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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

‘Love in Letters’ participants print labors of love on Hillman’s 19th-century press

Love+letters+from+Tuesday+evening%E2%80%99s+workshop+in+the+Text+and+conText+Lab+of+Hillman+Library.
Hannah Levine | Staff photographer
Love letters from Tuesday evening’s workshop in the Text and conText Lab of Hillman Library.

Red is the quintessential color of love, festooning the first half of February each year. But according to Megan Massanelli, archives and special collections engagement and outreach librarian for the University Library System, it was also the most commonly used accent color in historical hand-lettering and early printing.

At Tuesday night’s “Love in Letters” workshop in Hillman’s Text & conText Lab, some participants incorporated red into their own designs, using brayers to roll rich ink onto customized trays of typeset in preparation for printing. Then they printed their love-inspired messages on note cards using the lab’s 19th-century Columbian hand-printing press, made of cast iron and weighing around one ton.

The ULS and Center for Creativity held the event in collaboration as part of their “Creating in Context” series, which Massanelli and her colleague Anaïs Grateau, preservation coordinator for the archives, launched in fall 2022. Previous workshops allowed students to get creative with bookplates, pop-up books and journaling. Massanelli said the combined expertise of the Center for Creativity and ULS made a perfect pairing for the printing-focused “Love in Letters” workshop.

“A lot of the books in our collections reflect this art of printmaking and creating typefaces,” Massanelli said. “So I’m really excited about the partnership with the Center for Creativity over here, because it’s an opportunity to encourage people to get back into that art a little bit, while they can also learn about its history here in the archives.” 

There’s a reason Massanelli called the process an art — old-fashioned printing has its learning curve. Over the course of the evening, the room filled with participants’ alternating cheers of pride at their creations and good-natured groans of dismay when a print came out uneven or someone swapped a “B” for a “D” in the process of setting the type, which must be in reverse and mirrored.

During the workshop, participants used the 19th-century press to print Valentine notes for their loved ones. It’s not a quick process — participants place every backward letter individually, separate each word with spacers and lock the type in place with strong magnets. Even a short message of five words took one first-time printmaker around 15 minutes to assemble. Massanelli said the process is a labor of love perfect for Valentine’s Day.

“With the love letters, or with things that you give to people that you care about, printmaking is such a slow, considerate process that we thought it really lent itself to a holiday like that,” Massanelli said.

To print their messages of love, participants using the 19th-century press applied ink to the type, gingerly balanced a sheet of paper on the type, stacked layers of padding over the press and pulled a lever to lower the printer plate onto the paper sandwich. They chose finishing touches for their still-wet creations from a generous spread of stickers, stencils and stamps supplied by the Center for Creativity.

Despite the craft’s challenges, the workshop’s participants quickly mastered the finicky process, producing crisp love notes and cards for family, friends and lovers alike. Ana Larez, a senior English writing and psychology major who had never visited the lab before, said she crafted a note for a friend many miles away.

“I wrote to my exchange partner from Germany. I met her when I was in high school, and we usually talk on WhatsApp, but I am horrible at online communication,” Larez said. “So I was like, why don’t I send her a little card?” 

She added that she enjoyed the slowness of the process. 

“It felt like doing Tetris, trying to place all those little blocks together and make it configured the way I needed it to,” Larez said. “But it was really fun and relaxing anyway, even if it took a lot of time.” 

First-year Sara Setto and sophomore mathematics and economics major Bella Canals attended the event as a couple. Setto managed to print a Valentine’s Day card for Canals during the event without her seeing it, reading, “Are you a flower? Cause you’re blooming.” 

Though it was Setto’s first time in the lab, Canals had attended two previous events and enjoyed the experience.

“It’s a really good opportunity to make the most of your time here, to explore new things and gain new talents,” Canals said.

Before the participants got to print their own letters, Massanelli shared historical materials related to printmaking and writing with the participants, hoping the artifacts might spark ideas for the hands-on portion. The articles on display ranged from a 2400 BCE Sumerian clay tablet to a 1948 printing of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and a design book from the 1960s for commercial typesetters.

“I pulled out some of the earlier printed material and really wanted to show the evolution of mark making and record making by humans as it’s reflected in our collections,” Massanelli said. “So I pulled out a small sampling of that.” 

Grateau said she hopes events like this one provide a creative, hands-on experience and give them a taste of the University’s archives and special collections, possibly inspiring future projects.

“We like the idea that people get to have a glimpse at our collections, but also do a fun activity related to it and get something out of it,” Grateau said. “I like the idea that they look at materials, then they think, ‘Okay, this is worth studying, this is interesting.’” 

Massanelli and Grateau both emphasized that students don’t need to be part of a class or program to visit the archives and the Text & conText Lab — something Massanelli said students aren’t always aware of.

“I often see students who peek very discreetly, but they are afraid to come in … Text & conText, you don’t need an appointment, you don’t need to be with a class,” Massanelli said. “If we’re open, everyone is welcome to join us. And here in the archive, if we’re open, there is always someone to help you.” 

Participants left the workshop with smudged fingers, love notes galore and more knowledge of the history of printmaking — and walked away more familiar with the library’s resources. By giving visitors access to historical materials to inspire their own prints, Massanelli said the organizers hoped to ease newcomers’ fears about archival work.

“We’re hoping with workshops like this, we can introduce more people to the resource and show them that it doesn’t have to be scary. It can be quite fun to get your hands on some really old materials,” Massanelli said. “We really want them to be used by people. This is why we preserve them.” 

About the Contributor
Livia Daggett, Assistant Copy Chief
Livia Daggett is a junior double majoring in politics-philosophy and nonfiction writing. They love that this is the only job where you get paid exclusively for nitpicking. You can find them petting other people’s cats and agonizing over whether to go to law school. Email them at  with places to get a yummy meal in Pittsburgh for less than $10 or complaints in solidarity about the AP policy on Oxford commas—one day, we’ll all wear them down together.