When Henry Smith was a student at UT Austin, he spent a lot of time in the Design Lab. Now, he runs it.
The Design Lab is the only lab on campus exclusively for Design students. It is home to several antique printing presses, but letterpress printing is far from the only thing happening in the lab.
"Many types of making happen here," Smith said.
While pursuing a B.F.A. in Studio Art, Smith took design classes and found he enjoyed the crossover between disciplines. When he graduated from the program in 2017, the previous Design Lab Technician encouraged him to take over the position. He is now entrusted with one of the University of Texas at Austin's greatest design resources: the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection.
The crown jewel of the Design Lab is the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection, an extensive assortment of 19th century wood letterpress type on loan from the Harry Ransom Center. The collection was always intended to be utilized, studied, and handled by students, but it wasn’t getting the attention it needed while at the HRC.
Now, students have access to 166 unique typesets, hand-carved images, ornaments, and miscellaneous relief printing blocks dating from as early as the 1830's. These can be used with the help of a variety of analogue printing presses in the Lab. The pieces are actually preserved when used respectfully — it's a win-win.
In addition to the type boxes, the Lab has many different colored inks available (and, if you have a specific color in mind, you can ask the Lab to order any Pantone color).
As the custodians of this resource, a main focus of the Lab is to provide access and opportunities for students and scholars (as well as designers, typographers, and historians) in the greater Austin community to get hands-on with a nearly-forgotten piece of American history. In addition to letterpress printing, the Lab provides access to screen printing and darkroom photography facilities and a selection of fabrication tools.
Further information on the Lab and the Rob Roy Kelly Collection can be found here.