By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the city of Montevideo just down the street from Jose Artigas and next door to the Hollywood Theater, you’ll find a place where history is still hard at work.

“This is what I’ll do every day. Well, sometimes I have to mow the lawn,” Andy Kahmann said.

When he’s not mowing the lawn, Kahmann will spend hours with a letter press whose heyday was when Woodrow Wilson was President.

“People always ask ‘how old are these presses?’ And when I say ‘this one will be 100-years-old in September. It was built in September, 1917.’ They are still amazed at the age of some of this,” Kahmann said.

And some are amazed that this kind of letter press printing still exists. For Kahmann, it began 45 years ago when he was in high school. He worked as what was called a “Printer’s Devil” for the Bird Island Union. Learning letter press before it faded into offset printing.

“They’ve always said ‘once you get ink in your blood, it’s in there forever.’ And I must have got it when I was a sophomore because I’ve always liked it,” Kahmann said.

As quicker and more efficient techniques took over, Kahmann never forgot about the letter press. So when he had an opportunity to buy this relic years ago, he jumped on it.

“I don’t look at it as work. I don’t like to take jobs anymore. I like to take on projects,” Kahmann said.

West Central Minnesota is home to many talented artists. What Kahmann does is works with those artists, helping to create poem books and posters.

“He’s very respectful of the artists. But he also jumps in to offer alternatives that the artist hasn’t thought of,” said artist Lucy Tokheim of Tokheim Stoneware.

Figuring out the design, setting the type, adding just the right amount of ink, and firing up his century-old friend has allowed Kahmann to create his own artwork too.

“I like off-color humor. I’ve got a stack of stuff that I say, ‘oh, this will make a good Bad Andy card’,” Kahmann said.

His Bad Andy cards are rated G on the outside, rated R on the inside. But perhaps his favorite creation is his Bob Dylan series, which he collaborated on with friend and local artist Brad Hall.

“I have multiple colors on white, cardboard and cream-colored paper,” Kahmann said.

It’s a trade he hopes to pass on to others. Because his passion for letter press is as clear as print on paper.

“To see that blank piece of paper go in, and to see the press make that revolution and it comes back and something’s printed on it- that was just like magic to me,” Kahmann said.

The name of Kahmann’s letter press shop is A to Z Printing. The “Z” in that title is for his son Zach, who helped him set up his letter press.

John Lauritsen