Katchor Inject Humor into Lecture on Halftone Printing in the Yiddish Press

Last month, artist and professor Ben Katchor opened his lecture, “Halftone Printing in the Yiddish Press and Other Objects of Idol Worship,” at The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft with a memory.

He recalled, growing up in New York City, his father would read a Yiddish newspaper daily. Katchor’s eyes would meander the page, falling upon graphic elements he could understand. One of them was a black and white picture in the top corner of the page of the founder of the paper. Curiously, he noted, through the years, the quality of the picture worsened. It became grainy until the man’s likeness seemed to almost fade away over time.

The observation led him to research the process and history of printing, including such methods as engraving. His findings comprised much of his presentation, along with images of archaeological artifacts and reflections on the notion of idolatry and the Biblical declaration: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

It was a broody, introspective, loosely-constructed presentation – made more palatable by Katchor’s dry humor and deep intellectualism.

Following the presentation, Katchor, a MacArthur “Genius” Award-winning cartoonist, graphic novelist, and multimedia theater artist, led a narrative workshop with introductory exercises in storytelling through text and image.

The event was a collaboration between the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and the University of Louisville Jewish Heritage Series. It corresponded with KMAC’s current exhibit “Press: Artist & Machine,” which explores the trades and traditions of typesetting, lithography, graphic design and illustration, which is on display through June 1.

Katchor’s picture-stories include Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, Hotel & Farm, The Jew of New York, The Cardboard Valise, and Shoehorn Technique. He produces a monthly strip for Metropolis magazine. His latest book, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories was published in 2013. He’s collaborated with composer Mark Mulcahy on six music-theater shows, most recently Up From the Stacks (2011) set in the New York Public Library and 42nd Street, circa 1970.

Katchor was a 2009 TED Talk speaker and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. Currently, he is an Associate Professor at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City and resides in Brooklyn.


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