In August 2001, I was studying letterpress printing at the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. For those unfamiliar with letterpress, it is an old way of relief printing, using little metal letters or "type" (or raised surfaces formed from wood, metal, or linoleum) that are inserted upside down and backwards--one at a time--into a printing press. It is meticulous and time-consuming work, but the results can be spectacular.
It was a two-week class. In the first day or two, the instructor gave us a little lecturette about the history of letterpress printing. In 1789, a printer named Firmin Didot realized that putting all those little pieces of individual type in was time-consuming. So he created a process that would enable him to print more quickly - by putting a sheet of metal on top of a page of movable type, he could create an impression of the surfaces of the pieces of type, thereby creating a sheet of metal that he could use to print from over and over again, very quickly.
This sheet of metal, my friends, was called a "stereotype." Light bulb moment for me.
Obviously, this is exactly what we humans do to one another when we stereotype each other. And since my work had up to that point focused on the impact of stereotypes, cultural assumptions, and the like - the light bulb was this: I enjoyed making art and I could make art about the very stuff I was working on in corporate America. The first expression of that was planning a letterpress series in several parts: 1) first, a piece that focused on the stereotype - the definitions of the word, for both printing and in human interactions; 2) a piece called "typecast" that represented how stereotyping casts people into groups; and 3) movable type - a wild letterpress piece with letters strewn across the page, showing the move from stereotype to movable type where the beauty of the individual letters (and people) can reveal themselves, and often in odd and interesting and fruitful combinations.
I've no idea if this makes any sense all written down like this, but that's the genesis for my interest in connecting my diversity work to what I'm calling "movable type."