Man of Letters: Derek Lamb and the Officina Athelstane

Published on 27 April 2023


Man of Letters: Derek Lamb and the Officina Athelstane


IMAGE: View of the exhibition ‘Man of Letters: Derek Lamb and The Officina Athelstane’ at Rockhampton Museum of Art. 


An interest in printing, and a love of books and typography, led Rockhampton man Derek Lamb to buy a nineteenth century printing press. More than a decade on, a selection of the prints and books he has created on that press and other vintage presses are on display at Rockhampton Museum of Art (RMOA) in an exhibition titled Man of Letters: Derek Lamb and The Officina Athelstane.

The press, which Derek bought in 2011, is an Alexandra, built by William Notting in London in 1887. He also works with two cylinder proof presses, made in 1965 and 1971.

“I decided that I wanted to print fine books of my own and went about finding a press,” Derek said.

He created the name ‘The Officina Athelstane’ as an imprint (a tradename under which works are published). Officina means "workshop" in Italian and Athelstane is the range that runs across the western side of Rockhampton. It's partly an homage to the great Italian private press Officina Bodoni.

“My inspiration comes from traditional fine press and the history of typography, as well as from more modern interpretations of letterpress,” he said.

Over the years, Derek has produced a wide range of material including cards, broadsheets, flyers, and typographic posters, in addition to limited edition artist books. He has become known for his joyful, satirical, critical, and sometimes even bawdy combination of content and design.

“It’s taking something old and reinventing or reinterpreting it. I like to inject some fun and purpose into what I make. I like to challenge and invite people to give thought to what they see and read,” he said.

Derek has become an internationally recognised printmaker. His fine press editions are held by the National Library of Australia, Oxford and Cambridge University Libraries, the National Library of Ireland, and several state libraries and universities across Australia.

“I suppose that the principal challenge of working with old equipment is mainly sourcing it. Type is difficult and expensive to acquire and spare parts for presses are hard to find. As are papers suitable for letterpress,” he said.

The exhibition features examples of his work including a recent artist book, Sartor Resartus, and several other books and prints presented alongside some of the artist’s rare and antique lettering.

Rockhampton Regional Council Communities and Heritage Spokesperson Cr Drew Wickerson said that his exhibition is a great opportunity for artlovers to see some of the works that Derek has created.

“Many people who have visited the Walter Reid Cultural Centre will have seen the press in place there. This exhibition is a great way to have a close up look at the quality and the artistry behind the printing.

“I would also like to encourage people to attend two events that are associated with the exhibition: an in-conversation with Derek Lamb with hands-on encounters with his limited editions; or for the more adventurous, Derek’s letterpress workshop, both of which are being held on Saturday 6 May,” he said.

Man of Letters: Derek Lamb and The Officina Athelstane is on display at the Vitrine Gallery, Level 2, Rockhampton Museum of Art, Quay Street Rockhampton until 25 June.

Entry is free.

Rockhampton Museum of art is owned and operated by Rockhampton Regional Council

Coinciding with the exhibition are two sessions on Saturday 6 May where the public can get involved:
IN CONVERSATION. Hear internationally recognised printmaker, Derek Lamb, in conversation about his current exhibition and get up-close with his limited editions. FREE (bookings required).

LETTERPRESS WORKSHOP A practical immersion in the art of letterpress. $80, RMOA Members $65. Bookings required.