History of the Carmel of Reno Printshop
History is not science but an art-in this sense, it transcends who, what, where and when. It has to do with the past but also with the present and, yet another also when we add the future. As a separate entity, the Carmel of Reno began its official existence on a particular day in 1954-as a reality today it began in many and diverse people, in many and diverse regions of the country. It is concretized in the fourteen members who today make up the living,breathing community at 1950 La Fond Drive. We are part of Carmel throughout the world, part of the Church, part of the Dioceses, part of the City of Reno, part of the Christian Churches of the city, part of the business community. Perched on the southwest hills part and yet apart-living a particular life and living at the same time the existence that is the common heritage of all. The facts of our printshop as contained in the succeeding paragraphs tell something of our story and point to the reality of the lives of the Sisters who have built this business which is unique in Carmel.
Watch: Carmel of Reno, featured on PBS ArtEffects
In the aftermath of World War II the monasteries of Europe no longer were supported by the endowments of the wealthy and lived in great hardship and need – some of them were even starving. Pope Pius XII addressed the fact that nuns could no longer count on alms entirely and therefore they should try to do some remunerative work to support themselves. Nuns all over the world were encouraged to do this. Our founding Carmel (the Carmel of Indianapolis) endeavored to earn a living with the manufacture of altar breads and vestment making. In the early 50’s miscellaneous crafts were pursued to help with expenses. A hand fed multilith duplicator was used to create cards for novenas which we sent to people who asked for prayers. Sr. Anne Clem, one of the founding Sisters of Reno Carmel was among the first to learn how to operate “the mechanical monster,” little realizing this would presage something for our future. Even before the Foundation had been made, there was a hint of the work that has become a main source of income for the Monastery. When Archbishop Dwyer was touring the Indianapolis Carmel, he saw printing being done, and when asked if there might be work in his diocese that the sisters could do, replied affirmatively. The Diocese of Reno was for all practical purposes almost mission territory and support was obtained through a fund-raising mail operation called ”The Frontier of the Faith”- still alive and strong but in somewhat different guise today. The sisters could do work for the “Frontier,” thought the Bishop . The eight members of the Reno Foundation in 1954 were fairly young and able bodied. The average age among the “older” members was 40 and among the younger ones, 25- all in good health and capable of most any kind of work in the beginning years. Monsignor Anderson, who managed the “Frontier” employed the Sisters to stuff mailings by hand and address the envelopes on an aged Addressograph machine. Some printing was also done whenever Art Marston, the pressman for the Frontier, had more than he could handle. Art was not yet a journeyman printer at that time (he was probably only 21 or 22 years old), but he was quite a bit more knowledgeable than the sisters and occasionally helped them with the press problems that occurred. Working for the “Frontier of the Faith” was demanding in many ways, especially because it involved meeting deadlines which usually conflicted with the sisters’ schedule. The first printshop was the garage behind the house at 829 North Virginia. This building was carpentered into shape by John Cavilia, a friend who also donated the printing “equipment.” John managed Vaughan Materials Company and had done some of the printing for the company himself. When his work became too demanding, he decided to donate to the Sisters his press (a 1250 Multilith), a Challenge hand-operated 23 inch guillotine paper cutter, a small Multigraph exposure frame and a large work table he had built himself. He built some temporary shelves for holding paper and supplies and had a sink put in for developing offset plates. The sink still serves its purpose in our present print shop. The cutter was electrified in the late 60’s or 70’s and eventually replaced by a new 26 inch power cutter with a grant from the Wiegand Foundation in 1988. John had the sisters print invoices and letterheads for the company, as he had done, and was their first teacher of printing. Shortly after the print shop was in operation the old Manogue High School on Boynton Lane near the river was flooded and they decided to get rid of their letterpress and type cases which were no longer used to teach printing. They were given to the sisters, who did not learn how to use them until the move to the permanent monastery. The press was hand-fed and treadle operated (eventually it was motorized.) The type trays and some type are the originals from this time. Between 1954 and 1958, the community’s remunerative work involved several “industries.” Because this was a new foundation struggling to remain in existence, almost anything was undertaken as a source of income – altar breads, vestment sewing, printing, art work, calligraphy and work for the “Frontier.” The altar breads and vestment sewing were creative and satisfying occupations. Much effort and care went into producing high quality work, but the monetary compensation for it was not always up to par. The main income, however, still came from donations of benefactors, those who wrote or called for prayer, especially at the times of the four novenas or “days of prayer” (for St. Joseph, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Therese and Christmas) which we printed and mailed out to a growing list of friends. A great deal of time and effort (mainly Sr. Anne’s) was put into the composition of the novenas and prayers. The artwork and theological input was carefully crafted to offer people something more uplifting than the usual “church goods” style they had been getting. By today’s standards this would not seem much, but it was avant garde for the mission Church of Nevada in those days. When the equipment at the “Frontier” was automated in ‘55 or ‘56, the sisters were relieved of the job of stuffing and addressing, etc. (very gladly as one would gather from the chronicles.) From the time people knew that the sisters had a press, (late 1954 on) we also did small “job work” – letterheads for businesses (like Vaughan Millwork), business cards, invoices, etc. This was just straight duplicating work for friends who were our plumbers, electricians, grocers, etc. More adventurous were the half tone pictures of graduating classes for St. Thomas and Snows, printing for the altar society and fund-raiser events such as fashion show ads for these Churches and schools. There were no in-house darkroom facilities, so all the negatives needed to make plates were done by Dick Landes, a good friend, who was the photographer at Silver State Press (later to become A. Carlisle Co.) Not only did he make the negatives, but he picked up the original art at the monastery and delivered the negatives after work, since at that time the sisters were entirely cloistered. He often put our work on the end of a larger film from a commercial job, and did not charge us for it. In addition to the “job work” some creative printing was also done, which in hindsight, paved the way for our Carmel of Reno Cards. In ‘54 the sisters’ attorney, Morgan Anglim asked if we would print the drawing an artist friend had done for him. Craig Shepard’s Santa Claus came out beautifully. From that first card an idea was born and the next years saw a few more Christmas card designs offered for sale at the “turn.” In those days the art of printing was not as yet totally understood. (When the ink rollers dripped water we knew we had to lower the volume on the water fountain roller!) A unique opportunity to get some real instruction occurred before the move to the permanent monastery in ‘58. Mr. Landes, by this time pressroom supervisor at Silver State, had a very large four-color job to do for Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Club at Tahoe -”food, fun and fortune” – a half million envelopes advertising this casino. With a big job to do and no press free to print and meet the deadline, he struck a deal with the sisters. His pressman would use our press for a week and the sisters, would get a week of free instruction. In this time frame, probably late 1958, came the donation of the first graphic arts camera. An antique rosewood camera was given by Irwin Fehr at the request of George Kerr. The camera was capable of doing 4” x 5” negatives and with much coaxing 5” x 7”. One of the sisters was an extremely gifted photographer and inventor and could utilize a donated roll-up bed table frame from St. Mary’s hospital to rig up a vertical camera. With the move to the permanent monastery she constructed a floor to ceiling plywood camera holder and copy board and was able to develop the film herself. We no longer had to ask Mr. Landes for negatives, except for occasional larger work. She even figured out how to do color separation negatives and did several 4-color cards with this antique camera that had the one of the finest lenses ever made. In July of 1958 the move to the permanent monastery offered some much needed space for the printing work. Although the wing for the print shop was not built (due to lack of funds), the storage areas of the ground floor were spacious enough to house everything and even provided a darkroom, a place to expose and develop plates and an area for layout and stripping negatives, Primitive as it all was, it was still great progress compared to the Virginia Street garage arrangement. The Bishop and many friends continued to order Christmas cards and we sent little notices in the July novena to advertise their availability to everyone on the mailing list. More and more, Holy cards were being requested and especially Bishop Dwyer’s Prayer For Those Missing Mass. Thousands of these had been printed for the Diocese. Word began to spread and for the first time the Sisters began to receive volume orders. The focus of the work began to change from a strictly “in house” orientation and small job work for friends to producing holy cards and Christmas cards for sale for the support of the monastery. By the end of 1958 , the aged Multilith was giving out. The color separation Christmas card which the Frontier had us print was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was almost impossible to keep register and many hours were spent re-setting and repairing. After this job, in order to keep the printing functioning as a source of much needed income the sisters decided to purchase a new press. A letter to Indianapolis Carmel written by Sr. Anne says: “I have been meaning to tell you the printing cleared $4,000.00 – breads $2,000.00 and the sewing $2,000.00 for 1958. On the sewing and printing we will make more, next year, but the printing will have a deficit for we have to get anew press. Its cost is $3,700.00. Don’t worry about the payments, for the bank lent us the price. The ATF place charges 6% interest -the bank 5%.” The new Chief 15 was our first real press. It was custom honed on the registration cam to make it capable of hairline register. Color separations could now be done without the grief we had experienced on the old Multilith thanks to Jim Sullivan’s craftsmanship. Jim was the ATF installer/machinist who helped us learn how to use the Chief and also taught us to do repairs on it. With his help through phone calls to SF and written instructions in his letters he helped us fully understand the mechanics so that we could maintain it ourselves. Around this time we became acquainted with Ken Ingram who also bought a Chief 15 and we mutually encouraged one another in the new adventure. Ken eventually retired. (We acquired valuable equipment from him including the large light table and chair in the folding room, the padding press, a packing room tape dispenser and all sorts of printing press parts. But this is to jump ahead of our story.)
With the purchase of the new press in the spring of ‘59 another era had begun. In the fall we sent out our first separate mailing for a Christmas card brochure. The Fitchburg paper company donated a number of boxes of colored parchment cover stock for cards, (we had bought some from them previously) and Mr. Bell, a new found friend at Marset Ink company in New York provided us with gold and silver offset ink. (He had several other businesses and donated the two heavy folding tables we still have and the big grey rolling cart the laminator sits on. ) A card printer/designer, Wally Kibbe, in the Bay area gave us hints on how to print cards on the new Chief and developed into quite an encouraging correspondent. One of the sisters’ father was in advertising and he urged us do colorful brochures for our cards. He himself had a full color brochure done to advertise our vestments and gave us a color separation for one of our Christmas cards. The cost of color separations in those days was a deterrent for us to do anything further, though. In January 1961 the old cutter was electrified. The investment of approximately $1300.00 for the power pack, etc. was well worth it in the time and energy saved, not to mention the better cutting of paper. The company which provided the electric power pack for the cutter had a used letterpress which was purchased for a nominal sum. (Probably under $2000) This was a Chandler and Price platen press with an automatic Kluge Feeder. (The one we still have!) It was a real step up . After work hours in the evenings Bert Miller and his apprentice, Walt Huff, explained how to work the press and showed us many things which saved us time and improved our work. Christmas card imprints, ordination and memorial cards, envelopes and parking tickets flowed forth with relative ease compared to the extreme efforts of yore. Sometime in 1962 or early 1963 we purchased the Kenro vertical camera for around $1800.00 It was capable of all types of work, including color separations. A novice was trained for photography and learned color separation work from the Kodak technical representative, Mr. Frutiger. Mr. F. looked over our darkroom and made suggestions for improvement. At his recommendation we had a fiberglass sink constructed and put in a thermostatic valve for temperature control, as well as cabinets for storing film and chemical supplies. This was an additional $500 or $600 expenditure. The community invested this money in order to be able to do our own color work, since it would cost many times that to keep having work done outside. These were the early years leading up to Vatican II and there was much enthusiasm in the Church and an abundance of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Ordination cards and memorials were much in demand and, it seems, Carmel of Reno cards were the choice of many in those days. These were also the years of the first changes in the horarium and liturgy, dialog Masses, etc. Sister Formation was big in the US and we subscribed to the Bulletins on it and got all the new studies on religious life from the congresses being held yearly. The print shop was heavily invested in for the future, but we were even more heavily investing in the future of religious life with discussions and experiments in formation, etc. The community was still fairly young in age and the foundation was only 12 or 15 years in existence and not yet quite “off the ground.” In those days we lived without the worry of medical insurance or doctor bills, even though we had a lot of illness. St. Mary’s Hospital and every Reno doctor gave their services gratis. We did not have a car and there were no transportation costs to speak of (we were still quite cloistered.) With many paper donations the print shop overhead was relatively low. We did have expenses, but we considered them “investments.” In addition we took out loans, paying off one, only to take out another. As a result we were a “non-profit” organization in more ways than one. In this era too, we stopped taking “job work ”as we decided against obtaining a commercial printing license. Thus we removed ourselves from any semblance of competition on the local scene. Instead we got our BDA/Carmel of Reno (Legalese for “Doing Business As”) which freed us to control our own schedule, and to concentrate on our own religious graphic arts work as a non-profit religious organization. To improve our professional skills we took Mr. Landes’ recommendation to join the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation and receive their training booklets which greatly supplemented the trade magazines and articles he had shared with us over the years. From these sources in the coming years we learned the essentials of the chemistry and physics related to paper, inks, printing techniques, climate control, photography and graphics as a whole. In the spirit of the times we were intent on upgrading the traditional Carmelite mailings. Sr. Anne, with help from others, put a great deal of serious study and work into creating the texts of new biblically based “Days of Prayer.” Full color paintings enhanced these finished booklets. These and the paintings used for holy cards were color separated by the Sisters in the newly equipped darkroom. We also did color separation work for Bishop Dwyer’s Christmas cards. In this era we bought and set up the precision register punch and stripping system. This enabled us to make precision templates and establish a Color Key proofing system for use on our second hand vacuum frame. (The vacuum frame was later replaced by a new and more efficient model obtained by the Wiegand grant.) In addition this new system allowed us to do holy cards 6-up, a great saving in time and paper. With much training and practice, the Sisters had perfected line, duotone, and color separation work with production techniques based on the decisional choice to remain within the limits of small press work. In effect, this meant that our boundaries for card design, production, equipment and materials, could not go beyond the capacities of 10 x 15 size presses. These years of training for professionalism in our work brought us to a place where we were a fully equipped and self contained graphic arts operation. We were thrilled when Mr. Frutiger and the paper sales reps took our work as samples of what could be done with their products on small presses. And locally, Mr. Landes showed our cards to his pressmen commenting to the effect that if these ladies can do this on a Chief 15, you should do as well on your big one! To accommodate the growing volume of demand for our cards it seemed logical to consider getting another press, to accomplish more in less time, and control our schedule, even though the price of presses had gone up over $4,000. And so in the spring of ‘64 the community voted to get another Chief 15 press with the trade-in of the old Multilith. Each previous investment decision had been blessed and we trusted that if we did our part to live our life faithfully while trying to produce “good work” for God, we would have continued blessing. Throughout these years while the print shop was being built up many other things were converging – the Council changes, experiments and renewal of our life, to name a few. We took very seriously the recommendations to discuss in community everything that affected our life. In a soul searching chapter discussion a decision was taken to concentrate our efforts on printing and give up the vestment work and sewing. This was in the interests of simplifying our life, focusing our energies and time on what we thought could be the main source of income and involve everyone in the community at one level or another. It was not easy to exchange the quiet, solitary and creative work of sewing and altar breads for the risky and demanding one of printing. The price was willingly paid by everyone and a united thrust into the future began. Meanwhile, in 1965, the historic first national meeting of Carmelite Nuns in the US, took place in St. Louis. Among the many surprising things coming out of this meeting, was the idea for an intermonastery magazine, to foster communication and exchange of ideas about Aggiornamento. A dream for better understanding among the Carmels was partially implemented by our decision to take on the printing and mailing of the fledgling magazine, Encounter, which we continued between the years 1965 and 1975 or ‘76 In addition to its purpose of fostering communication in the Post Vatican II era, it proved to be rich learning experience for us in the technical end of the publishing process.
In 1968 we were 13. But we were also faced with new challenges arising from new needs for work, living and worship space. Work space needs had been created by the slow aggregation of equipment and our realization that greater efficiency would better serve the needs of the contemplative life. Very intense community discussions on the council documents led us to see the importance of re-modeling our worship space. Our library was overflowing its two small rooms on the upper level, occupying rooms (and corridors) which we now needed for people, storage and simple domestic functioning. In 1968, the monastery building was only about 10 years old and, providentially, had never been completed due to lack of funds. And so we began to plan seriously for a comprehensive re-modeling. Our intention was to make the printshop more efficient, create a more meaningful worship space, and enhance our personal living space. And all this was in the light of simplification and deepening the community’s prayer life. We borrowed the required funds (roughly $60,000.00) and repaid the loans in not too long a time. In mid January, after the community made decisions on what was needed, David Vhay and George Ferrari, the architects who had worked on the original monastery building, drew up some general remodeling plans which included the creation of a completely new entrance/foyer. They left the finishing detail work to David’s son. Many discussions with him followed, in which our needs were worked into practical plans with the assistance of his expertise. The kitchen and refectory areas were to become kitchen, dining room and library. The printshop was planned to facilitate work flow and general efficiency. The actual remodeling work began on April 30th and on May 5th we had the first Mass in the temporary chapel in the packing room. Upstairs we started by creating a new chapel – joining the outer and inner sections and removing the grilles. A wall to wall predella for the altar was placed in the center to delineate the enclosure instead of the grille. The small turn room, speak room and sacristy were demolished and the new foyer area next to the guest room was constructed. What was at one time four small rooms became a conference/visiting room. The sacristy was integrated off the chapel. Once that was fairly finished, the downstairs area was begun. Volunteers from the K of C and a crew of Chow McGarry’s colorful friends came with sledgehammers, wrecking bars, etc. and went to work knocking out walls and salvaging lumber for re-use. All the ceilings were lowered in the basement to insulate and soundproof the printshop machinery areas, so there would be more quiet in the living quarters above. The kitchen and refectory areas were re-done as planned and the library books found a new home in what had been the refectory. Out of many small cubicles and storage places came a cohered printing plant. The work flowed from the dark room, layout area to the press room/cutter area to the packing room. New custom module shelving and counters organized everything and provided a sense of order which had previously seemed unreachable in the cramped spaces. In all, from planning stage to completed new rooms, the re-modeling project took a full year. General chaos, noise, dust and daily clean-ups in addition to our daily work and regular observance posed a tremendous challenge. But in the end the renovation provided us with real space and the hoped-for simplified, efficient work flow. With the completion of the remodeling, the community decided to have “Open House” in January, 1970. This was to let people know the monastery existed and enable them to see us at work and prayer. So at the close of the 60’s, and moving toward the new decade of the 70’s, we had thirteen Sisters, comparative youth and enthusiasm, new equipment, and a new printing plant. We began also, to organize the business end of the printshop, slowly attempting to track the buying of paper, parts and supplies and to keep “printshop” records. Springtime of 1970 ushered in a period of greater stability. This was reflected in the quality and improvements in our life as a whole and especially in the printshop work. The average age was 44 years and of the people in the printshop it was 36. Youth was on our side .
These years built on our established reputation as our business expanded to meet the needs of a larger community and a changing societal climate. Communities in this new age needed health insurance, social security and to provide for professional services formerly provided gratis ( it was quite a shock in those days to receive a bill for three thousand dollars from a lawyer after being named in a suit regarding the tax exempt nature of our property) In 1971 we were producing Christmas cards selling for 15 cents and holy cards for seminarians for 3 cents–we were earning about $7,000 a year. In 1972 MDI, (Management Design Inc. a company devoted to facilitating group interaction) in the person of David Rhumkoff, came to work with the community on group dynamics– as an aside he spent a few hours with the printshop team and taught us two valuable lessons:
- Analyzing our work flow, he noted that our design and production were outstanding but that we had no provision for marketing our cards.
- He taught us a program developed for the building of the Nautilus submarine, known as the PERT CHART ( Program, Evaluation and Review Technique). This concept still underlies the running of the printshop. With this theory as our guide we looked at the end product desired, the time line needed to get there and we personalized the process by including in all equations the needs of our contemplative community.
And so a journey that began in the early years of our foundation brings us to our” modern age” Technology was changing, the needs of our community were keeping pace with the process of aging and our view of our future was greatly altered by the addition of five new members of much talent and creativity. Three grants from the Wiegand Foundation ( in 1987, 1990,1994, 2009, 2013) modernized our equipment and brought us into the computer age and then into the digital age. A major result of the equipment acquired by the Foundation grants has been the implementing of our version of “Just in Time” printing. Our present set-up of machines is so reliable that we can afford to keep a fairly small inventory and print to customer demand-this ability has greatly reduced unsold stock. The equipment purchased with these grants completed a process that was always part of our plan-to harmonize earning our living with the contemplative life. The printshop , as we know it today, really works. Our mailing list has grown to 3,500-we send two card brochures each year and a fund-raiser, known as the “Friends of Carmel”-these three events combined with our Open House generate income and we are freer to turn to the mission of contemplative life.