Friday, June 16, 2017

From Lithographs to Living Large

Sunday was hot, the temperatures already high as I sat with my morning tea watching the birds, busy again preparing nests for their next batch of fledglings. A crow carrying a long stick in its beak as it flew across the meadow dropped it suddenly, but before I could react it had swooped down, caught it, and resumed its flight without missing a beat. A female cardinal sat on a branch right outside my patio doors, seeming to rest for a few moments, also with a thin twig held in her beak. The humidity was due to arrive as the day got hotter and I could already feel the density in the air as I climbed into Stanley to drive to Baltimore.
 Emily and I joined some other DCUE buddies to photograph the old Hoen Lithograph Building. Once one of the largest lithograph printing companies in the world, it has been closed and empty since 1981, the building has been almost completely emptied and is slowly being converted into residences as well as office space and a cafe, an estimated $22 million venture. Today, we were on an organized explore, with a guy collecting waivers and giving a brief outline of the building's history, along with a detailed description of the stairs we couldn't ascend and areas we weren't allowed in to.
Stepping out of the car was a jolt as the temperature had intensified quickly, the sun was blazing hot, and the humidity was making its unwelcome and very noticeable entrance. I was glad we would be inside a shady building.
Parts of the structure were damaged on the outside by weather erosion and a few trees that were looking quite comfortable peeking out from windows or pushing into brick walls. Some of the upper floor areas had huge gaping holes in the floors with a few windows that were broken, but these were covered and clearly cordoned off for safety. 
We set off into the murky and dark depths of the building, immediately welcoming the drop in temperature inside. I love the small wooden flooring blocks used inside, and hoped they would be preserved or at least displayed somewhere. I've seen these many times in old industrial buildings.
The lithography company, A. Hoen and Co., was founded in the 1840's, developing and patenting a method called 'lithocaustic', which was a method of 'shading' stone using a mix of citric acid and gum arabic. They also developed methods of creating halftone prints. Known for their maps, reproductions, medical charts and posters, some of National Geographic's first maps were produced here. A few of their posters are on this link., and some of the maps produced by Hoen are here.
There was little to be found in the way of artifacts from the industry, the building was mostly bare, but we were allowed to look inside the few safes that were scattered about the building, making me wonder if these would somehow be incorporated into a new home as a walk in closet or pantry. That would be awesome. but probably unlikely. Inside one safe were a number of rolled up documents. We were allowed to take photos but understandably, not allowed to touch them. Scattered on the floor outside the safe were fragments of damaged posters and prints, which we were allowed to handle so a few of us crouched down and arranged them for our shots.
Much of this floor had wooden shelving as shown here, this small rack being the only piece remaining, and even still holding a few glass 'screens' used in vitreography, the method of transferring artwork painted on to glass and transferred to prints, often used for fine art prints.
Some of the lithographic limestones were laying outside, broken fragments lying in a pile. A full explanation of lithography is here.
We came across a huge kiln, solid and hulking, still beautiful with its ornate iron decorations.
Even though much of the huge warehouse was empty the textures and colors of the building materials were wonderful, from the floors, to the walls and the ceiling. My neck ached somewhat when we left as I'd felt like an owl, my head twisting every which way to ensure I didn't miss anything.
After sitting empty for so many years, it was great to see the building being cared for again. Although renovations have already begun on the building itself, warranting it unusable for projects until rendered safe, the parking lot has started being used by the Hoen and Co. Farmers' Market, where local vendors sell delicious creations, and a company, Gather Baltimore, sells surplus produce and sells it cheaply to the community as 5lb grab bags or 50 cent per pound mix-and-match.
For a space that has stood empty for so many years, it's great to see and hear how this beautiful building is being transformed from an empty crumbling shell to a community jewel.

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