Peter Simpson, co-founder and director, remembers The Holloway Press.
The retrospective exhibition, Dark Arts: Twenty Years of the Holloway Press, so ably curated by Francis McWhannell, is endgame for the Press, the last move in a game that started more than 20 years ago. Back in 1992, living in Christchurch, I applied for a job to set up an English Department at the new Tamaki Campus of the University of Auckland. Even before I was appointed, Alan Loney began lobbying me to support his wish to establish a new fine press at the University. From the moment I arrived in Auckland, at the end of 1992, he began banging on my door, pleading his cause. I was quickly won over.
I knew of Loney’s reputation as the country’s leading hand-printer, forged through years of great work at the Hawk and Black Light Presses. There was no room on the city campus for a press, but at Tamaki there was heaps of room – new buildings were sprouting up like mushrooms after rain – and I believed a fine press would be a great asset for a new institution. My task was to persuade the university to back it and, after several months, I succeeded, largely through the support of Professor Ray Meyer, the pro-vice chancellor at Tamaki.
We named the Press after Ron Holloway, a printer since the 1930s, who in retirement offered to gift the university printing equipment for a new press. Loney saw a chance to fulfil his dream of running a fine press without carrying the financial responsibility himself. It’s very hard yakka trying to make a profit out of letterpress printing in this day and age. It is costly and time-consuming work, and the books are bound to be expensive and difficult to sell. The name also acknowledges the tradition to which Holloway belonged, of printing good writing well.
In 1994, the press began with an Allen Curnow poem, Looking West, Late Afternoon, Low Water – a fitting beginning, since Holloway got his start as printer with Curnow’s first book, Valley of Decision (1933). The first phase lasted until 1998, when Loney resigned and moved to Australia. He printed and designed 12 books, by Robin Hyde, Helen Shaw, Kendrick Smithyman, Leo Bensemann, Robert Creeley and others.
After Loney left, the Press was in limbo for a couple of years until Vice-Chancellor John Hood came to the rescue, providing funding to contract out the books to other printers; I acted as publisher. In this phase, 2001-07, another 12 books were published, mostly printed and designed by Tara McLeod of Pear Tree Press, including titles by Colin McCahon, Maurice Duggan, R A K Mason, Len Lye, and writer/artist collaborations between Loney and Max Gimblett, Michele Leggott and Gretchen Albrecht, Charles Spear and Tony Lane, Murray Edmond and Joanna Forsberg.
The last phase began in 2008, when I retired from the English Department. I succeeded in negotiating a part-time contract with the Dean of Arts to keep the Press going. Since 2009, there have been 16 publications, an increase in production due to my finally being able to make the press my first priority. There were books by Karl Wolfskehl, Lisa Samuels, Janet Frame and Charles Brasch, Bill Direen, Michelanne Forster, and collaborations between Gregory O’Brien (poet) and Mari Mahr (photographer), Chris Price (poet), Jonathan Besser (composer) and Max Gimblett (artist), David Howard (poet) and Peter Ransom (artist), Martin Edmond (essayist) and Maggie Hall (photographer), and Dinah Hawken (poet) and John Edgar (artist). The Holloway Press 1994-2013: A Checklist of Publications, edited by Francis McWhannell, is the 40th and last publication; all 40 books are included in the exhibition (four books were published in two versions, standard and de luxe).
A few points about the philosophy of the Press:
We subscribed to Marshall McLuhan’s maxim that when technology becomes obsolete for commerce it becomes available for art.
All work printed, whether historical or contemporary, must be first rate, as writing or art; no hobbyism.
In materials and workmanship, we strove for high standards. These books are well made by the best craftspeople in the business. They will last forever.
We honoured the rich synergy between writing and printing in New Zealand as developed by printers such as Holloway, Bob Lowry, Denis Glover, Bensemann, Bob Gormack and Loney.
We wanted the Press to be historically informed but also up-to-the-minute, engaging the best contemporary writers and artists, often in collaboration. Many authors and editors had connections with the University of Auckland. I always saw the Press as a vehicle for my colleagues’ research and creative work.
So, it’s a bit sad that checkmate has come for The Holloway Press but, to my mind, 20 years and 40 books is something to celebrate, not to mourn.
A version of this talk was given at the opening of the exhibition Dark Arts: Twenty Years of the Holloway Press, curated by Francis McWhannell, at the Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, July 4-31 August 2014.