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Jim Rimmer, FGDC

Jim Rimmer was born on April Fool's Day, 1934 in Vancouver BC. His education was scant, his  career in Graphic Design and letterpress printing based only on the naivete that all one needed to do was to love to draw. He attended Vancouver Technical School, which gave an introduction to metal type and presses through the school's large printing trade shop. He began his apprenticeship as a compositor and (although he had no hint at the time) typefounder. After six years of apprenticeship he moved on to work on various daily and weekly newspapers.

His first taste of working in "art" came about while he was a Linotype and Monotype operator/floor compositor at the Williams Lake Tribune. On several occasions it seemed to him a good idea to present a print client's letterhead as a gouache and brush layout, rather than going straight to the type case. When it was discovered that the kid could draw a little, the publisher asked him if he could knock out a cartoon once a week. He did this for the sum of five dollars for each. The money was beginning to roll in.

When it looked like he had reached the cash ceiling, he and his wife and family of three returned home to Vancouver, where after two more comp room positions he decided to try in earnest to break away from the rapidly shrinking letterpress trade he attended two semesters of evening classes in graphic design at the Vancouver School of Art, under the instruction by designer and illustrator Graham Booth. His first interview for a design position landed him his first real job in the field at The Columbian Newspaper/ Craftsmen Press in New Westminster. He remained in this position for seven years, and in 1969 moved on to work at Brock Weber Printing, then on to Tri Graphic Studios and then Creative House. In 1973 he rented a spot in Gastown and began a freelance career that would last 32 years, until his retirement in 1999. In the last four years of his working life he was Type Director of Giampa Textware/Lanston Type Co, who were busily digitizing revival faces from the holding of letter patterns from The Lanston Monotype Machine CO.

During his freelance years he worked on projects for the major agencies and design studios in Vancouver, for corporations, airlines, mining and forestry companies. A large part of his work entailed letter design and lettering projects.

He designed and cut in metal his first typeface, named Juliana Oldstyle in 1981, and because he had in his hands the matrices for this face, found it necessary to acquire more type casting machines. Some years later he located three pantographic engraving machines, and more casters. Since they needed to be kept working, he design and cut more faces in metal: Nephi Madiaeval; Albertan; Fellowship; Duensing Titling in seven sizes; Canadian Syllabics (Cree); Quill; and Carl Dair's Cartier. One of his latest designs is 18 point Hannibal Oldstyle, made to run on the Monotype Composition Caster, and for his printing of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Since retirement he has hand set and printed four books: Shadow River, Pauline Johnson; A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens; and his autobiography, Leaves From the Pie Tree. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is in progress at this writing.

Because of his growing reputation in typography he was invited to teach, and did so off and on on a contract basis for Capilano College, ECIAD, Langara College, Kwantlen College, Richmond and UCFV, Abbotsford.

He was always in contact with some original students and a handful who were new to him, and came to look and some to learn. On occasion he conducted workshops in printing, typecutting and book binding at his workshop. Students are from such far-flung places as San Francisco and Chicago

In 1998, he began producing his own digital library of typefaces, many his own design and some revivals. He produced 190 or so individual fonts, which are now marketed by P22 Type Foundry of Buffalo, NY.

Jim was member of The American Tyecasting Fellowship, for whom he had spoken several times. His printing and typefounding workshop was visited by groups from libraries, universities and colleges. He was feted in November of 2006 by Simon Fraser University at an event called "Rimmerfest". A large collection of his work and papers are lodged in SFU's Special Collections in The Bennett Library.

In 2009 BC Chapter of the GDC, in partnership with Hemlock Printers announced a Jim Rimmer Scholarship Award. The first recipients are to be acknowledged at Practivism 2010.

The quintessential renaissance man, Jim hacked away at the garden, drew, made new type, printed new books, held cats on his lap, cut letters in marble, played jazz on his coronet, gathered carving wood on the banks from the Fraser River and had started to build a steel string guitar.

Jim passed away following a fierce battle with throat cancer on January 8, 2010. He is survived by his wife Alberta, after whom the font Albertan was named.

Comments from Jim Rimmer’s Fellowship nomination supporters.

From Mark Busse, MGDC, President, GDC BC Chapter:
“I feel a rather humbled and a little bummed out since attending Rimmerfest at SFU downtown on November 25. It was both an inspiration and an honour to be among Canada’s Graphic Design elite to celebrate and honour one of Canada’s living national treasures, the printer, publisher, and one of the few remaining typography and letterpress craftsmen alive today, Jim Rimmer.

To say Jim Rimmer has made many friends over his over fifty year career would be woefully inadequate. Jim has mentored, inspired and befriended numerous printers, type designers, publishers, students, teachers, design firms, type founders and book lovers. Just Google Jim Rimmer and you’ll see what I mean - there are too many links to post here. As the official national Society of Graphic Designers in Canada, we owe craftsmen like Jim Rimmer a huge debt of gratitude and a great deal of respect. It is with this thought in mind that I nominate Jim Rimmer for Fellowship in GDC.”

Jim Rimmer, is currently (in 2007) enjoying his fifty-fifth year in the pursuit of fine typography, graphic design and lithography. His background includes years with hot metal type in the composing room, and in the operation of the linotype and the Monotype – of which he still has a large and active collection of differing machine models. He is still designing and cutting faces in metal in concert with those that he is designing for digital format on his Macintosh. In 2000 and 2001 he completed two hot metal faces and has recently finished a third: Hannibal Oldstyle for the printing of the book: Tom Sawyer in 2006. He goes on to use these typefaces in the books that he designs, illustrates, prints and occasionally writes for his own private press, the Pie Tree Press in Vancouver.

His experience in graphic design covers over 40 years, encompassing positions in advertising agencies and design studios. For more than 25 years he has had the good fortune to experience the mixed blessings of freelancing as a letterer, designer, and illustrator. In addition he served as Type Director of Lanston during its time in Vancouver and made the digital versions of the Cloister, Deepdene and Garamont fonts for the Lanston Type Company.

Rimmer Type Foundry is the gathering of Jim’s metal typefounding knowledge and hand skills with his many years as a lettering artist into something useable in the digital font world. The foundry leans in the direction of traditional type forms but does address the need to offer more contemporary type styles.

Jim deserves our recognition. I know Jim personally and he recently recounted the story of when he designed the current BC Flag for Baker Lovick Advertising many years ago, but was never given proper credit for it or considered to be its official designer, because the Creative Director took all the credit and he never pushed it. That's the kind of person Jim is. Kind. Generous. Humble.

From Jim "I often design my typefaces on the back of an envelope. I draw on whatever is at hand at the time. It makes for a pretty shaggy archive, but it keeps the types spontaneous if nothing else." Jim is old school, yet still active and relevant. He finalizes his sketches in Adobe Illustrator on a Mac.

From Denise Carson Wilde (artist, typographer, printer and owner of Paper-Ya in Vancouver):
As you may know, Jim has been awarded several GDC certificates of design excellence over his long career. Several of these came from self-promotion, or for “ephemera”. I think that Jim always shinned the brightest when he was just doing his own thing. He is really quite a maverick. This quiet white haired man never made a fuss of any of his accomplishments. Jim is really a renegade. He follows his own unique path, completely. And all the while generously encouraging and giving to all those around him.

I think that the wider circle of professional acknowledgment that has been given to Jim of late is so refreshing. It gives every designer/artist hope! It reminds me of an old classic western movie. Where the good guy does get the girl and rides off into the sunset. Jim already has the girl.... for Jim “the girl” is making linocuts, designing type, and producing letterpress limited edition books. The acknowledgment of his accomplishments and contributions is the sunset. There is no question that he deserves a spectacular sunset.

From Dick Kouwehoven, owner Hemlock Printers:
Jim's contribution to our community of printers, designers, illustrators and publishers is huge. He continues to lead a vibrant private press culture, with his passion for typography. Jim is an amazing, creative, faithful traditionalist.

From Matt Warburton, FGDC:
Few individuals have given as much as Jim Rimmer has to the Canadian design community, yet received so little in return. A master typographer in both lead and pixel, Jim has conveyed his love of the craft aspect of our profession to countless students, either in his classrooms or simply through allowing designer to enter his sanctum of letterpress in the basement of his New Westminster home. Jim fluidly moves from the printing presses and molten metal that are from a bygone era to the world of vectors and bezier curves, applying his knowledge and expertise to both arenas. His has the unique ability to link practitioners from all areas of design across Canada and beyond, from book binders to typographers, infusing everyone he meets with his own enthusiasm and passion for the profession.

As a spokesperson for design and presenter at many GDC events over the years, he continues to inspire generations of designers to embrace the beauty of type, and the feel of letterpress. His contributions to the GDC also includes the creation of custom cast metal fonts for the Graphex trophies dating back to 1997 and recently the GDC@50 momentos.

I have had the pleasure of working with Jim on numerous projects over the years, as well as spending time in his workshop and am humbled by his abilities, yet inspired by them at the same time. I proudly use one of his first digital typefaces, Albertan, on my own company's stationery.

I cannot think of a more worthy nominee for GDC Fellowship than Jim.

At Rimmerfest, poet and typography guru Robert Bringhurst, who admitted to being "in a tragic frame of mind recently" told the sad story of the history, demise and unfortunate state of the typography industry. Concluding that metal type composition was two generations past, the remaining machines are cared for by "few people shouldering the responsibility, people like Jim Rimmer." When Jim goes, whose left?

Well, thanks to Jim, there are young, motivated, passionate designers-typographers-printers to carry on the traditions. While serving as an external advisor pre-judging Communication Design Grad work, I discovered a written, photographed, designed, laid out, printed and hand bound book honouring Jim Rimmer by a young man named Ryan Mah. Take a look at it yourself.

From Ryan Mah:
I met Jim Rimmer for the first time in Spring of 2004. I had been seeking some advice on letterpress printing technique. All my leads from various instructors had pointed in Jim’s direction. An e-mail later, I arrived at his home in New Westminster. It was damp outside as the leaves from last fall still laid on the pathway to his house. I remember walking down the gravel path to the side of his house and peering into a very dusty window. In the back of his dimly lit shop, I could scarcely make out the silhouette of a person working on a large iron machine. Excitedly, I knocked on the glass pane door where I was warmly greeted and invited in.

The sight of the large black iron machines, the sound of metal gears clinking in the background, and the smell of ink and wood had me in awe as I stood at the entrance to his shop. During my stay, I witnessed magic as Jim transformed the raw materials; lead into refined jewel-like letterforms. From these letterforms, books were produced and all completely bound by hand. Metamorphosis from lead to finely crafted book illustrates an aura of fine craftsmanship with each page turned. I had the opportunity to view these books and, once in my hand, I realized I was holding onto something incredibly special.

Jim has passed on new inspiration of this forgotten art to his many students, including myself, that have come and gone through his shop. He has taken us to a place where the computer is not the only solution to a problem. These collections of photographs are from my many visits to his shop and with them I hope to inspire others. It is rare to meet someone that can have such a positive impact on one’s life. Jim Rimmer is one of these few exceptional people.

Marke Busse concluded:
After meeting Jim, touring the dark, greasy caverns of his print shop in New Westminster, his life changed and he fell for type. He fell hard for letterpress printing. He now owns a fully functional print shop in his parents' garage complete with three presses, a cutter and full compliment of movable type. Thanks to Jim, Robert Bringhurst may be wrong–and that doesn't happen often. Ryan, and the many others whose lives Jim has touched, are the keepers and future of traditional graphic design, typography and printing. Jim deserves the honour of GDC Fellowship. Thank you Jim.