About

Closed on Valentine’s Day, 2011, after 36 years of operation, Bowne & Co Stationers was a beloved re-creation of a small nineteenth-century printing and stationer’s shop in the South Street Seaport area of Lower Manhattan. Established in honor of one of New York City’s oldest and longest-running businesses, Bowne & Co. was a museum that did not look like a museum. It was a working press that still took custom orders, a destination for researchers and school groups, and a beautiful neighborhood shop that inspired passionate responses from visitors from around the world.

Now, as its parent institution, the Seaport Museum New York, struggles financially, the future of Bowne and its significant collection is uncertain and potentially at risk of disappearing altogether.

Friends of Bowne is a group of individuals who care about what happens to Bowne & Co. It is a public platform for sharing news, ideas, and support, in an effort to ensure Bowne receives the stewardship it deserves. Mainly, it is a way to keep the idea of the shop open, even as its doors are closed, because we believe the survival of Bowne & Co. will help make New York City a richer, more interesting place.

… But don’t just take our word for it! Comment with your own memories and impressions of Bowne on our blog. Tell us why you think it’s important that Bowne survive. Share thoughts,  information, as well as feedback! Feedback is very, very welcome. Also feel free to contact the admins “offline,” if you’d rather, by emailing friendsofbowne@gmail.com.

Doug Clouse and Laura Koo Nicholas are the current admins for this blog. Doug was the shop’s master printer since June 2010 and a volunteer for four years before that. Laura began volunteering in November 2010. Both were present at Bowne on the afternoon that the Museum closed the shop.

§ 25 Responses to About

  • Jonathan R says:

    I was a Bowne volunteer back at the end of the 20th Century. I miss the place, and working with Robert and Barbara. Please keep me updated!

    • Always nice to hear from another former volunteer! Out of curiosity, how did you find us? The DNAInfo article? We have ideas for upcoming “actions” people can take. Will definitely keep you posted! – Laura

  • Richard says:

    Doug/Laura,

    Get some investors and buy the place from the museum. They’ll probably welcome the cash and you can go ahead and run the shop the way you want and the city will have a wonderful piece of its history back!

    • Richard – That sounds dreamy. Appreciate the confidence in our abilities to run a store, and don’t think it hasn’t crossed our minds! If you have any suggestions for contacts, don’t hesitate to send them our way. :)
      Laura

  • [...] READ BELOW TO SEE WHAT BOWNE IS ALL ABOUT: [...]

  • Carol Malechneig says:

    Is Robert Warner still around? See if he would be willing to lend some support. He always seemed to be the man with the master plan….

  • Marie Hooper says:

    I loved Bowne. I truly did. I loved the museum too, but I could not help but notice how unhappy some of the employees seemed. They all seemed scared for some reason and highly unenthusiastic. My niece started off as a volunteer and then worked for Visitor Services department two or three years ago. They just barely gave her minimum wage. I understand that museums and non-profits have tight budgets..but $8 and hour? You can get more at McDonalds.

    I’d love to see the Seaport Museum fall into a pair of caring hands so their employees, volunteers and customers can truly enjoy themselves. Please save Bowne. It is one of the last bits of history that area has to preserve.

  • Billy Collins says:

    A worthy cause if there ever were one. No trip to the Seaport would be complete without opening the front door to Brown & Co and stepping into the past.

  • Stephen O. Saxe says:

    I was involved with the startup of Bowne & Co., Stationers,in the early days when Roger Campbell, followed by Ginna Johnson, and then Barbara Henry, ran the shop. I sincerely hope that something can be done to keep the shop going – it’s a New York City treasure.
    -Steve Saxe

  • Klaus says:

    Bowne should certainly re-open again. It is a wonderful resource and life experience. There must be a pot of money somewhere for this sort of valuable enterprise…

  • Dr. Bruce Noll says:

    The art of set-type printing should never fall from our consciousness.

  • Charles Gilbiterra says:

    Beneath green velvet lawns

    The messages of our times shoot through us like arrows; all is commerce!
    We transport earth’s surface across oceans streaming in the wrong direction,
    Decimate landscapes; a scarred planet looks into space; the grid wraps around its surface.
    Massive constructs tower skyward; mans dreams, misspent wealth, blankets all.
    Nature’s great spaces daily reduced by industrial blight!

    Consumptions efficiency amazes, greed the great machine with steel teeth,
    Commerce our god, its constant storming riptides wash gentle souls out to sea;
    Does feed the fires of social violence, wars.
    Advertisements on movie screens seduce youth to march off to them!
    We work for printed papers promise; plastic that imprisons!
    Like everything else we are processed through the system!
    We this high tech mechanized world, great art approaches disaster!
    Seduction smothers our planet; a house of termites collapsing!

    Sequoias, towering giants of four thousand years standing
    Felled for their body feet of lumber; ethereal whales for their blubber–meat;
    Stately elephants for their ivory; ancient Rhinos for that horn;
    All markers of man’s constant greed, insane desire for more!

    Transcendentalists, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Fuller; Ruskin, Muir, had it right!
    Finally we find a semblance of Natures luxuriant wildness,
    Once we sleep six feet beneath green velvet lawns.

    Charles Gibilterra

    We must save important institutions like Browne, reminders of old arts beauty!

  • Anthony says:

    This is really heart-breaking, an absolute crime to let such a valued institution die out for lack of money. We are shamed by other countries that have less and still make cultural spots stay alive. I’m very sad but I hope something can be done!

  • David Blake says:

    Bowne & Co is a NY institution; in our age of twitter, instant messaging, and blog posts, it provided a valuable lesson that communication at one time involved labor, skill, and consideration. I hate for us to lose this historic institution. I hope we can find an appropriate buyer for Bowne & Co.

  • Lee Wright says:

    I have fond memories from visiting many years ago. At that time I purchased a few items, including two rebuses. One told the story of a little boy, and the other of a little girl. They appeared hand colored and were wonderful in every respect. I saved them for 15+ years or so until a couple of friends had kids. First, good friend whose wife had given birth to a baby boy. And a few years later, a good friend with a baby girl.

    Now, a few years later, the second has a baby boy, so I called the shop seeing if I could buy the companion to the rebus about the little girl, which was now framed and hanging above her crib. The person who answered was polite and told me that she’d check. Never heard back, and called three or four more times over a period of months until I discovered a few months ago that the shop was no longer operating.

    Surely my one purchase wouldn’t have made the difference, but if my experience is any indication, some basic business management might be a big help. And of course with the boom in letterpress printing, it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t several ways to improve the financial performance of the shop and thus giving it the opportunity to reopen.

  • Jorge says:

    I live far from New York, but my daughter recently became a volunteer at Bowne, and her passion for the place is inspiring.

    Have been wondering: could Friends of Bowne approach major publishing houses (HarperCollins, Random House, Simon and Schuster, Pearson, etc), since Bowne is an “ancestor,” and look at financial adoption of this resource? Seems to me it would be great community outreach for any of these successful publishers, and an opportunity to infuse Bowne with financial stability.

    If not a company, could a local university “adopt” Bowne, and allow it to continue to operate independently? NYU? Cooper Union? Columbia? City University? Fordham?

    I can’t imagine the expense of keeping Bowne open to be that large, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to the Seaport.

    Just some ideas for what they’re worth.

    • Jorge, Thank you for your ideas. We have discussed, but only briefly, getting in touch with publishers. We lack contacts in that world. However, we have been in touch with a few design schools in the area, which may lead to something. There are different levels of interest from the schools and it’s impossible to draw many conclusions yet ,except that some of the interest is promising. – Doug

  • Lee Wright says:

    Good question, and it raises another: How much money and what legal form is necessary to get this up and running again? It’s easy to imagine something like a co-op or non-profit which includes some paid help supplemented with volunteers (X hours of volunteer time = Y number of hours using the press).

    And does anyone know what they were spending?

    I continue to be amazed at the number of things that can be done using some sort of crowdsourced approach, including funding. Imagine a piece printed at the shop that includes the name of every person who gives more than a certain amount of money ($25? $100? … ).

  • Disbelief upon discovering that this gem has closed. We recently stopped by to donate another load of old towels toward cleaning of the printing presses, and soon realized the doors would be shuttered for some time. We had a memorable experience with our custom invitations printed here, with Doug and Micah (and the entire staff for that matter) were wonderfully committed to their craft. Disheartening to know that the sounds of the print pedals and handling of the tiny moveable type no longer enliven this space. Truly a shame.

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your support! We are trying to raise the alarm about Bowne and remind everyone what a great place it is. Hopefully you can bring old towels again soon.
      All the best,
      Doug Clouse

  • [...] of the community spoke about the Seaport, including former Pioneer Master Richard Dorfman and Friends Of Bowne leader Laura Koo [...]

  • Cathy McCormick says:

    As a part-time Water Street neighbor, I knew I would always feel happy to enter Bowne. My wedding announcements were printed there. Robert Warner’s special Spanish beret was all it.

  • Jeff Simmons says:

    We shot a video about the work being done by volunteers at Bowne & Co. for the South Street Seaport Museum in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. You can watch the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv0thMeLi60&feature=share&list=UU1mcziLBynZG6dxBF0dPwOQ

  • Jeff Simmons says:

    The South Street Seaport Museum, Bowne & Co. Stationers and Bowne & Co., Printers have reopened. Here is the release:

    (New York, N.Y.) – The South Street Seaport Museum today announced that it will reopen on Friday, December 14 with the launch of of the exhibitions A Fisherman’s Dream: Folk Art by Mario Sanchez and Street Shots/NYC, a presentation of contemporary New York City street photography. They will join ongoing special exhibitions Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions, organized by the American Folk Art Museum, and Romancing New York: Watercolors by Frederick Brosen.

    “Superstorm Sandy may have dealt us a body blow but we are getting back up on our feet: today we’re proud to announce that the Museum is ready to reopen and with fantastic new exhibitions. In large part, we are re-opening as a statement of faith in our mission and community, and visitors will have to use stairs and accept heat blown-in from heaters sitting on the sidewalk. But we are ready to welcome all comers,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York and President of the South Street Seaport Museum.

    “The South Street Seaport Museum is the cornerstone of our wonderful seaport district — the 19th century buildings, the tall ship masts, the cobblestone streets and the view of Brooklyn Bridge that bring us back to NYC’s origin as the greatest port city on the Atlantic. Its reopening is a testament to hard work and a holiday present for all of us,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, Chair of Community Board 1. “This holiday season, I encourage New Yorkers and visitors from around the globe to visit the Seaport, stop by the Museum, and visit the reopened shops and the ships.”

    The Museum has been closed since Superstorm Sandy barreled into New York City in late October, flooding the Museum and damaging its café and gift shop, electrical system, elevators, and escalator and inundating its historic letterpress show. All collections and exhibitions escaped direct damage, but nevertheless the loss of mechanical, heating, and electrical systems shuttered the museum – along with much of the surrounding neighborhood – for the last month.

    Additionally, today the South Street Seaport Museum announced the formal opening of Bowne & Co., Printers, a custom print shop that is the newest addition to Water Street’s cobblestoned “artisan row,” joining the Maritime Craft Center and Mast Brothers Chocolate. Bowne Printers was to be launched on November 8th with a WAYZGOOSE, a traditional 19th century print shop celebration; and Bowne Printers will gratefully accept print orders for invitations, announcements, notecards and more using eight printing presses dating from the mid-19th century and featuring 1,200 fonts of moveable wood and metal type, many rare.

    The two new exhibitions will join others on the third and fourth floors, Handheld Devices and Timescapes, a moving, 22-minute filmic portrait of New York City.

    A Fisherman’s Dream: Folk Art by Mario Sanchez

    This exhibition, highlighting Sanchez’s depictions of early 20th century Key West harbor, its watermen, and seafaring culture, features 43 of the artist’s brightly painted intaglios, a type of art where the wood surface is carved away to form a bas-relief. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Key West Art & Historical Society and the American Folk Art Museum

    Said Ms. Jones: “The Seaport Museum is thrilled to be the first New York museum to devote an exhibition to the works of Mario Sanchez, a hugely important 20th century folk artist.”

    As a “painter of memories” Key Wester Sanchez (1908-2005) recreated the island he recalled from his youth. His work captures the spirit of old Key West with humor and expressiveness, eidetic memory and whimsy through depictions of people and places of a seaport town that was accessible only by boat and where fish were sold to customers directly out of the ocean. Sanchez’s work is sometimes fantastical – with clouds that become birds or fish, and anthropomorphized cats that become characters in the everyday life of the town.

    Many of the works in A Fisherman’s Dream represent Key West fishermen and their business, an already vanishing way of life when Sanchez lovingly recreated it from memories of his youth. Among the pieces of fishermen at work is the masterful El Galano – a tribute to Key West resident Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea; the work’s previous owners included Dina Merrill, Spencer Tracey, and Katharine Hepburn. Also on display will be relief carvings of iconic locations in Key West’s fishing trade, such as Cleare’s sponge auction and Demerrit’s fish markets, as well as scenes of fishmongers selling the catch-of-the-day to local residents.

    Among these is Sanchez’s humorous take on the trade, entitled Protein for the Hot Women. In addition to the business of the fishermen, the scenes capture the venues where they congregated, such as the Fishermen’s Café. Other large-scale works depict the Key West harbor, including the train that once took passengers from New York to Key West. (Washed away in a hurricane in 1935, the train track was replaced by a highway that allowed access by car to the island for the first time.)

    A highlight of the exhibition is a striking selection of Sanchez’s marvelously expressive fish carvings, suspended in the gallery; they depict the species that were caught by Key West fishermen during the first half of the 20th century. The title piece, A Fisherman’s Dream, has been loaned by the Key West Art and Historical Society and depicts a glistening basket of Key West Mutton surrounded by an ornately fish-carved frame, a rarity among Sanchez’s works.

    Sanchez’s works were often autobiographical and a final section will feature the artist’s life in Gato’s Village, Key West. These works depict the artist’s boyhood shoeshine stand, his father’s shop, Waterloo Café, and his uncle’s corner grocery. The Gato’s Village community in which Sanchez was raised combined American, Cuban, and “Key West” traditions and cultures, and the artist’s work captures the spirit and texture of daily life there. Lucky Fish Rhumba, for example, depicts Nanego musicians and costumed dancers celebrating together under a tropical sky.

    About Mario Sanchez

    Self-taught artist Mario Sanchez was born in Key West in 1908, the grandson of Cuban immigrants who were among the more than 50,000 Cubans who became the majority of the population by the 1860s. His father was an entrepreneur and also worked in cigar-making shops as a “Reader” – lending his theatrical skills to read aloud to the workers from literature and news of the day. Mario went to school in Key West, in the town’s first free and integrated bilingual school, and he graduated from the Otto L. Schultz Business Institute in 1925. He went on to hold a variety of jobs, including as a clerk, stenographer, and janitor at the Key West Art & Historical Society.

    He had enjoyed carving as a child, and as young man began carving fish out of pieces of driftwood, which he sold for $1.50. In the 1940s, at the urging of his mother-in-law, he began creating more complicated scenes of life in Key West as he remembered them from his childhood. His work eventually drew the attention of a member of the Key West Art & Historical Society, who eventually donated and endowed the museum with many works of his works. Other collectors included Spencer Tracey, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant, who purchased four carvings while in Key West to film Operation Petticoat (the pieces later appeared on the wall in a hotel scene in the movie A Touch of Mink.)

    During his more than 70-year career, Sanchez developed his own style while mastering more traditional skills such as bas-relief carving and perspective. Working in cedar wood and white pine, the artist first sketched the scene onto a paper bag, and then used carbon paper to transfer the image to the wooden “canvas”. He then removed the wood to create a low bas-relief, leaving the original sketch behind. He then applied materials such as house paint, clean kitty litter (to provide texture for the streets), and egg yolks and Elmer’s glue (to make the windows shiny) in early years and fine European oils later on.

    In November 1996, Mario Sanchez was named the most important Cuban-American Folk Artist of the 20th Century by the national magazine Folk Art. Sanchez’s works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Modern Art and are avidly collected by Key West residents as well as art connoisseurs around the world.

    Street Shots/NYC

    This new exhibition showcases recent images by 125 photographers, both professionals and amateurs, who have captured life as it unfolds in the Big Apple’s public places, from streets and subways to parks and beaches. The images, most of which were taken since 2000, tell a compelling story about the contemporary urban experience in America’s biggest and most diverse city.

    Notable photographers such as Anthony Barboza, Jeff Mermelstein, Sylvia Plachy, Gus Powell, Joni Sternback, and Allan Tannenbaum are featured, as well as amateur photographers whose contributions infuse Street Shots / NYC with a raw energy. Every image comes alive with a sense of chance and movement, capturing a sudden expression, a brief encounter or a momentary juxtaposition of people and places. Diversity, of both photographers and subjects, is a hallmark of the exhibition, spanning a wide spectrum of ethnicities, ages, and locations.

    “With its immediacy and spontaneity, street photography is unrivaled as a medium for capturing authentic moments, especially in place as dynamic as New York City. We were thrilled by the overwhelming number of submissions we received for Street Shots/NYC, and this exhibition will offer visitors a window into the day-to-day life of our vibrant city,” Ms. Jones said.

    Photographs for Street Shots/NYC were chosen from nearly 650 submissions by photographers from all over the world, following the Seaport Museum’s open call for entries earlier this fall. The final selections were made by a jury comprised of: Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs for the Museum of the City of New York; Elisabeth Biondi, former Visuals Editor at The New Yorker; Stella Kramer, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo editor and creative consultant; and Carl Glassman, Editor of The Tribeca Trib.

    New York City has a rich tradition of street photography. Such notable image-makers as Jacob Riis, Robert Frank, and Nan Goldin have captured the diversity and vitality of the city’s streets and its denizens for well over a century. These artists recorded fleeting moments, capturing the faces and lives of ordinary people as they move through an ever-changing metropolis. The Museum of the City of New York (which is operating the South Street Seaport Museum) recently presented the best of these historic images in City Scenes: Highlights of New York Street Photography, along with the exhibition London Street Photography. Street Shots/NYC carries that story forward through new, candid images that show the evolution of the city and of the genre itself in the 21st century.

    The South Street Seaport Museum signaled its commitment to New York City photography when it reopened in January 2012 with an Occupy Wall Street photography exhibition that began with a similar public call for submissions. Also since January, the Museum has been showing Widely Different, a critically acclaimed exhibition of New York City panoramas by photographers Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao and Sylvia Plachy.

    About the South Street Seaport Museum

    Created in 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum’s mission was to celebrate New York’s maritime past through its collections, including vessels, and through exhibitions and school and public programs. Financial issues forced the Seaport Museum to close in early 2011, but the Seaport Museum was re-opened in January 2012 under the management of the Museum of the City of New York, which has sought to make use of the Seaport Museum’s assets to pave the way for a stable future. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $10 and free for children under 9.

    The Museum was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and is seeking contributions to fully restore and replace all of its damaged electric equipment. Donations can be made on the South Street Seaport Museum’s website (www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org).

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