Alan Marshall
chair, AEPM

On behalf of the AEPM I would like to welcome you all to Turnhout and to the Nationaal Museum van de Speelkaart for the AEPM’s 2019 annual conference, a conference which promises to be as convivial as it will be interesting. It is a great pleasure to see so many people here this evening for your presence encourages the AEPM in its efforts to promote the cause of printing and graphic heritage and in the hope that it is perhaps going some way to meeting a real need in our field.

If we are here this evening it is above all thanks to the City of Turnhout. So on behalf of the AEPM and all its members, I would like to express our warmest thanks to the City of Turnhout – in the person of its mayor Paul Van Miert – for making the conference possible, and for giving us the opportunity to discover the City of Turnhout. And of course I would also like to thank the National Playing Card Museum – in the persons of Sofie Wilder, Director of the Archives and Museums of the City of Turnhout, Filip Cremers, the director of the Museum and all the Museum’s staff and volunteers for their enthusiasm and commitment to ensuring that the conference will be a great success … a success not only in terms of the eminently serious discussions we will be pursuing tomorrow, but also thanks to the programme of informal events which are such an important part of AEPM conferences: informal moments which give us the chance to exchange ideas and experiences with colleagues from all over Europe and beyond, as well as to catch up with news from colleagues we already know, and to make many new friends. Very many thanks for offering us such a unique setting for the conference. It’s both an honour and a pleasure for the AEPM to be able to meet in a museum which is dedicated not only to the history of printing, but also to the history of playing cards, one of the printing trade’s most ancient and venerable products. Given the theme of the conference, it’s also particularly appropriate that we should be able to meet in a museum in which the intangible aspects of printing heritage play such a central role both in the development of its collections and in its day-to-day activities. A museum which is the memory of a playing card manufacturing industry which continues to thrive in the City of Turnhout.

Seen from the outside, the little world of printing museums and graphic heritage probably seems pretty limited. Such a view, however, rather overlooks one thing, of which we here this evening are all well aware: that the apparently ‘little world’ of printing museums is in fact spread out over an extraordinarily large geographical area, and across a broad range of cultures and historical experiences. An extreme diversity which can sometimes make it difficult for those involved in printing and graphic heritage to get a focused view of the many preoccupations which we all share be they scientific or professional, be they historical, administrative, financial or even political.

Given the seemingly endless ramifications of print culture and their implications for printing and graphic heritage, the AEPM considers that one of the more important things that it can do is to give its members and other people involved in our field, from organisations both large and small, an opportunity to come together to compare experiences, exchange ideas and imagine what the future of printing heritage might be. Hence the accent which the AEPM places on its annual meetings.

This year, it would appear that the theme of the conference – Safeguarding intangible heritage – struck a particularly sensitive nerve, to judge, not only by the number of participants, but also by the number of proposals that were received in response to the call for papers. For we received over twenty proposals – all of excellent quality, all relevant to the theme. Unfortunately, time in conferences is limited – all too limited, with the result that the choice of speakers was difficult. So, on behalf of the selection committee, I would like thank all of you who submitted proposals and express the hope that you will have the occasion to speak at future conferences, or perhaps even before …for as it happens, many of you are attending the conference and some of you will be contributing to the News session on Saturday morning. So I have absolutely no doubts that our discussions over the next couple of days are going to be lively, informed and stimulating.

The theme of the conference was suggested by our hosts. Or to be more precise it was put forward by Sofie and Filip. Needless to say, it didn’t just pop into their heads from nowhere, and it was at least partly the product of a special context here in Belgium. For 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Playing Card Museum which now qualifies as a venerable institution in the world of printing museums (though I would emphasize that venerable does not mean dusty – far from it!). In addition to that, the AEPM conference is but one small component of a rich programme of events entitled Graphic (R)evolutions in Belgium, a series of coordinated exhibitions which has been rolled out in recent months by five organisations particularly active in the fields of printing and graphic heritage:

  • the National Playing Card Museum here in Turnhout,
  • the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp,
  • the Industriemuseum in Ghent,
  • the Centre de la gravure et de l’image imprimée in La Louvière,
  • and the Maison de l’imprimerie in Thuin.

A series of events which will continue through to September. And – lucky for us – our conference is taking place within days of the opening of the Industriemuseum’s brand-new printing exhibit which we will have the pleasure of discovering on Saturday afternoon.

If I may, I would like to finish with a few brief words about why the theme of the conference is so important to the AEPM. At first sight it’s a truism to say that intangible heritage is an ongoing preoccupation for the AEPM. But it goes further than that. For those of you with long memories may remember that the question of how to safeguard traditional printing skills was at the very origin of the Association nearly twenty years ago. For the AEPM was initially formed round a bid to obtain European funding for various actions aimed at preserving and transmitting the very special, and largely undocumented skills of traditional printers who were fast disappearing. The bid was almost successful – it missed by a couple of points in the funding agency’s Byzantine system of evaluation – but the AEPM was launched!

Since then, the problems raised by the preservation and transmission of the unwritten skills of traditional printers have become ever more acute as the generations of craftspeople who exercised them in industrial conditions step down. Certainly some skills have been preserved and even renewed in artists’ workshops. Etching and engraving are obvious examples of techniques which have been maintained for over a century, since they ceased to be industrial processes. Likewise, direct lithography has been perpetuated by artists with whom it was popular from its very beginnings and throughout the industrial period before being progressively left to artists alone in the second half of the 20th century. And more recently, letterpress printing (typefounding, composition and impression) has become a major preoccupation since the 1970s when it was ousted in industrial terms by offset lithography.

Many of these techniques have continued to survive in specialist workshops – both amateur and professional – and some have even known a certain revival, being adopted by new generations of users each with their own approach and agenda. At the same time, workshops have come to play a central role in printing museums. Since the closing years of last century the range of activities offered by museums and heritage workshops has diversified considerably. And mediation techniques and mediators have become increasingly professional. During this time questions of intangible heritage have been constantly present in the work of the AEPM, but without ever having occupied the centre of the stage. Today that omission is being repaired thanks to the City of Turnhout and thanks to Sofie, Filip and all the staff and volunteers here at the National Playing Card Museum who deserve our warmest thanks and congratulations.

Alan Marshall