A new book traces the origins of screen printing to the US at the dawn of the 20th century, and follows the process as it flourished and spread across the world through World War II.
Meet the Author: Guido Lengwiler
See if this story sounds familiar: A young man graduates from art school, stumbles on the screen-printing process as an extension of his painting, and eventually finds himself working for a commercial printing business. This accidental path to screen printing that Guido Lengwiler took in Zurich 30 years ago isn’t unusual—you can find a similar tale behind most of the established companies in our industry. But his life took a pronounced left turn when he realized that one of his mentors had worked for a company that had been an early pioneer of screen printing in Europe. His curiosity about that connection started a quest for information that would lead him to the earliest days of screen printing and how it spread across the world. We caught up with Lengwiler via e-mail and asked him to share his improbable story.
SP: Why did the history of screen printing interest you as an author?
GL: I've always been interested in history. But as far as screen printing was concerned, that was a coincidence. In the mid 1980s, when I was working as a screen printer with Fred Birchler in Zurich, he would often talk about his apprenticeship at a small company called Serico in 1949, with Hans Caspar Ulrich, who was the owner then. Serico was founded in 1926 and it still exists today. So I got in touch with the current owner of Serico, Alfred Eich, and he had records from Ulrich's time. (Ulrich died in 1950.) Alfred then put me in touch with Ulrich's son. The family, it turned out, had these handwritten notes by Ulrich, which were unique accounts of the early years of screen printing. With funding from the Swiss bolting cloth manufacturers, Ulrich spent three months traveling around the United States to study the process in 1927. He visited the most important screen-printing businesses in the country, from New York to California, and he took notes. So then my research moved on to America. It all involved coincidences and luck.
But I wasn't planning on writing a book originally. The research was always a journey into the unknown. It took some time before the idea of publishing anything came up, after it became clear to us that we were probably holding unique historical material in our hands.
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