Joe Edwards checks the ink at DMR Graphics in West Conshohocken. DMR's posters for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have become collector's items.

Joe Edwards checks the ink at DMR Graphics in West Conshohocken. DMR's posters for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have become collector's items.

Torrential rains, flooded concert areas, and lots of mud were the dominant images of this year's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which came to a soggy end last Sunday.

This, however, is the visual the organizers hope will endure:

The legendary Ellis Marsalis Jr. and his four musician sons, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason - on piano, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and drums. Each is framed by a floor-to-ceiling window of a prototypical Garden District home, part of a tableau of greens, blues, and oranges against a night sky slit by a crescent moon.

That's the official 2016 Jazz Fest poster, expected to become a hot collector's item, as all the others have since the first poster in 1975.

Key to what makes the series one of the most collected in the world, with this year's posters ranging in price from $69 to $895, is the rare technique used: screen printing. The last 12 years, that has been done by DMR Graphics L.L.C., a small West Conshohocken business believed to be one of a few still performing the ancient art.

"We still have a love of the old way of doing things," said Ben Fein, 62, president and co-owner of DMR with brother Dan, 60, the company's manufacturing director.

Screen printing originated in 10th-century China. A laborious craft, it involves hand-mixing colors and applying them to paper, one at a time, via a press. This year's Jazz Fest poster has 18 colors.

Fine-tuning color matches takes four to seven hours a color, with ink weighed and mixed on a scientific scale to ensure color accuracy and repeatability, Dan Fein said.

The result is something that digital printing - the prevailing choice for most commercial work now - can't match aesthetically.

"It's a rich depth of color with so many different layers," Dan Fein said. "You've got brightness and vibrancy that's impossible to get through any other means."

This year's Marsalis family tribute is 14,000 limited-edition serigraphs, some signed by both the designing artist and the Marsalises. Its production at DMR, which has 12 employees and $3 million in annual revenue, took 21/2 months. DMR's other 2016 Jazz Fest project involved 5,000 19-color posters.

"It's just a lot of very, very precise color matching to make sure we've got the nuances of what the artist was intending," Dan Fein said, wearing an ink-streaked lab coat during a recent interview.

This year's Jazz Fest poster artist is Paul Rogers, who also designed 2002's, which featured Wynton Marsalis.

That was two years before DMR got involved with the Crescent City's annual celebration of music and les bons temps.

It came at a tense time for the Feins, Pittsburgh-area natives who, after college, pursued entrepreneurial paths rather than what they had majored in - physical therapy for Ben, mechanical engineering for Dan. Their most lucrative endeavor involved selling licensed T-shirts and hats featuring characters from 1980s video games including Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

Wanting more stability led the Feins to commercial printing and, after an extensive East Coast search, to West Conshohocken.

At one point, they sold the printing enterprise, only to get back into it when their buyer went out of business and left the Feins with a property they still owned and no tenant. (The situation inspired the company's name: DMR stands for Dead Man Running.)

Along came Bud Brimberg, originator of the Jazz Fest poster and owner of Art4Now in New Orleans. He had lost his screen printer, and a national search had turned up just three still doing that work, Brimberg said.

Only one had "a guy with ink under his fingernails," he said. That was Dan Fein.

"Guys with ink on their fingers win every time," Brimberg said, calling DMR's screen printing "glorious."

Because of the time involved, the process makes little financial sense, the Feins said, which is why 80 percent of DMR's work is digital, such as signs for stores and SEPTA trains.

But Ben Fein sees a bigger purpose:

"We're trying, in this little way, to keep this art form alive."


Original article published by The Philadelphia Inquirer - Sunday, May 8, 2016