Keeping alive traditional printing in a participatory way
The place is crowded on a Saturday afternoon - it's Open Studio time in Trükimuuseum in Estonia's intellectual centre and university town of Tartu. The atmosphere is lively and people are running around with their freshly carved linocuts, colour splashed on their aprons and juggling woodblock letters from the last century.
Among the hustle and bustle there's Lemmit Kaplinski, 32, head of the museum, swirling around answering questions and helping out where needed. At one point he stands next to his dearest Frankenthal, a stop-cylinder press from 1927; the next moment he bumps into Kalju Kütt, 61, printing master of the museum, and discusses how to proceed with the particular wish of Urszula from Poland. She wants to carve a black-and-white flower pattern into linoleum and then print it on coloured cardboard to finally make a notebook out of it.
The participants of the Open Studio come from all over. They are from Estonia, but also from places like Serbia, Russia, Finland, Hungary, Great Britain and many others. All these people, young and old, come because they want to experience the vivid spirit of this very special museum. Lemmit describes the mission as the following: "We aim to preserve the heritage of the printing industry and pass on the skills and the knowledge to the coming generation by facilitating artistic creativity and professional development in print design, in its broadest sense".
This is the basic principle in the museum: The different presses, dating back from the 19th century up to the 21st, are there to be used. Even though
some machines need to be handled with care and caution, as the material has reached the peak of its durability, it is charming to observe a slender girl pulling the heavy, squeaking handle of the 200-year old press. This book printing press was just recently set up, matching the green drawers that hide loads of woodblock letters in different sizes. When browsing those huge drawers you might also find metal clichés - printing plates - that depict pointing fingers, a map of Estonia, or detailed technical models of some mechanical device from the
The museum is located in a building with almost a 100 year-old printing legacy. The street-facing facade is a Jugend-style villa from the early 20th century which hides a big, functional factory, attached no more than 10 years ago. Even though the new addition might not fit the style of the high architecture of the villa, it adds to the roaming creative spirit of the building complex. There are also other people in the building, working together under the name Creative Center Carnation, or in Estonian, Noor-Eesti Loomekeskus (NELK). Kastani 38 also hosts a paper architecture studio, several artist's studios like Ahto Eller's screen printing and Silver Gutmann's photo studio, and finally, an office-share, where people can rent
a desk in a common working environment. There even used to be a club called Print, and several other experimental projects have called the place home at various times.
Thus, it is not only one museum which provides you with a great way to spend time, but also several other ideas & activities can pull you there. Lemmit: "It has happened that visitors, spending only two days in Estonia, decide to stay a whole day in the museum, printing their own lino-cuts and binding their own notebooks, which they proudly take back home". And if you're lucky, you might get a chance to be introduced to Gutenberg (the cat) and the Q&A
department of the museum, where you can hear the fascinating story of how printing was really invented.
To learn more about the museum and NELK, check out the following websites:
www.facebook.com/trykimuuseum (In Estonian)
www.facebook.com/gutenbergthecat (in English)
www.tartuensis.com (Unique notebooks made in the museum)
www.paberimuuseum.ee (Paper Architecture Studio)
and the Hostel, located in the same building: loominghostel.ee
Kastani 38, Tartu
Image: Frankenthal Press by the artist Marge Nelk
Keywords: Tartu, Estonia, muzeum, printing