HISTORY

Jocelyn A. Dohm, 1918-2003
Jocelyn in front of the fire

The Sherwood Press was founded in 1940 by Jocelyn Dohm. Jocelyn had just graduated from the University of  Washington in Seattle with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and with a friend, Betty Fultz, decided to open a print shop in the basement of her family home in Olympia, Washington.

During the summer after graduation, Jocelyn and Betty acquired a small Old Style Gordon platen press, some type, and other print-shop fundamentals in Seattle. Jocelyn’s father, Edward Dohm, approved of their ambitions and proposed that he and Jocelyn build a small print shop on the uphill side of their lakeside property. That summer and fall, Jocelyn and her father built the 400 square foot building together after a design by Jocelyn’s sister, Virgie. The only part of the building they didn’t build themselves was the brick fireplace. The press building was finished in that fall.

The Sherwood Press

Jocelyn and Betty were not full-time letterpress printers. At first they ran occasional jobs while holding other jobs in town. After a couple of years, Betty got married and moved north. Jocelyn continued alone and business picked up when jocelyn quit her job at a local title company.

Jocelyn built the business little by little until she was turning out a large amount of work for a one-person business. She kept every single thing she printed in an archive that she meticulously maintained in dated boxes in the press loft. She would write the date, number printed, and indicate whether she had used lay guages on each sample. This is just one example of Jocelyn’s prodigious record-keeping.

Over the years, Jocelyn established the press– and herself– as a beloved Olympia institution. She printed business stationery, wedding invitations, paper napkins, business forms, baby announcements, concert programs, memorial cards, and an amazing array of other small jobs, from coasters to matchbook covers to record sleeves for Olympia’s indie-rock music scene, all using metal foundry type set meticulously by hand and run on one of her letterpresses. A retrospective given of her work in 2000 (her 60th year in business) revealed a surprising historical account of the history of Olympia, as seen through a sampling of its printed ephemera.

But Jocelyn was far from just a printer in a cozy cottage print shop. She was a political activist, frequent event emcee, and long-term member of the American Association of University Women, Soroptimist, League of Women Voters, and Masterworks Choral Ensemble. She was the first person to call about local and regional political candidates and ballot issues. She would even mark up her voter’s pamphlet and leave it out on a table in the press for visitors to consult, which they very often did. Jocelyn and her partner also attended more plays, concerts, public hearings, city council meetings and other events than most people can boast. She supported her favorite causes with generous and consistent contributions.

Jocelyn hosted a long list of mostly high school students who would come and work for her as “printer’s devils” after school. They would come and set type, put type away, sweep, clean and generally help around the tiny shop. And this is how I came to be involved back in 1989. I was not in high school, but just getting ready to finish school at The Evergreen State College. I met Jocelyn when some friends urged me to visit her after I calligraphed their wedding invitation which was then printed at The Sherwood Press. They thought I would love the place, and once I got around to making my visit, I found they were right.

Once I crossed the threshold at the press, I could never quite leave again. Jocelyn and I became instant friends, and our friendship deepened over the fourteen years that I volunteered at the press. After eight years of my very part-time apprenticeship, I finally told Jocelyn that I could see myself as her successor. She instantly agreed. For six more years we continued our friendship and the apprenticeship grew more serious. For the last three years of her life, Jocelyn took care to make sure that I knew how to run the Heidelberg “Windmill” 10 x 15 platen letterpress, handle the accounting, banking, source supplies and paper, and other details I would need to master to assume ownership.

Jocelyn had told me early in our acquaintance that she had no intentions of retiring from the press. So I knew that when I eventually took over, it would be because she was no longer able to operate the press, which gave me (and I imagine her, too), a powerful reluctance that such a day would ever come. And after working continuously with joy for 63 years in her beautiful print shop, nobody more than Jocelyn could have understood the loss that such a day would bring to her, to me, and to our community. But that day did come. On Monday, November 17, 2003, I came to work to find that Jocelyn’s press van was not in it’s usual spot in the driveway. Jocelyn’s long print-run had come to an end.

If you would like to hear more about  Jocelyn and my shared story, listen to the interview with me on The Story with Dick Gordon from American Public Media. This was recorded in the studio at KUOW-FM Seattle in 2008. http://www.thestory.org/stories/2009-05/jocelyns-press

Jocelyn with dogs
Jocelyn with dogs

 

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4 thoughts on “HISTORY

  1. I loved being a Printer’s Devil for Jocelyn back in the late 1960’s (or was it the early 70’s). She inspired me to buy my own hobby press and helped me buy type from another shop that had gone out of business. I have very fond memories of chopping wood for the fire and enjoying classical music on the old radio while I learned how to read upside down and backwards (as all real printers must do!). It was a blessed season in my life and a source of fond memories. I wish Jami all the best as she carries on a Grand tradition!

  2. I was also a Printer’s Devil for Jocelyn. My period was 1967 to 1974. I think I actually followed Ted. She had a series of us “Devils” over the years. I was one of only two printers devils (apprentices) who went on to work full time in commercial printing. The other was Tom, who founded Capital City Press. And Jami, of course. I worked for 28 years in printing, eventually running 4 color Heidelberg offset presses in Seattle. Printing was a great career for me, and I would drop in to see Joselyn over the years to talk shop.

    Jocelyn and I both took a lot of pride in the skill we had in our hands. Printing is a grand trade. While automation and computers have changed it greatly, a skilled pressman (or woman) is a rare bird, and there is still work out there.

    I was always flattered to see that she kept my pastel painting of the Windmill over the fireplace. Jocelyn was the one who advised me to get into printing as a career. She knew I was a “frustrated artist” and needed a direction in life. It sounds like Jami is carrying on the Sherwood Press tradition in fine style and I wish her well.

    – Mark Webster, http://www.websterart.com

  3. I was, “Jack of PrinterD; up the strange stairs and a mole of the second floor
    always a plan on where it is and a little to the left; Devil; tho Jocelyn always
    knew exactly where it was; I was only sent to retrieve it. I never worked at the
    Sherwood Press; I started going there at 3 years old; with my mother who had grown up with the Dohm Family; Later on in my life; all the printing I ever had done was done by Jocelyn and she made sure that I could set print
    and if she needed extra work done; I was it.She called me in the 60′ to ask if I would deliver a load of wood because she had bought a semi wet load and she was cold at Sherwood. I delivered nearly two cords (two trips) of bone dry fir. She loved the smell and the price; since her birthday was coming up,
    I said, ‘you got twenty bucks for gas; she nodded, handed me twenty and then I gave her a birthday card and two hand drawn coupons for a free cord
    each; she loved it, tho she insisted on paying me. I said ok but you know my Mom is gonna frown on this; dont you?? So we made a deal 20 more for a
    cord and she’d get the other cord and birthday card for free. “SHE AGREED”; “Whew-w-w” . The last protest I worked with her on was saving the forest down the middle of Harsteine Is.; I knew the company and I knew the loggers and I knew a big secret; thus her project was saved and no one got hurt; there were no riots; tear gas didnt fly through the air. The green belt of beautiful 200 yr old fir and lovely springs and hidden valleys and the most magnificent Huckleberries ever were saved. Jocelyn Dohm, you made an imprint on me; our 50 yr friendship didnt come to an end in 2003; I have forged ahead, protesting, blogging, writing the powerbrokers, changing for the people in need. I think about you, Marge and Mom now; three of the best
    women I ever knew; Thank you and yes I do know how to run a 1821 press and a 1788 one also; My love to you All, David PS I delivered 30 cords to The Sherwood Press and tried not to be paid for any of them…..I said tried didn’t I…..

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