Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stone Lithography Demonstrations at Deer Tree Press

There is an element of magic in the creation of a lithographic print. The process is based on a simple principle familiar to any cook or observer of urban mud puddles – oil and water do not mix. However, in practice there is nothing straightforward about the process. The production of the intricately detailed and textured 19th-century lithographs in the Library Company’s holdings required considerable skill and intuition on the part of lithographic artists and printers.

In early February, Library Company staff members and volunteers visited the lithographic printing studio of Deer Tree Press in the Crane Arts Building to observe a demonstration of the process by proprietor and local printer Elizabeth Gross. Ms. Gross trained at the Tamarind Institute, a premier center for fine art lithography at the University of New Mexico, as well as at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts. She skillfully led the staff through the process of graining the large slabs of limestone that serve as the printing surface; drawing on the stone with a variety of greasy crayons and inks; chemically treating the surface of the stone to increase the adherence of the printing ink to the drawing while allowing the remaining parts of the wetted stone to reject the ink; and, finally, printing the images on the press.

The demonstrations were organized as part of the Library Company’s 19th-century lithography research project, “Philadelphia on Stone,” which seeks to promote the greater understanding and appreciation of early commercial lithography. More information about “Philadelphia on Stone” is available at or visit the press at

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