University of Pennsylvania professor Matt Neff is visiting Mancos this month to continue restoring a rare Cranston Letterpress, which is housed in the former Mancos Times-Tribune building in downtown Mancos.
The goal is to restore the press, as well as several other smaller presses, and convert the building into a printmaking studio for local and visiting artists, Neff said Monday.
“Hopefully, we’ll get this thing rocking and rolling and printing,” Neff said. “It’s pretty awesome. I’m always learning more and asking questions.”
The Cranston Press, a behemoth metal contraption that stands close to 8 feet tall, has been sitting in the Mancos Times-Tribune building since 1910, Neff said. It’s one of just a handful that still exist nationwide. A group of community activists in the area created the Mancos Common Press, a nonprofit organization seeking to preserve and restore the building and convert it into a studio and educational space. The Ballantine family, which owns The Durango Herald, donated the building to the organization in 2014.
Neff will be in Mancos through June 25 and will be making connections with as many people as possible in the area who might be interested in printmaking, he said. He will be working in the Times-Tribune building almost every day and encouraged people who are interested to stop by.
Once restored, the Cranston Press will be capable of producing prints of up to 24-by-36 inches – the size of a full newspaper spread. A smaller press, known as a Chandler and Price, will be donated to the Common Press by Larry Heuser, a former Cortez Journal pressman. Heuser also donated two small presses that can be used for postcard-size prints.
In the next year, Neff said he hopes to start offering programs and classes, as well as an artist-in-residence program. By that time, the studio should be open and available for people to come in and work on printing, he said. He hopes to integrate visiting artists into the local arts scene in Mancos.
“It has a lot of potential,” Neff said. “I already have people lined up to work. It becomes a socially engaged project.”
The Common Press building is filled with thousands of type blocks and linotype sets, some of which date back to the 19th century, Neff said. A work day will take place at the Times-Tribune building on Saturday from morning to mid-afternoon. Volunteers can drop by the building to help sort through type and tidy up the space.
The space also doubles as a museum, with equipment and artifacts that date back close to 140 years, Neff said. He hopes people will use the space not only to practice printmaking but also to learn about the art form and preserve it, he said.
“Nobody is using this like we’re using it – as an educational and functional process,” Neff said. “Most people don’t have access to a huge letterpress like this.”
For more information, visit www.mancoscommonpress.org.