Luke Pontifell has been making books since he was in high school, sewing pages together at his parent’s kitchen table. He spent his summer vacations in college printing and hand-binding books. In 1985 he founded Thornwillow Press which specializes in letterpress printing, engraving, and custom bookbinding. Operating out of a complex of historic buildings in the town of Newburgh in New York’s Hudson Valley region, the press employs a variety of traditional printing machines that you can see on an upcoming virtual tour of the Thornwillow facilities!

Behind-the-Scenes at Thornwillow Press

Machine at Thornwillow Press

This live-streamed online tour led by founder Luke Pontifell will take place on June 1st. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and get your first month free with code JOINUS.

Thornwillow Pess machine

On this tour, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of printing and binding a fine press, limited edition book. You’ll get up close to a Heidelberg flatbed cylinder letterpresses – which uses technology invented by Gutenberg over 500 years ago – see how engraving/die stamp presses work, and admire the craftsmanship of book sewing and edge gilding prepared by hand in Thornwillow’s very own bindery.

Thornwillow Press machine
Image Courtesy of Thornwillow

Thornwillow Press is essentially a living museum where historic equipment and tools are used every day to create new books. Each step of the book-making process is attended to with care and an attention to detail that is often lacking in modern methods of mass production. Books made at Thornwillow aren’t meant to just be read. They are works of art in themselves that are made to last and to carry on the legacy of the book-making arts.

Thornwillow books
CImage Courtesy of Thornwillow Press

Through the Thornwillow Institute, a non-profit established by Pontifell in 2015, a new generation of bookmakers will learn the related arts and crafts of the written word. The mission of the institute is to unite the local and global community of bookmakers and book readers while revitalizing a distressed historic corner of New York, a complex of 19th-century brick factory buildings down the street from George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters. This complex will one day be The Thornwillow Makers Village, a campus with home-to-work studios, affordable housing, a gallery and event space, a marketplace, classrooms, an audio recording and video studio, and a community bookstore and cafe.

Thornwillow Press
Image Courtesy of Thornwillow Press

Thornwillow has published over 90 unique editions by famous authors such as Toni Morrison, John Updike, Roz Chast, Tim O’Brien, Calvin Trillin, and Lousie Gluck, among many others. Currently on the press is the Centennial Edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The press also creates special editions of famous works, such as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” for their monthly subscription box series, The Thornwillow Dispatch. Their publications can be found in the permanent collections of such renowned institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Morgan Library, the New-York Historical Society, the Smithsonian, and the White House. Explore the traditional methods used to make these books at our upcoming tour of Thornwillow Press!

Behind-the-Scenes at Thornwillow Press

Machine at Thornwillow Press

Next, check out 8 Hidden Bookstores in NYC