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PRINTING MUSEUMS -- Graphic Arts Get-aways

May 2002
BY CHRIS BAUER


Summer is just around the corner. For many Americans, that means it is time to pack up the kids, fire up the SUV and hit the open road. For those employed in the printing industry, this summer could be the perfect opportunity to learn a little something about the history of printing technology while teaching the younger generation about the graphic arts.

Museums that focus on the history of printing are located all around the country. Some are small displays at local newspapers or printing companies. Others are large-scale museums that take visitors from the earliest days of printed communication up to today's digital world.

"Most of our visitors are not people with printing backgrounds," reveals Sarah McNett, curator at the Museum of Printing History in Houston. "The majority of our visitors come through as group tours—grade school groups, university level groups (which tend to be art/graphic arts students), senior citizen groups and community groups—that also use our meeting space, or host parties or receptions in the museum."

Learn Some History

Walk-in traffic includes some who were, or who had parents who were, in the printing industry. Since the printing industry is so large, many people have a loose connection to it, McNett points out. Most walk-in traffic are families or individuals interested in history, or just a fun, educational experience.

Much of the printing equipment the museum boasts has been donated over the past 20 years, although some has been purchased, then donated, by museum supporters.

McNett lists the museum's most prized pieces to be: An Albion press, circa 1820; a Columbian press, circa 1850; and a 19th century French lithography press. All pieces are operational and demonstrated to visitors.

The Houston-based museum also has a collection of prized printed documents, including a Hykumanto Dharani Scroll block printed in Japan, circa 764-770AD, and many important Texan and Mexican documents/broadsides printed by Samuel Bangs, Mexico's first public printer.

Meanwhile, in North Andover, MA, The Museum of Printing is the result of the efforts of an organization known as the Friends of the Museum of Printing, which was established in 1978.

The Friends were dedicated to founding a printing museum devoted to the graphic arts that would be a legacy for future generations, says Gardner LePoer, executive director.

"Printing history has been poorly documented," LePoer contends. "We hope to alter that."

To help preserve the history of printing, The Museum of Printing collection includes examples of most of the different types of letterpresses made in the 19th and 20th centuries, including both platen and cylinder design presses.
 

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