Renee Hadlow has revived the printing presses at Founders Heritage Park for her printmaking business. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Breathing life into Nelson’s newspaper history

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When Renee Hadlow first walked into Founders Heritage Park asking for a studio space to set up her printmaking and letter press business, there was no doubt about the right spot for her.

Housed inside the Nelson Evening Mail replica offices was a plethora of old printing presses, ranging from 1860 to the 1980s. There was old lettering from myriad advertisements – from ones showcasing Tahunanui in the 1940s to Datsun cars in the 1970s.

“I walked in and thought ‘oh, my goodness’,” Renee says. “It was one of those epiphany moments where I saw all this beautiful old printmaking gear.”

For her business, The Armarie Room, it was printmaking heaven. But there was also a lot of work to do – boxes that needed to be categorised and sorted and machines that needed to be serviced. For the past year Renee has been part artist, part archivist and part curator.

But now, almost a year after she moved in, she is ready to showcase her work. As part of Heritage Week she will host a typesetting work shop and another open day to let people come and see how Nelson was documented in newspapers for most of its 150 years.

However, it has been a journey. Renee says that her old tutor put the word out for help getting the old machines up to scratch.

“People came from everywhere – from Christchurch and Dunedin and even locally to help bring these machines to life.”

The oldest machine is an 1860 press, modelled off the earliest presses ever made. There is also a linotype machine where an operator would manually input news articles to appear on the page. They have all been moved around to make space and give the old Mail building a more welcoming feel.

The management staff at Founders told Renee they wanted the equipment to be used rather than sitting static. “And they have been around for many, many years. They aren’t going to break.”

Renee says there has been a massive revival in using old methods to create pieces of art.

“You can do all the design work off computer then you use these older machines to get the lovely feel – you can literally see the ink on the paper. It’s tactile and the paper is luscious.”

She says, reflecting on her mission, that it feels like it was meant to be. Now Nelsonians can also enjoy the fruits of that mission – preserving a part of our history.

You can see presses in action as part of Nelson Heritage Week – at a workshop on Saturday, April 21, from 10am and an open day Sunday, April 22, from 10am to 3pm.