The shorter version of a storied pair of prints

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

— Generally accepted modern version of an old English adage.

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Comfort is often found in the memories of one’s surroundings. Links to the past as in a song reminding of memorable moments experienced the first time it was heard. Or photos of those who brought pleasure into one’s life. 

Similar thoughts resonated in my office last weekend as I personalized it with items to create comfortable work surroundings. For me, that’s usually accomplished with artwork.

Added to the office walls were nostalgic country scenes by Texas artist George Boutwell and a majestic appearing eagle by Bill Jaxon. The American symbol of freedom at its best. Straight across the room from my desk, easily in view, I positioned a pair of prints that remind me of the business that has been my life’s work.

Half of that pair has been with me since the early 1980s and has graced a wall in every office where I’ve worked since that time. The artist, Ward Nichols, was a third-generation printer whose grandfather was a newspaper publisher in West Virginia. Nichols started his career in the family print shop at the age of 10, but in 1967 left the printing business to pursue his passion as a painter. He rose to national and international fame with his detailed paintings of rural life, coastal scenes, mechanical objects, and, as might be expected, memories of the printing trade from his youth.

My first Nichols print, “Tools of Freedom,” was purchased through a press association offering. I wish I could tell you it was the National Newspaper Association or the Texas Press Association. However, the time elapsed since then prevents that memory from emerging. I do remember that more of his prints were available, most likely related to a fundraiser for journalistic endeavors. But, after acquiring that one, my attempts to purchase another were to no avail. They were sold out.  

“Tools of Freedom” first hung it in my office in the same building where I am again the publisher today. It depicts hot-type printing tools common before the late 60s when offset web printing revolutionized the industry. The collection includes a printer’s apron, pieces of movable type, various other related tools of the trade seldom seen today, and one other essential item that survived to live on for a time in the web press era: a line gauge. Or, as it was more well known in newspaper shops, a “pica pole.” Pica was once a standard measurement in newspaper composition. Adobe Photoshop and InDesign software today still offer picas as a measurement option.

Nichols featured the familiar tool standing straight up in the center of the picture, almost as if placed there as a focal point. 

Long gone from digital newspaper shops, there was not one to be found at The Light and Champion office when I looked a few weeks ago. After years of working with one in my back pocket or within reach, I brought one from home. It now resides on my desk next to my computer … just in case. That comfortable surroundings thing again. 

After Center in the 80s, “Tools of Freedom” was with me at The Boerne Star in the 90s and at The Monitor in Naples from ’98 to ’02. After that, it hung out in my office where marketing was my job and, like me, spent some time at home before coming back to where it started.

And, the second Nichol’s print? I long lamented that I was unable to acquire another work by Nichols. That is until a few years ago when by nothing more elaborate than dumb luck, I was rummaging around at an estate sale and recognized a copy of Nichols’ “Hands of Freedom” among other pieces of art stashed out of plain sight. Perhaps that was because the mat was damaged, but the print was unharmed. And, by the least imagined of methods, I had acquired the other Nichols’ print I sought more than 30 years ago.

“Hands of Freedom” depicts a printer’s hands with ink-stained fingernails feeding a single sheet, hand-fed press, the kind once used to print small weekly newspapers, flyers, and office forms.

Last weekend was my first opportunity to hang the prints together in a newspaper office. Sometimes, it just takes time to get things together where they belong.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood, stop in The Light and Champion office to see the storied Nichols prints celebrating freedom of the press. And you won’t have to endure the thousand words. You just read the shorter version.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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