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Rocky Stinehour honored at Dartmouth's Baker Library

Family members gathered behind Rocky and Elizabeth Stinehour, both seated, in the Main Hall of Dartmouth’s Baker Library on Thursday, April 11, before listening to David Godine’s lecture, “A Printer’s Work: Rocky Stinehour and His Legacy,” including Alexander Grondin, left, front row, Christopher Grondin, and Zoe David; Christopher Stinehour, left, middle section, Shelley Stinehour, Annie Stinehour, Lily Stinehour, Margaret Toliver, Ben Bottoms, Ann Jolda, Mary Stinehour, Felix Hatfield, Stephanie Jameson, Katie Yellow, Candida Silva, and Jennifer David; John Stinehour, left, back row, Rory Toliver, Andre Toliver, Nicholas Stinehour, Stephen Stinehour, and Katherine Grondin. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
April 17, 2013
HANOVER — Rocky Stinehour, the now-retired 88-year-old printer who owned and operated the Stinehour Press for 56 years in Lunenburg, was put squarely in the limelight on Thursday, April 11, at Dartmouth College. He also owned this newspaper from 1970 to 1976.

An exhibit — "Designed and Printed at the Stinehour Press" — with materials drawn from the Rauner Special Collections Library was opened in the Main Hall of the stately Baker Library, and publisher David R. Godine presented the 2013 Stephen Harvard Memorial Lecture — "A Printer's Work: Rocky Stinehour and His Legacy" — sponsored by the Friends of the Dartmouth College Library.

"Rural Vermont seems like an unlikely place to find a commercial printer dedicated to impeccable design and the craft of book making, but it was in Lunenburg that Roderick Stinehour '50 established one of the finest commercial printing houses in America," reads the poster at the start of the exhibit, displayed in six large shallow glass-fronted in-wall cases.

"Founded in Dartmouth's Graphic Arts Workshop, the successful Stinehour Press achieved a level of quality associated with the fine press tradition, while remaining commercially viable.

"This exhibit shows how Stinehour's commitment to excellent design kept the Press consistently relevant through a period of intense technological change in the industry. From hot-metal typesetting to digital production, every issue of the Press lived up to Stinehour's high standards."

Four generations of the Stinehour family were on hand, including Rocky and his wife and partner Elizabeth, high-school sweethearts in the Class of 1943 at Whitefield High School, plus all seven of their surviving children, several spouses and other assorted descendents, including four-year-old great-granddaughter Zoe David of Maryland. Peter Stinehour died in a car accident on April 12, 1975, when he was a WMRHS senior.

Their oldest son Steve graduated in 1966 from Lancaster High School, and the remaining siblings from WMRHS.

"Rocky first encountered printing after serving in World War II," reads the explanatory headings. "He came home to New Hampshire where he got a job as a pilot for a small regional airline. When it went bankrupt in early 1948, Stinehour landed a job as an apprentice at the Bisbee Press in Lunenburg. Ernest Bisbee was a farmer printer: printing supplemented his farm income. He focused on job printing (stationery, announcements, and other ephemeral work) and cared little about design theory (he did not even have a proof press when Stinehour first started working for him). But he trained Stinehour in the technical wonders of the press and provided him with basic typographic principles.

"After exhausting the shelf of books devoted to typography in Bisbee's shop, Stinehour enrolled at Dartmouth College to study under Ray Nash and take advantage of the Graphic Arts Workshop (now the Book Arts Workshop in Baker Library). When he graduated in 1950 he was armed with a sensitivity to good design, a solid background in the history of books and printing, and a deep appreciation for the art of the book.

"Bisbee died (on Feb. 7, 1950) during Rocky's final year at Dartmouth. Rocky shuttled back and forth (the 70 miles) between Hanover and Lunenburg to maintain the business. Later that year Bisbee's widow sold the established printing firm with its local customer base (and attached farmhouse and barns) to the ambitious apprentice who began issuing work under the name The North Country Press. With his wife Elizabeth, his brother Laurence, and a developing cadre of devoted employees, Stinehour would use the Press to reshape the country's notion of what a commercial printer could do.

"Stinehour continued to use the Bisbee Press imprint for job printing as he built up business for the work he dreamed of doing: the production of high quality books. A cease-and-desist order was the impetus for a name change (there was another North Country Press) and in 1953 the Stinehour Press came into being.

The connections that Rocky made at Dartmouth served him well in his first years: a meeting with Harold Hugo of the Meriden Gravure Company in Connecticut enabled Stinehour to contract with Meriden for images; nearly half of the output of the Press's initial two years consisted of work for Dartmouth; and, through Ray Nash, the Press was able to secure work from the Harvard libraries, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Boston Athenaeum (where a statue of Stinehour sculpted by Elwyn Brooks now resides).

"By 1957, the Press was flourishing.

"Rocky's dream was manifest in printing and design work for museums, libraries, universities and historical societies and in his partnership with Meriden Gravure. In the early days of the Press, Rocky focused on design, his brother Laurence on composing and printing, and his wife Elizabeth on bookkeeping.

"The family-run business brought in young apprentices to learn the trade, feeding into the Press's romantic self-identification. Cold winters in Lunenburg without running water in the press building, the office in the house where Elizabeth maintained the books, and an isolated team of artisans committed to excellent work evoke an idyllic vision of the union of craft and commerce. "Sounding like the utopian printer-writer-artist William Morris a century before, Stinehour reflected: 'It is the cult of bigness that is crumbling; it is the cult of mindless work in the production of useless things that is under fire. Small groups of intelligent workers engaged in humanizing pursuits may yet be the salvation of our age.'"

"One of the most surprising things about Stinehour Press is the way it managed to succeed. It is always a bit of a shock to learn about a small company obsessive over a pursuit that seems like something out of the past — a craftperson's obsession — that is able to turn a profit and keep forty people gainfully employed at any given time.

"Perhaps that is where the practicality of the North Country printer comes into play."

Longtime friends and colleagues from Rocky's professional life, plus family members and friends — many from the Lancaster area — crowded into the Class of 1902 Room to hear Godine present his slide-talk conversationally, followed by a reception.

Earlier that day, the Library treated the two dozen or so members of the Stinehour family from four generations who had made the pilgrimage from across the U.S. to a celebratory buffet lunch in the newly renovated Hanover Inn.

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