In Loving Memory of Bob Read: A Friend, Mentor and Dreamer

Stop the presses! Bob Read has left the building, but his spirit and passion lives on. In 1933, Robert Read was born, and little did the world know the incredible journey he would embark upon. Bob was a rebel in his youth, a letterpress tradesman in his prime, and a true gentleman and teacher of life. He revived the art of letterpress in Australia, infusing it with contemporary flair and inspiring a new generation of designer printers. 

Bob was a remarkable individual whose impact on our lives and the community cannot be overstated. His friendship was a true blessing, and over the past 15 years, I had the privilege of witnessing his passion, his creativity, and his unwavering belief in the potential of others.

I vividly remember my first encounter with Bob, as he gracefully operated the Thompson Press at the Caboolture Historical Village, his experience evident in every movement. Despite my initial hesitation, Bob warmly greeted me and willingly shared his wealth of knowledge. He made the ludlow slug in my hand come alive, turning a simple inquiry into an unforgettable hands-on learning experience. 

Bob was always eager to share, always ready to dive in and get his hands dirty. Beyond the craft of letterpress, he imparted life lessons of resilience, patience, and friendship. Bob became not just a mentor, but a guiding light on my journey of personal growth.

During my apprenticeship of sorts, I witnessed the depth of Bob’s generosity as he mentored other aspiring designers, like Alisha ????, who established her own successful letterpress business. Bob’s face would light up with pride as he spoke of her accomplishments, a testament to his dedication as a teacher. 

When the Caboolture Historical Village faced the risk of losing its valuable collection, Bob and Ken sprang into action, ensuring these treasures found a new home at Design College Australia. The typography classroom became a sanctuary where Bob’s craft could be shared with the next generation of creative minds.

One cherished memory stands out among the adventures and shared stories—the discovery of an 1880 Wharfdale cylinder press. Bob’s eyes sparkled as he explained its significance and its role in the Australian letterpress landscape. Together, we restored the press, reviving its rollers and repacking its rails. It was a labor of love that reinvigorated not only the press itself but also the spirit of this 80-year-old pressman.  And when the day finally came for Bob to demonstrate a makeready and run our first sheets on the press, his joy was palpable.

Amidst all the shared beers and tales, there’s one chapter that brings a smile to my face—the stories of the Graphics Arts Club in Sydney during the 1950s and 60s. This vibrant hub served as a haven for Bob and his fellow letterpress professionals. Tucked away on Clarence Street, it provided a space where friendships flourished and craftsmanship thrived. After long days of meticulous printing work, the club’s members would gather at the bar, raising a glass or two before and after their shifts. In those moments of camaraderie, Bob and his colleagues found solace, exchanged ideas, and celebrated their shared passion. The Graphics Arts Club became a cherished part of Bob’s career, where the freedom to relax and bond with fellow printers was embraced.

Apprenticeship of Sorts: My journey with Bob began when he was a young 75-year-old, a spirited youngster with an insatiable dream. He introduced many of us to the captivating world of letterpress, sharing his extensive knowledge and expertise with unwavering enthusiasm. But it was Bob’s ability to empower those around him, to install a newfound belief in oneself, that truly set him apart.

Bob was an embodiment of determination and curiosity. He always had a new project on the go, continually pushing the boundaries of what was possible. Whether it was rebuilding an 1880 Warfdale cylinder press or creating printing rollers out of gummy bears, Bob’s ingenuity knew no bounds. His adventurous spirit inspired us all to embrace our own passions and explore uncharted territories.

Beyond his technical expertise and creativity, it was Bob’s warm and generous spirit that touched our lives. He had an uncanny ability to make everyone feel valued and appreciated, creating a supportive and nurturing environment in which growth flourished. Bob’s belief in our abilities fuelled our own self-confidence and encouraged us to pursue our dreams.

With over 70 years of experience as a pressman, Bob became a living legend, willing to share his wealth of knowledge with anyone who showed an interest. Bob’s passion for letterpress was not just about sharing his wisdom; it was an inherent curiosity and desire to learn that made him an inspiration to everyone around him.

Bob and the Heidelberg Platen: The Heidelberg platen press was Bob’s weapon of choice, and he had spent over 50 years mastering its intricacies. The Heidelberg is classic letterpress machine known for its ruggedness , and Bob had undoubtedly mastered its operation. He could tweak the paper feed and adjust the inking system with such finesse that it seemed like second nature to him. But more than just his technical expertise, Bob’s genuine enthusiasm for the press was infectious, and he was always eager to share tips and tricks with other aspiring printers.

Bob Meets Mark Pei: Enter Mark Pei, a street artist with a passion for creativity and an eye for the darker side of life. Intrigued by the magic of letterpress, Mark stumbled into Bob’s workshop one day, and their serendipitous meeting sparked an unexpected exchange of knowledge . Bob sensed Mark’s genuine interest and welcomed him with open arms. What started as a chance encounter quickly turned into a collaboration that would enrich both of their lives.

Sharing and Learning: A Two-Way Street: As Bob generously shared his expertise on the Heidelberg platen, Mark reciprocated by introducing Bob to the world of wood block carving. Like a seasoned apprentice, Bob embraced this new challenge with the vigour of a twenty-year-old. Carving blocks, he immersed himself in the intricate details of this art form, absorbing every piece of knowledge Mark had to offer. The experience was a testament to Bob’s boundless appetite for learning, proving that age is no barrier to pursuing new passions.

Bob’s Printing Legacy: Bob’s love and ambitions for the craft of letterpress were truly inspiring to everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. He wasn’t just a craftsman; he was a storyteller, capturing moments and emotions on paper through his prints. Bob’s humble nature and willingness to share his knowledge made him a cherished figure within the printing community and beyond. Countless printers, young and old, benefited from his guidance, and his legacy will continue to shape the future of letterpress.

Conclusion: Bob’s journey through the world of letterpress was one of hard work and from a trade perspective it evolved into a place of sharing, and inspiring others to pursue their passions. With over 70 years of printing experience, his expertise in the craft was unmatched, but it was his humility, curiosity, and love for the craft that left a lasting impression on those who knew him. Through his encounter with the younger generation Bob discovered yet another aspect of printmaking to explore, proving that the thirst for knowledge knows no age. As we celebrate Bob’s remarkable life and the impact he had on the letterpress community, let us remember his words of wisdom: “Ink runs in my veins,” for it is the passion that drives true craftsmanship.

To say that Bob Read will be missed is an understatement. We will forever cherish the memories we shared, the laughter we enjoyed, and the lessons he imparted. The legacy Bob leaves behind is one of inspiration, empowerment, and the belief that each of us possesses the capacity to achieve greatness.

Bob, we extend our deepest gratitude for everything you have shared with us and the countless others whose lives you touched. Your guidance and friendship have shaped not just myself but many others in immeasurable ways. We find solace in knowing that your spirit will forever live on within us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *