Bill Denham, the head of production at Painted Tongue Studios, followed his love of language from his home in the American South to Berkeley, California. He’s a poet, a paper sculptor, and printer whose love of stories lead him to his love of letterpress.
When asked how he fell in love with language he said “I just sort of came out that way”. The son of a preacher in rural Mooresville North Carolina, Bill says he fell in love with the spoken word listening to his father speak. “He had a melodic voice, a good speaking voice, and because of that I just like listening to language.” It’s no surprised that Bill became a poet from an early age.
Bill’s passion for words led him to Berkeley, California where he continued to write. Then, when he was close to 60, he decided he wanted to print a broadside of one of his poems. In a serendipitous turn of events, letterpress found Bill as he was walking down Addison Street in Berkeley. He happened to pass by a public art exhibit and found the medium he has been searching for, “there was a [handmade] book of poetry printed by Mary Laird sitting in a window. I saw the book, liked it, and got her info. When I went to talk to her about printing a broadside she said ‘I’m way too expensive go talk to Kim.’”
Kim Vanderheiden, the founder of Painted Tongue Studios agreed to help Bill with his broadside “Sisyphus” in 2001 from her dining room/letterpress studio in Berkeley and the rest is Painted Tongue history. Kim and Bill struck up a friendship that moved along with them to the current studio on 29th St. in Oakland. “I was interested in working together somehow and wanted to print more stuff.” Bill studied printing with Kim on and off for around two years. Kim said “he showed a strong aptitude for working with finicky, cantankerous, antique machinery. Eventually, Kim’s husband was offered an opportunity in Chicago and she asked Bill if he wanted to run the studio in her stead. Bill said, “Kim, I don’t know how to print (referring to his lack of client job experience)” to which Kim replied: “I’ll show you.” So Bill became a printer so that he could indeed “print more stuff”.
Bill remembers the process of learning to use the Heidelberg press, “I had to learn how to see projects, I had to learn color, “The first few years were rough but Bill remembers “there was a certain thrill.”
Bill began working at Painted Tongue in 2005 and 7 years later he’s preparing to retire. He’s handed the reigns over to new printers and his main duties now consist of “being the old dude in the studio, having more experience than everyone else, and sharing ideas about how to fix problems.” He spends 1-2 days a week training new printers and hanging out. “There are good friends and it’s a nice place to be. Best job I ever had.”