A conversation with a friend a couple of months back brought up the name of Púca Press. I had heard of it just once before when I saw a small book letterpress printed in the Irish language which had carried the Púca Press mark. I called the press and arranged to pay them a visit. After a four hour drive from Dublin I arrived in the picturesque village of Dingle, Co. Kerry, located in the very South Western corner of Ireland. You will find the press on River Lane at the back of the town, the traditional street signage quite in keeping with Púca’s own typographic sensibilities and heritage.
Swiss born artist and graphic designer Dominique Lieb runs the Púca Press. The space is completely flooded by such natural light, as only a corrugated perspex roof can allow. My first impression upon entering the press was amazement at the huge quantity of material contained in the relatively small space. I’m told that the press contains about 120 cases of type as well as the necessary furniture – composing stone, galley racks etc. Dominique has made serious strides to becoming fluently proficient in the Irish language – her love of the language and Gaeltacht (predominantly Irish speaking) areas has informed much of her book work and her beautiful linocuts.
Dominique acquired the entire press from Heiko Rolff, a fellow Swiss publisher in 2004, who had in turn bought the press from ex-Dolmen employee Stan Phelan in 1994. In 2003, Dominique had originally come over ‘for just a few months’. Nine years later she is still in Dingle and occupies herself by making very interesting work, mostly small poetry books and stunning linocuts inspired by the local landscape and it’s people. Her work is almost entirely produced on a 1960’s Heidleberg Platen (10 x 15 inches).
The type collection at Púca has been sourced from a number of different presses over the last 100 years, most notably from Liam Miller’s Dolmen Press (1951 – 1987), Elizabeth Yeats’ Cuala Press (1908 – 1946) and even from William Morris’ Kelmscott Press (1890 – 1896). The types are difficult to identify on first inspection of the cases as many of them have unusual labels. Rather than naming the typeface contained within, as is traditional, many of the cases have merely been named by what job they have been used for; ‘Rooms en-suite with TV’, ‘Rosebush’ and ‘Soccer’ are good examples. The press has an interesting collection of Gaelic faces in both metal and wood, many of which Dominique employs in hand setting the text for her books. Along with good quantities of classic faces such as Baskerville, Caslon and Perpetua, Púca also has some less used faces such as a Fractur, Venetian, Elefant and Golden (from Morris’ Kelmscott Press), many of them in founders metal.
Dominique’s books were what took my main interest. She publishes books of poetry and prose printed in English, Irish and German. They are small works (due to the restriction of printing on the 10 x 15 Heidelberg machine) which have been painstakingly crafted. Dominique finishes each edition herself in a variety of bindings. The first book, ‘Allgar na gCloch’ was so successful that a second edition was produced (offset printed this time).
The type has been set by hand in every circumstance and the images have been produced from both magnesium plates and linocuts. Where linocuts are concerned they have been printed directly from the original blocks. The books are produced in editions of approximately 250 -300. The typography is quite reserved, clean and easily accessible, utilising many of the interesting types in the collection.
Dominique encompasses all that can be great about an artist book maker; she is passionate, self driven and interested in the history of her craft as well as contemporary uses for it. She is mostly self-thought through trial and error, learning with every job.
In the far reaches of an island on the peripherals of Europe, Dominique has managed to not only get to grips with the book technology of those who have famously come and gone before her, but also with their quickly disappearing language. Long may she continue.
Mail Dominique to say hello…
EDIT: Púca Press has since ceased trading.