Return to Greenfield Village
by Gerald F. Schulze
In 1980, the members of the Monks & Friars met with the staff of Greenfield Village to talk about having a staffed print shop on village grounds. This initial meeting was recorded in an APA Treasure Gems book, with M&F member Stanley Cousins recounting the meeting.
Over time, many M&F members would serve as staff and volunteers at the village, with current member Richard Nettlow spending a signifigant amount of time there. The village eventually split the space into a print shop and tin shop, and eventually, the space became more display than a working shop—which is how it has remained for many years. In early 2022 current M&F member Lee Jacobsen initiated talks about the space, to learn that there were already some plans for reactivation. Staff members Melanie Esland and Josh Wojick held an informal meeting with the Monks & Friars in Feburary, and on March 5th we were invited to tour the Greenfield Village warehouse.
It is, at first, most exciting to be in that space, and to see the collection they have amassed. There is a common press, among the oldest in the country, that has not been seen by nearly anyone including the staff—many of the presses being recently moved to the space. A grasshopper caps off one aisle of presses that also includes a Hoe cylinder press. In another aisle, there is a Curtis and Mitchell No.3, showing some of the wild decorations these early presses often had.
But it left me wondering if these presses, many in excellent condition, will ever run again? See the public again? It is a question that I find myself often asking when looking at the collections of museums and villages. If the goal is to preserve these objects, is not understanding and operation part of that preservation? Presses love oil, love maintenance, and as many of us know, the ultimate death of many presses is just lack of use. It is these thoughts that I carried with me as we left the warehouse space and moved to the village proper to the site of the print shop.
The village is beautiful. If you are in this part of Michigan, do go visit—it is worth it. If you love printing, even better. The shop currently holds a Washington hand press, a modern Takach etching press, and a platen press that we did not come to a consensus on, but maybe the community will properly identify. M&F member Joe Warren seems to think it a “Sampson” and I am inclined to agree.* There is some excellent wood type and cabinets as well, as pictured.
The long-term goal of Greenfield Village is to find a way to make dual use of this space—to have it be open to the public, and for the shop to be actively producing objects for the village. This would hopefully include the printed matter for other areas, menus for the restaurant and bar, signage for demonstrations, cards and broadsides for the gift shop. It is an admirable goal, to have the shop doing what it would have been doing originally, jobbing in support of the community it is situated in. As a curatorial idea, I think this makes complete sense, but it begs the question—who is this skilled? Are there people out there, young and eager enough to take on this job, that will spend several years learning to be able to perform this competently? Even with the group that we have—full of printers and designers that have come together through letterpress printing—this would be a non-trivial undertaking for any one of us. In any case, we have offered to be there, and to help in whatever way we can, and we hope for a bright and exciting future for the printing space at the village.
*the press in question ended up being a Damon and Peets 6x10. Thank you to Craig Busteed and Mark Herschede for the quick research, and to Hal Sterne’s book, which they referenced.