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    Hot Off the Hound Dog Press
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    Every year, Louisville sees new businesses opening shop: from the restaurant nestled on Bardstown Road to the unique clothing store in NuLu. These kinds small businesses are a risk, a gamble for success, but opening a full-service letterpress printing shop is taking a stab in the dark compared to opening the everyday restaurant or clothing store. At least a market for food and clothing will always exist, but a letterpress shop? In a world of smart phones and endless gadgets, opening a shop defined by and dependent on a 600-year-old process is like opening a stationary shop next to an Apple store.

    Nick Baute, co-owner and operator of Hound Dog Press, proudly points around the small two-room shop on Baxter identifying each letterpress like historical artifacts in a museum. “The one Maggie is working on is a 1960 Chandler and Price. The one over there is another C and P from 1940 and that one there is a 1916 Golding out of Boston.” Baute is eager to be showcasing the collection that spans over several decades. The oldest looking press, a 1900 Morgan and Wilcox Washington Press, sits in the front room.

    Robert Ronk, Hound Dog Press’s other half, sits quietly on a stool next to Baute. Ronk lets his partner have the floor, listening intently as Baute continues to talk about the presses as if they were his own children. Ronk occasionally slips in his two cents, but he is content with letting Baute provide the historical details.

    Baute and Ronk met as young men at the University of Kentucky where both were pursuing degrees in printmaking. After graduation, the two college buddies split paths. Baute moved to New York while Ronk stayed in Lexington. “When we were getting out of school no one was teaching [letterpress printing]. I was fortunate, and dumb enough I suppose, to cold call a bunch of shops when I moved to New York. I wanted to learn,” says Baute. His quest to acquire the age- old skill was fulfilled by a third generation printer in New York.

    In Lexington, Ronk also began discovering the letterpress printing process on his own. “It’s cool because all this information is passed down and that’s really the only way you learn how to do it,” says Ronk. Back in New York, Baute also found himself working in a museum recreating 19th century presses. “That’s when I really learned about the history.” It wasn’t long before Ronk came to visit Baute in New York, but instead of catching up over beer and New York night life, the pair spent all night in a basement printing on a letterpress. “At that point we decided we could do [Hound Dog Press],” according to Baute.

    In 2005, Baute and Ronk opened shop. The first years were “pretty rough,” says Baute, “Robert slept on a cot in the shop for a year before he slept on a couch for another six months.” Monday through Friday, Ronk would travel from Lexington to Louisville to work in the shop while both were also working other part-time jobs. “For the first two or three years, we were broke. We were out every weekend we could get out doing whatever small fair or festival we could get into for free. We would bring a press with us, we were idiots and we still do it. We haul around a two hundred pound press, rain or shine, to let people demonstrate on it,” Baute jokes.

    The duo put in the long hours teaching, sharing, and demonstrating the process, with the dream that the Louisville market would understand and appreciate letterpress printing and how it differs from other, more familiar, printing processes. “Everything we do is so different”, says Baute, “It has natural character.” Letterpress printed jobs lend an obvious aesthetic that sets itself apart from digital products. “Wood type has scratches and dents from over the years and that’s something you can’t recreate. People try to recreate it digitally, but you can’t pull it off like the authentic thing,” says Ronk. If you’ve ever held or seen a Hound Dog Press job the work speaks for itself. It demands your attention through the deep impressions on the paper and vintage spirit. “The quality speaks for itself,” says Baute, “I’m proud of the products that come out of here. We take the time to do it right.”


    Ten years after that night in a New York City basement, the hard work has paid off (and Ronk has upgraded to more comfortable sleeping arrangements). Custom- made works by Hound Dog Press are now sold and commissioned by other businesses, 75 percent of them local, according to Baute. Their prints hang in shop windows, stationary items are stocked amongst other Louisville souvenirs, and business cards float around the area. They were even featured speakers during Creative Mornings' March meet up. From college buddies to business partners, Baute and Ronk, beat the odds of small business and successfully created a unique, authentic letterpress printing shop. 


    Photos by Katie Molck /Cover Photo Courtesy of Hound Dog Press

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    About Katie Molck

    Loretta Lynn is the best country music singer of all time and if you don't like pickled foods, you can leave.

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