the printers and their teacher.