Knepper Press Printing Plates Cover the Facade of the Carnegie Museum
    Carnegie Museum of Art

    The Carnegie Museum of Art’s Forbes Avenue facade transformed using hundreds of Knepper Press printing plates.

    When you’re reading your favorite publication (The Strip! magazine, of course), do you ever wonder how the magazine is printed, or more specifically, how the words end up on the page?

    The magazine you are now reading would not exist without the dependable, high-quality service of Knepper Press.

    “Knepper Press is one of the oldest printing companies in the country; it has been in the same family for five generations, since 1873,” says Ted Ford, co-owner and CEO.

    Knepper Press’s Ted Ford (CEO, left) and Scott Nock (press room manager) display a typical offset printing plate, of the kind used for the Carnegie  International.

    Knepper Press’s Ted Ford (CEO, left) and Scott Nock (press room manager) display a typical offset printing plate, of the kind used for the Carnegie International.

    The 200-employee company is one of the largest in the state, printing not only numerous magazine titles, both regionally and beyond, but everything from corporate catalogues to cultural and sports programs to millions of pieces of direct mailing per month. “If it’s printed, we might get our hands on it,” quips Ford.

    Knepper specializes in offset litho printing, a very popular method of commercial printing that involves the use of aluminum printing plates chemically etched with the image to be printed. If a magazine or brochure is being printed, typically each set of plates represents four to eight pages of the magazine. Each plate is mounted on a roller in the printing press, and as the press operates the roller is run through a well of ink. The etched image area of the plate attracts ink, while the nonimage area repels it. As the roller spins and picks up ink the image is transferred to an offset blanket, which is a rubber roller that, in turn, transfers the image to the paper as it rolls by.

    Typical full-color publications are printed using four plates on each side of the paper for each set of pages; each plate is used to print yellow, magenta, cyan, or black ink. Look at the pictures in this magazine through a magnifying glass, and you will see how the images are actually made up of these four colors using tiny dots. Some custom work involving specialty papers or coatings can use as many as 16 plates in a print run. “We go through 100,000 plates per year,” notes Ford.

    Artist El Anatsui and Carnegie International curator Ingrid Schaffner examine a printing plate destined for the museum’s facade.

    Artist El Anatsui and Carnegie International curator Ingrid Schaffner examine a printing plate destined for the museum’s facade.

    Generally, after the plates are no longer viable, Knepper will send them to an aluminum recycler. Or, on occasion, the plates are transformed into art.

    As part of the current Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland, the Forbes Avenue façade has been transformed by a towering sculpture that is comprised—in part—of hundreds of printing plates in a gamut of colors, courtesy of Knepper Press.

    Ingrid Schaffner is the curator of the 57th Carnegie International, a global art exhibition that began in 1896, a year after the then-named Carnegie Institute opened. Now occurring every three to five years, the last Carnegie International was held in 2013. This year’s presentation features 32 artists and collectives, hailing from a total of 25 countries.

    The artist who created the work mounted on the 30-foot high, 160-foot wide façade is El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor currently residing in Nigeria. “Anatsui has been making monumental site-specific sculptures for historic edifices around the world since 2007,” says Schaffner, who saw her first of these works in Venice: a palazzo clad in thousands of gold-colored bottle caps.

    Artist El Anatsui

    El Anatsui at work on the design for his “monumental site-specific
    sculpture” at the Carnegie Museum.

    Schaffner invited Anatsui to participate in the International in order to create a link to his global work. To actually build the piece here in Pittsburgh, she reached out to local artist Dee Briggs, who worked closely with El Anatsui on fabrication and installation. Briggs employed members of her Wilkinsburg community to help connect all the pieces.

    The sculpture, which is titled Three Angles, consists of 20 panels, each eight feet wide and topping out at somewhere between 100 and 150 pounds. Anatsui completed a section of the panels from colorful bottle tops at his home in Nigeria, later shipping them to Pittsburgh. The artwork complements Richard Serra’s 1985 steel sculpture titled Carnegie on the museum plaza.

    It was important for Anatsui to work with local materials. Using the printing plates donated by Knepper Press was akin to incorporating local information into sculpture.

    “The opening may have been a beautifully gray, rainy Pittsburgh weekend, but Anatsui’s sculpture was so alive and ever-changing. To walk by is to see the sculpture sometimes reflecting the sky, sometimes the Cathedral of Learning, sometimes the Richard Serra. It has changed our landscape for the duration the Carnegie International,” says Schaffner. “The bends and diagonals Anatsui created across the composition, he says, reflect the confluence of the three rivers. So we can see his work like an abstract map, connecting the local topography, from Oakland to the Point, from Wilkinsburg to Nigeria, and beyond.”

    So far the piece seems to be making an impression on visitors. When the exhibit first opened, a visitor thanked Schaffner for this “incredible work.”


    This is not the first time that Knepper has donated its supplies for a cause. “We give end rolls of paper to roll out and have kids color on it; we’ve given those away for years and years to preschools,” says Ford.

    The company feels good about its contribution to a major work of art. “I think it’s very cool,” says Ford. “It’s pretty neat to have as a conversation piece. All of our aluminum plates are out there, and a world-famous artist made this. I think all the people in our company are getting a kick out of it.”

    The Carnegie International is open now and runs through March 25.

    Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in the North Hills, though she ventures to the Strip whenever possible. She lives with her husband, two redheaded daughters, and a needy terrier.
    Photos (top to bottom): Greger Erickson (outside CMOA); Knepper Press (Ted Ford/Scott Nock); 3rd and 4th photos, Carnegie Museum of Art; photograph by Bryan Conley (Artist)