Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faces of The Farmers' Museum: Ted Shuart

By: Garet Livermore, Vice President for Education

Ted Shuart, Printer, The Farmers' Museum. June 2011.
How did you get involved in museum work? 
You could say that I was born into it.  My whole family was in the antiques business, and I even slept in a rope trundle bed as a small child.  When the centennial of the Civil War came around in the 1960s, it really stimulated my interest because I read everything I could about the units and the battles. Eventually I became involved in reenactments and helped to start a local group of reenactors who traveled to schools and historical societies to do presentations.  My day job as a graphic artist at a local newspaper gave me some of the basic skills that I continue to practice here in the Printing Office.  I came here as a Museum Teacher twelve years ago to get a foot in the door of the museum and eventually became the printer when that job opened up.

What did it take to learn the craft of Letterpress printing?
The first thing I did was review the notes and books of the museum printers who had worked here for more than sixty years; they are a treasure trove of information.  After that I started working with other museum printers, including staff from the Shelburne Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  They helped me understand the finer points of printing from typesetting through inking and on to printing pressure and press mechanics.

What is your favorite object in the Middlefield Printing Office?
It would probably be the Robert Hoe Washington Hand Press.  It was made in 1828 and is one of the oldest presses of its kind in America.  It was used by the Freeman’s Journal here in Cooperstown for many years.  A few years after the paper bought it, they moved to a larger page size that required a new press.  Most small town presses were used intensely, and the surviving presses are suffered and are difficult to use, but this press was put in storage for many years until it came to The Farmers’ Museum in the late 1940s. As a result it is a pristine piece of equipment in wonderful condition that is great to work with.

What is your next big project?
I’m presently setting up a children’s book based on one printed by Elihu Phinney here in Cooperstown in the nineteenth century.  That edition will run to 1,000 copies and will use the original illustrations.   Also, since this is the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, I am researching and reproducing recruitment posters from the early years of the war.

Why do you think it is important for people to understand early printing techniques?
Letterpress printing is the basis of all of our graphic arts today.  Books, magazines and newspapers all had their start in printing offices like this. Even the basic terms of printing – like font, typestyle, upper and lower case – all refer to letterpress techniques that have carried over to digital printing. Many of the visitors who are most interested in the shop are modern designers and printers who have become interested in letterpress printing not only because it is the roots of the current industry, but also because the quality of work printed on presses like these has yet to be duplicated digitally.

A Note about the Faces of The Farmers' Museum series: This series of blog posts combines staff portraits made in the style of nineteenth-century occupational photographs using film-based photography. The idea came for this when I found a box of long-expired film in a museum storage area. Using the film from the early 1990s, a fifty-year-old Rolleiflex camera and ancient photographic chemicals gave a reasonable facsimile of the images of farmers, tradesmen and community leaders that were popular 150 years ago.

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