Made in the Berkshires: How to manufacture museum-quality art
Photo Gallery | Museum Facsimiles Outlet Store
PITTSFIELD — Ever wonder where fine art prints, the frames that hold them, and letterpress-style greeting cards are manufactured?
A lot of those products are made in Pittsfield.
Ken and Laurie Green own Museum Facsimiles in Pittsfield and they manufacture the items that they sell in a portion of a 45,000-square-foot warehouse that they own on Fourth Street across from Silver Lake.
The Greens sell their wares at both Museum Facsimiles' outlet store on South Street, and to other well-known department store chains such as Nordstrom's, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales.
"We design it all, we ship it all, we sell to stores all over the world," said Ken Green.
They have also sold their products internationally to stores in England, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Mexico and Canada.
The foreign connections came from contacts the Greens met while attending trade shows in New York City, a practice that began shortly after the couple established Museum Facsimiles in the late 1980s.
The origins of the company that the Greens established came from warehouse full of fine art prints, cards and other artistic knick-knacks that nobody wanted.
The material originally belonged to the Arthur Jaffe Press in New York and the Max Jaffe Press in Vienna, Austria, and contained prints that were manufactured 30 to 80 years ago. It had come into the possession of two former printers of the Jaffe Press companies.
"The two old men who had these prints were waiting for museums to call and the museums stopped calling," Ken Green said.
When they couldn't find a buyer, the men gave the material to Thomas Reardon, the owner of the Studley Press in Dalton, which has been printing for museums and galleries for over 30 years. Reardon is Laurie Green's father,
When he couldn't find a use for the material, Reardon gave it to his daughter and son-in-law.
"He said to us, you two are very creative people you'll figure out something to do with them," Green said.
Laurie Green has a background in design; she designs the company's letterpress greeting cards. Ken Green's background is in photography. At the time the couple received the prints and cards from his father-in-law, Green was restoring 19th and 20th century photographic plates in Housatonic.
Ready to change careers — "it was time to do something else," he said — Green began to contemplate the possibilities that existed in the artistic material that formerly belonged to the Jaffe Press.
"For a year it kind of fermented," he said.
Selling a few prints made the couple realize the material they had was profitable. To further test his theory and develop a business plan, Green went to Berkshire Enterprises, an affiliate of Berkshire Community College that provides training and other resources to entrepreneurs who are interested in starting small businesses.
It was through Berkshire Enterprises that the Greens came up with the idea to exhibit at trade shows.
"I first called on museum stores because we had paintings like Rembrandts and Monets," Green said. "But they didn't want them because they were too expensive.
"So then we had to take a broad-market approach. We took a booth at the New York Stationery Shop and it took off from there," he said.
The couple quickly learned that they were on to something.
"We went to the trade shows and saw that there was nothing like this on the market," Green said. "Specialty prints, antiques ... nobody had anything like this.
"It was definitely going to be a niche," he said. "A high end niche. We realized we wouldn't sell millions of them."
Museum Facsimiles currently has six employees, four of whom work in the company's production facility.
Inside that building on Fourth Street, the Greens maintain two vintage printing presses that they use for printing their letterpress greeting cards. One press was made in the early 20th century; the other in the 1950s. The Greens obtained them from wholesalers.
"They're beautiful machines," Ken said.
In letterpress printing, a surface with raised letters is inked and pressed to the surface of the printing material to reproduce an image in reverse, according to WhatIs.Techtarget.com.
After the Gutenberg press introduced movable type to the process in the 15th century, letterpress was the predominant printing method for 500 years, according to that website.
Museum Facsimiles uses electric saws to make their custom picture frames. The images that the firm uses for its prints come from the public domain, and from websites that the Greens are members of. Their prints include vintage local and regional maps, fine art, and advertisements for several services, many of them printed in French.
Some of the prints that the Greens originally obtained from the Studley Press are collotype prints, named for a process developed in the mid-19th century that was used for large volume mechanical printing.
The Greens sell facsimiles of the collotypes that they originally obtained from the Studley Press, including Virgin and Child by the 15th century Flemish painter Petrus Christus, on the notecards that they sell. Collotypes are considered the finest technique for the reproduction of fine art.
"It isn't done anymore," Green said. "It was really considered the Rolls Royce of the printing process for fine art. That's why they were called facsimile prints because they were the closest to the originals that you could possibly get."
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