Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2005 | People

The Patient Type: John Henry

By Jennifer Hemmingsen
John Henry

John Henry spends his weekdays dreaming up innovations for the printing industry. As research and development manager at Metal Craft I.D. Plates and Labels in Mason City, he has the newest digital presses at his disposal. He works on the cutting edge.

But when Henry, 73BA, goes home to his own print shop, a former chapel with 18-foot vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, he sits down in front of his Ludlow type-caster and painstakingly arranges tiny molds into rows of type. He casts one line at a time. When he finishes a page, he prints it using a letterpress, the oldest printing technology in the world.

Henry, who has taught printing design and production at Oklahoma State and Northern Illinois universities, invests hours setting, casting, printing, proofing, correcting, and recasting every page published by his Cedar Creek Press. He finds the work  therapeutic, a way to relax and slow down.

“I view it as more of a craft than as a job,” he says.

Henry got his first rubber type printing set at age eight. He was 12 when he got his first letterpress—an 1882 Connecticut iron press he bought, with a cutter and two banks of type, for $50. He founded Cedar Creek Press when he was still in high school. He publishes a book or two each year, mostly poetry by local authors. He limits his press run to a few hundred copies and sells the books through those authors or through the mail.

Lately, Henry has been interested in miniature books, no larger than three inches in any dimension, with type the size of a contract’s fine print. He’s already published four. His fifth, written by his friend Robert McCoy, 60MS, 60R, is about Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs for middle-income family homes. Henry has been working on it for two years, and expects that, maybe, it will be done this year. “We could crank them out on a laser printer real fast,” he says. But he’s not in any particular hurry.

As he says: “I get enjoyment out of doing it and doing it well.”