Typography in Adversity

Of the 45,000 Americans who declared themselves conscientious objectors during the Second World War, a number went on to become important figures in later cultural life. Objectors were drafted in a programme that was set up as an alternative to military service. The Civilian Public Service system (CPS) provided camps where members of the so-called historic peace churches (Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker) and other objectors were put to work in areas of ‘national importance’ such as forestry, fire fighting, and social services. From 1941 to 1947, some 12,000 men who were willing to make a contribution to the war effort but refusing to do military service, laboured in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States. They served without wages and minimal support from the government. The cost of maintaining the camps was carried by their congregations and families. CPS men served longer than regular draftees, not being released until well past the end of the war.

Established in 1942, Camp Angel at Waldport (CPS Camp no. 56) was one of three conscientious objector camps in Oregon. It was administered by the Mennonite Central Committee. Located on the rugged coastline, the main work of the interns was the reforestation of Blodgett Peak Burn, an area that had been heavily logged during the First World War and that had suffered severe wildfires after the war. Among Camp Angel’s conscientious objectors was the poet William Everson. He founded the Fine Arts Camp which brought together creative individuals from different disciplines. Poets, writers, theatre workers, painters, woodworkers, potters, photographers, and fine art printers were among those allowed to transfer to the camp. There they performed plays, held regular poetry readings and concerts, and put on a version of the operetta The Mikado. At Waldport, wives and women friends rented cabins at the nearby beach and performed in the theatre productions at the camp. Together in post-war San Francisco they founded the Interplayers Theatre. Poets Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, and writer Henry Miller were pacifists who joined the new arrivals from Waldport, and birthed the ‘San Francisco Renaissance’ in the arts which evolved into the ‘Beat Movement’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

William Everson was a poet, critic and small printer. He was born in Sacramento, California. Both his parents were printers. Registered as an anarchist and pacifist, he was sent to Camp Angel. During his time as a conscientious objector, Everson completed The Residual Years, a volume of poems that launched him to national fame. In 1948, he joined the Catholic Church and took the name of Brother Antoninus when he joined the Dominican Order (he was nicknamed the ‘Beat Friar’). He left the Dominicans in 1969 and married a woman many years his junior. Everson was poet-in-residence at the University of California where he founded the Lime Kiln Press, through which he printed high quality fine-art editions of his own poetry and that of others. Another fascinating character interned at Waldport was Adrian Wilson. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in July 1923, he had been fascinated by the art of printing since a young age. At the camp, Emerson had been able to acquire an old printing press where Wilson could apply his typographical skills. As a result, two magazines were produced at the camp The Illiterati and The Compass, in addition to programs for the plays and elegant books of poetry. At the camp’s press, Wilson’s typesetting and presswork skills progressed rapidly.

The camp’s official newsletter was The Tide, but the interns founded their own Untide Press, which published volumes of poetry by Glen Coffield, Kenneth Patchen, Bill Shank, and Jacob Sloan. The very first book published by the Press appeared in November 1944. It was Everson’s War Elegies. Published in an edition of 975 copies, this collection of poems was hand-set in Goudy Light and Futura types and printed in red and black (stapled into apricot paper wrappers, printed in black and blue) on Linweave Early American paper, the book was illustrated by architect and painter Kemper Nomland Jr. The latter was also interned at Camp Angel and involved with the fine arts group where he designed several book covers, worked on The Illiterati, and produced several paintings. After the war, Adrian Wilson would become an internationally known printer, typographer, and scholar – designing scores of books for the University of California Press.