Louise Rowe of the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in Queenston, Canada, shares how the Museum stands as a pillar of the printing community. Benefiting from a printing revival in the area, the Museum blends modern techniques with letterpress’ rich history.
I found letterpress in a very roundabout way. I have a vague fine art background; this precedes my twelve-year career in customer service and events. So the only printing I ever did focused on traditional etching techniques. When I was gifted a proofing press by my boyfriend, I quite literally had no clue what it was, let alone how to set it up and use it. However, it was, and is to this day, the best gift I have ever received.
For starters, nobody has ever given me anything that romantic. Secondly, it was the motivation I needed to start my own business – Out of Sorts Studio. Finally, my Potter Proof Press is how we ended up becoming members of the Mackenzie Printery. I reached out to them in the hopes that they might be able to shed some light on the one-tonne-beast, which suddenly occupied a space in our basement.
The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum is a charity founded in 1993 and to this day is run completely by volunteers. They own a vast collection of printing equipment spanning 500 years of history. The collection is housed in the restored home of William Lyon Mackenzie, which is owned by the Niagara Parks Commission and during the summer they open the heritage site to the public as a working museum.
Whilst continuing to maintain a very impressive collection of printing equipment, the charity is now moving forward in efforts to preserve more than the just the physical pieces.
For the most part our members are older and have struggled with finding people in younger generations who are remotely interested in hearing about their experiences, let alone finding ones who actually wish to learn any of the processes. That’s not to say these people don’t exist, just that they are hard to find in our neck of the woods.
In recent years, under the Chairmanship of Ron Schroder, the group has been focused on the organization of the entire collection; ensuring it is managed and preserved to the highest museum standards. With such a large collection, that includes a vast selection of type, it has been a long process. With this now well under way the group can turn some of its attention to the presses themselves. It isn’t just about keeping them all shiny and dust-free, we want to make sure that we always have someone who knows how to operate them.
Vice Chairman, Art Ellis, along with our Collections Executive, John Hunt, have been in charge of all things related to the restoration and working order of our printing presses for the majority of the last three decades. As new members, we found it a heartbreaking prospect that their knowledge could just be lost should they no longer be able to participate.
Obviously the charity gaining me as a member is great because I’m awesome. However, in reality, Carl (my boyfriend) has proven to be a far more useful asset. He is a mechanic by trade, with a deep appreciation for antiques and a desire to know how things work. His passion for cars is deeply rooted in hot rods and this love took us to the Syracuse Nationals in July, which also provided us with the perfect opportunity to take a tour around Boxcar Press: a place dreams are made of!
Honestly, I don’t think we could have a better first candidate for learning how to set up, maintain and repair the printing presses.
He started small, bringing home a rather rusty slug cutter, a mini paper cutter that didn’t cut and a brayer with broken handles. After some research, he took apart each item, carefully cleaned every piece, repaired what he could and fashioned new parts where necessary. Parts were then painted and reassembled, leaving us with three pieces that could either be added into the museum’s collection or sold.
The next logical step was for him to start learning the basics of some of the larger pieces of equipment. John began by showing him how to run our Heidelberg Windmill and has since moved on to showing Carl what he has to do to keep this press in good working order.
The printery also has in its collection an 1894 Whitlock press. This press, weighing in around eight tonnes, is too large for Mackenzie House and is instead a permanent feature at the Marshville Heritage site in Wainfleet, Ontario. Every year, this press is used at The Marshville Heritage Festival to print a festival calendar and until this year, Art has been searching for someone to teach how to run it. Buoyed by Carl’s natural aptitude, Art taught Carl everything he needed to know about running and maintaining the Whitlock; she’s got a few quirks, which is understandable given she’s 125 years old.
At the same event, after it stopped delivering us our slugs, Carl received a crash course from John on the insides of a Ludlow Type Caster and together they formulated a plan to repair it, which Carl then executed.
While the experts tinker with the big stuff, it falls on the rest of our core work group to continue with sorting through the storage bunker and the many, many, many cabinets of type. Members Marvyn, Dennis, Francis and Tim have the most patience I have ever seen and make type sorting look easy.
With letterpress now considered more of an art or craft, rather than a pillar of society, it is fascinating to see all the modern-day interpretations of an industrial process so rooted in history. As Executive Secretary for the group, I am now looking to the future and how we can continue to sustain our organisation. With much of our surplus stock now sold, it is time to get creative and I couldn’t be more excited to see what we can collectively do.
If you would like more information on the museum, any of the aforementioned members, and how to join or support The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, please take a look at our website: https://mackenzieprintery.org/
Or follow our antics on Instagram: @themackenzieprintgroup