True to Type

Charles E. Davis, Jr.
February 4, 1923 – July 1, 2020

When Here On the Edge first made its way into the world, I gave talks up and down the West Coast, sharing this incredible story with all who cared to know. After nearly every show, I heard the same response again and again. People would come up to me and say, “I had no idea about this story — this is really important!”

Then they would ask, “When is the movie coming out?”

I don’t know when the movie is coming out, but I am confident that one day it will be made. And in that movie, there will be a calm, likeable fellow who sees the radical conscientious objectors cranking out their weekly clandestine newsletter, “The Untide,” on the camp’s office mimeograph machine, and he will tell them that he can teach them how to set type and that he has access to a tabletop printer so that they can make real books.

He sends away for the Kelsey press once used by his father, and it is delivered to the camp. They set it up in one of the dorms, and this calm, likeable fellow, Chuck Davis, teaches the radicals and revolutionaries how to set type.

They put out a book, then another, and another, and send them to other Civilian Public Service camps across the country. The books show up in independent bookstores in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. A couple get reviewed in national publications, and word spreads about these do-it-yourself artists and craftsmen who are creating a message to last beyond the war.

“These are the years of destruction,” they write. “We offer against them the creative act.” Their message is one of peace, and while it doesn’t stop World War II, it does catch the attention of the next generation, who, when facing a war of their own in Vietnam, decide to create a mass movement to end that war. And they do.

History runs on its own clock, and what may seem a marginal footnote to one generation can have profound implications for another. I can’t say for certain what would have happened at Camp Angel if Chuck Davis wasn’t there. But I can tell you that he was there, that he taught the fellows in the Fine Arts Group how to set type and print books, and that the work they did made a difference. And all of us today say thank you to Chuck Davis. Thank you for being there, with your knowledge and your generosity, with your talent and kindness and humor. Thank you for making a difference.

Chuck Davis setting type at Camp Angel, circa 1944.
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1 Response to True to Type

  1. So, so important!!! Thanks for this post.

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