Gary Walton wears a pristine charcoal apron over a white dress shirt. His attire makes him look like he could be plucked from a vintage photo, though it's unclear if that's intentional. Perhaps the uniform just inherently appears historical because his industry and movable type goes back generations. He did, after all, dedicate his life to the craft Gutenberg invented over 500 years ago.
He looks me straight in the eye as we talk. "The love of my life is printing. I've always been in love with printing. I truly believe that's my calling that God has given me."
I believe him. He's done the heavy lifting of having 50 years of experience and collecting machines and tools from the printing industry's past to create the one-of-a-kind Cincinnati Type & Print Museum in Lower Price Hill.
He's taught printing at Cincinnati State for going on 45 years. Failing to retire, his restless spirit eventually steered him back to the classroom. However, teaching wouldn't remain his only job.
Long story short, Gary eventually met with the folks behind BLOC Ministries, and together they planned to build the museum. The city of Cincinnati granted them a quarter of a million dollars for the project, and it opened at 8th and State in November of 2016.
This letterpress museum differs from others thanks to Gary's vision. It's a working museum with three purposes: to preserve letterpress printing as an art form, to give artists the ability to create, and to provide training on how to work the machines.
He stresses that last point. In conjunction with local organizations dedicated to the rehabilitation of women seeking a way out of drugs and sex work, the museum serves as sort of a vocational school. Not only can people learn to print in a safe space, but they can also sell what they create. It effectively readies his class for employment elsewhere, giving them a new opportunity to provide for themselves.
As for what's in the museum, that's still ongoing. Phase Two included building an annex with a thick concrete base to support the weight of several massive printing machines. Phase Three, which isn't yet built, will expand the back half of the building. There, students will learn how to make paper by hand.
As for how Gary acquires the tools and machines for the museum, that's apparently the easy part.
"Anybody who's a leader in the printer industry, I know them. So basically I call my buddies up and say 'let me go through your place, let me see what you've got. I want some of this stuff.' Everything you see here has been given to us," he explains.
There's still much to do at the museum. According to Gary, it'll explore not only the past and present, but also the future. Specifically, how printing circuit boards for electronics is one way printing will persevere. He wants to stress printing's legitimacy in the 21st century.
"A lot of people think printing is dead, but that's a false myth. New technology never replaces old technology. For example, when the electric light bulb came out, people said 'the candle industry is dead.' The candle industry today is bigger than it was–it's just shifted."
And shift I did. I went into the museum expecting a loving tribute to a dying industry only to leave with a rejuvenated appreciation for it. Gutenberg's over-500-year-old system proved itself timeless anew, and I had Gary to thank for printing that out so clearly for me.
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The Cincinnati Type & Print Museum is open by appointment only. For more, visit its Facebook page.