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Avery Parker, sophomore in interior design, and Audrey Hampton, sophomore in marketing management spreads ink onto the metal type to create an image in reverse. Student’s experimented with the letterpresses in Porter Hall during the Gene DeGruson Memorial event on Tuesday, Nov. 13. LeAnn Weishaar

Lecture series examines the power of print in a digital world

The Gene DeGruson Memorial Lecture brings a renowned speaker to campus every year to discuss topics such as local history and culture. This year, the series presented a unique collaboration opportunity and was expanded to a two-day event.  

Steve Cox, curator of special collections and university archives at PSU, inherited his position from Gene DeGruson, who founded the Pittsburg State University Special Collections Department in 1968. 

“When (DeGruson) passed away unexpectedly in 1997, I think the year following his death, they started this lecture series in his memory,” Cox said. “Since he was sort of the authority on southeast Kansas history, the lecture series normally focuses on historical talks that relate to southeast Kansas and the historical aspects of it, so every year we have that lecture. I … usually organize it. We went a little bit bigger this year and had more people involved, it’s usually just one evening lecture about an hour, an hour-and-a-half long.”  

Cox collaborated with Portico Bowman, PSU professor of art, and Jorge Leon, learning outreach librarian, on this year’s lecture series, which was originally scheduled to include two days of lectures and workshops featuring award-winning authors Merilyn Simonds and her partner Wayne Grady. Due to unexpected illness, however, Simonds was not able to attend.  

Despite this initial set-back, the lecture series was adjusted and resulted in a successful turnout. Several of the planned events still took place, such as workshops by PSU alumni and an hour-long lecture on Tuesday evening.   

“Even then when everything happened, and (Simonds) couldn’t come this week, all of the other connections that I’ve seen that came out, like we had the really great three-way digital zoom conference, and we were able to include her son Erik Mohr, he’s an e-book designer, and to sort of supplement Merilyn not being here yet still wanting to fulfill whatever kind of contractual obligations we could, GIT thought sure, we can do a digital (conference)…” Bowman said. “So then… We had Erik in Toronto, and Merilyn in Kingston, and then us here… and we had this very rich, hour-long presentation, which I think even took it to another level…”  

Other guests who participated in Tuesday night’s lecture as well as individual workshops the previous day and earlier Tuesday included Cat Jepson, PSU alumna, Ellen Long, senior in history, and Shawna Witherspoon, Bicknell Family Center for the Arts gallery assistant.  

Jepson, who now resides in Colorado, revived three old letterpress machines at Pitt State in 2015 as a senior in art; PSU’s Department of Art even dedicated the printmaking studio to her as the Cat Jepson Fine Art Printmaking Letterpress Studio. Jepson presented a workshop as part of the Gene DeGruson lecture series Monday about hands-on letterpress and the bookmaking process. Participants were able to see the letterpresses in action, and some of the sample texts printed read phrases such as “Paper is not forever,” and “Print isn’t dead.”  

Simonds is also a major proponent of traditional printing practices, as seen in her book “Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels, and the Lasting Impression of Books,” which ties into her overall message of how the digital world changes us. She will be speaking more on this topic at Pitt State Feb. 28 to present her lecture “Back to the Future of Books.” Her lecture will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Axe Library.  

“Everybody should be at this, there should be 26,000 people at this lecture, there should be every person in Pittsburg at this lecture when we have it in February, because it’s that vital,” Bowman said. “Like Merilyn says, this isn’t just a different operating system on a computer, this is a different operating system in our human condition…”   

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