Getting in on the Ground Floor

Shop Boy’s 6-foot-4 father-in-law calls him Low Boy, meaning I’m responsible — when we’re tackling a painting assignment, say — for getting the floor-hugging trim and other “low” stuff while he covers the ceilings and tops of walls.

Bob Cicero of Globe Poster has another name for me:

The Mouse.

I’m not offended (mostly). Painting the trim up to non-freakily tall people’s eye level is a reward in itself. I mean, how many people walk into your house and say, “hey, niiiiice ceilings.” If they do, they’re weirdos and it’s about time they leave, am I right? Besides, a lot of the magical stuff of Globe Poster’s past was waiting beneath something else … until Shop Boy/Low Boy/The Mouse got down on all fours and started poking and scratching around. All my crawling and digging brought some amazing stuff back into the light of day. So what can I say?

It felt a bit odd, then, that Shop Boy didn’t need to even bend at the waist to assemble the three plates that let me create … this:

In fact, I had to reach up for the black plate, which sat for years and years on a top shelf in the china/memorabilia cabinet out in Globe’s front office. Shop Boy had often admired the relief image of the snarling circus tiger but had never touched it. (Wasn’t dusty enough, I suppose.) Mary had a six-hour class to teach the next day, though, giving Shop Boy a free afternoon to play with the Globe stuff on the SP-15. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about running a Vandercook press before I took on the assignment of proofing cool cuts to be used on T-shirts to help raise money for the Globe move to the Maryland Institute College of Art and such. Mary would always set up the job, register the plates and do all the make-ready. I’d ink the press and provide the muscle to run the job and then clean everything. The system worked, but meant a lot of standing around for Shop Boy during set-up. And a bored Shop Boy is truly a printer’s devil.

Anyway, I never said I was a real printer. But it was time for me to learn my own machines. And the tiger seemed a neat place to start, with the three plates requiring adjustments for registration. Green was first, at least the plate that I’d make green, using the first tub of ink that was handy. (I’d never seen the beast in printed form, so I was winging it.) So far, so good:

Orange would be next. I’d seen tigers at the zoo, so I was pretty confident about that color. But printing the orange on top of the green just made the whole thing look like a big blob. Shop Boy soldiered on anyway. Might as well make some awful art while no one’s watching. I could learn from the project and ditch the evidence before Mary got there. Shop Boy aligned the black plate, inked up and rolled, expecting very little. Well:

What astounds Shop Boy most — still — is that the guy who hand-carved the set of wooden plates (the late Harry Knorr, in all likelihood) could have anticipated how the black plate would bring the whole image together. Also breathtaking is how a set of wooden plates, used non-gently for years, then abandoned for decades, could create such a sharp, detailed image today with very little make-ready.

And that it would be me — Shop Boy — whose skills would bring the image back to life.

But there it was. I brought a copy of the image down to Highlandtown the next day to show to Bob Cicero as a surprise. He’d been lending us stuff to proof all during the move prep and hadn’t even noticed the tiger’s absence from the shelf. Not that he’d have fretted. Mary’d left him a note:

“The Mouse Is Proofing Your Cat.”

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