For more than 45 years, the Bow & Arrow Press — a student-run letterpress studio founded in 1978 — has quietly resided in the basement of one of Harvard’s undergraduate residences, Adams House, serving as a gathering place and creative venue for Harvard students and alumni.
But as the House continues its ongoing renovations, Adams Faculty Deans Mercedes C. Becerra ’91 and Salmaan A. Keshavjee informed Press manager Heather Hughes, a House non-resident tutor, on Monday via email that the studio’s location in the basement of Westmorly Court’s B-entryway will become a common room following completion of the building’s renewal in 2025.
Becerra and Keshavjee wrote the email, obtained by The Crimson, in response to a message by Jeffrey E. Seifert ’81, a former Crimson editor, asking to keep the Press in Adams House following renovations. Hughes and Adams non-resident tutor Jonathan L. Biderman, who also manages the Press, said the message contradicted assurances given during a 2019 meeting with House Renewal architects and Project team members that the studio would remain in Adams after renovations are completed.
The message was repeated in another meeting with the same group of architects and team members late last year, according to Hughes, in which they discussed the temporary storage of Press supplies during renovation and presented floor plans for the renovated studio in the same location. But several months later, plans for the Press have taken a different direction.
“The plan, which has been in place for years, has been walked back without any community involvement either from Adams residents or from the Bow and Arrow community,” Hughes said in an interview at the 45th-anniversary celebration of the Press, which took place this past weekend.
The move will require the storage and maintenance of the historic printing materials — including a Vandercook printing press, a manual printing press from 1914, a Chandler & Price tabletop printing press from mid- to late-1800s, and more than 1,000 printing blocks — prior to the start of Westmorly renovations.
While Press supplies remain in storage, many campus programs — including workshops, introductory courses, and weekly Open Press nights — which use the studio will be temporarily paused.
Andrew S. Birsh ’78, who helped found the press in 1978, described the press and these programs as “a fusion place for creativity” and an “important creative outlet.”
“That’s part of the great value that the accessibility and openness of the press has,” Birsh said. “It provides an educational opportunity that most people didn’t even know they could receive.”
“The press’ history is pretty well known to the people who work there, and they do feel that they’re part of a developing process that should continue in the future,” Birsh added.”
Some Adams affiliates say they fear the move will change the reputationally “weird” nature of the House.
“I think it’s like a perfect place for Adams House,” Carly Braille ’26 said. “It’s the spirit of Adams: quirky, cool, old.”
Keshavjee, the Adams Faculty Dean, wrote in an email to The Crimson that the plan will not shut down the Press.
“In fact, our hope is for the Bow & Arrow Press to continue its operations at another site in the Harvard community,” Keshavjee wrote. “We are working with the Dean of the College, and through his office, various campus partners, to secure a new home for the Press.”
Hughes and Biderman, the Press managers, said they believe Adams residents should be included in conversations about the location of the studio following renovations.
“We have not been part of discussions happening about what is going to be the fate of the press going forward,” Hughes said.
“If it’s going to cease to exist then why not be open about it,” Biderman added. “Why not involve people in the conversation, and let them try to save it before it has disappeared?”
James J. Barondess ’79, who also helped found the press, said he hopes Harvard will “meaningfully support the press in the future.”
“A lot of people outside Harvard know and love to press,” he said. “I’d love to see that grow in some way and get cemented in a financially sustainable way.”
As the interview came to a close at the Press anniversary celebration, Hughes demonstrated the art of letterpress, placing a blank page into two metal teeth, sliding the long cylinders along the press, and producing a note that read “thank you.”
Then, rolling the Vandercook press back, she explained, “There are four things you have to have to do printmaking. You need the thing to print, you need ink, you need paper, and you need pressure.”
“Our fifth ingredient is remaining in our space and with our community,” Hughes said.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Jackson C. Sennott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.