Houston’s Printing Museum Mysteriously Closes; Unclear Where Collection Will Go

by Jessica Fuentes June 16, 2024

In March, The Printing Museum (TPM) in Houston officially closed and moved out of its location at 3121 San Jacinto. The closure comes about a year after TPM sold its original Montrose-area property, which it had operated in for nearly 40 years, and relocated to a new facility

A photograph of the exterior of The Printing Museum in Houston.

The Printing Museum’s West Clay Street location

TPM was founded in 1979 by Raoul Beasley, Vernon P. Hearn, Don Piercy, and J.V. Burnham. Originally the Museum of Printing History, it was officially chartered in 1981, and opened to the public at its original Montrose-area property at 1324 West Clay Street in 1982. Amanda Stevenson, a former Executive Director of TPM, explained to Glasstire that the original building was formerly a printing business and that other printing companies were located along West Clay Street when the museum opened. 

According to Ms. Stevenson, the building was donated to the organization by Mr. Hearn, meaning TPM did not pay rent or a mortgage, and as a nonprofit, it did not pay property taxes. Additionally, the museum rented parts of the building to other businesses, which accounted for some of its revenue. In 2016, the West Clay Street location suffered damage caused by an electrical fire, which resulted in the building being closed to the public for nearly two years. According to other sources, it appears that following its reopening the building was still in need of costly repairs, which would’ve made it more valuable to sell than to keep.

In 2020 the board of directors approved the sale of the building and decided to relocate the museum to a building in Midtown, which would situate it closer to other cultural institutions. According to Zillow, in July 2020 the property was listed for sale for $2,850,000. TPM’s 2021 990 form, accessible via ProPublica, indicates that its gross amount from sales of assets was $2,603,700. The sales included expenses that totaled $881,849, resulting in a revenue of $1,722,241. In past years, the museum sold other elements of its original property, including a parking lot across from the museum’s original building. TPM’s 2015 990 indicates that it earned $795,637 in revenue from sales of assets.

A to-scale lego model showing the floorplan of The Printing Museum's new building in Houston.

The 9,500-square-foot space TPM moved to in Midtown had improved ADA accessibility, allowed the community access to TPM resources through communal studio spaces, and housed the museum’s permanent collection, which included printing presses, historical broadside publications, and artworks by old masters, such as Albrecht Dürer and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, among others.

An installation photograph of The Printing Museum's Gutenberg Gallery.

The Printing Museum Gutenberg Gallery

In the new building, the museum presented Book Arts of Houston, an exhibition of Houston artists working in the book medium; COVID Masked/Unmasked, a series of prints, mixed-media works, and paintings by Melissa Aytenfisu; and ThinkINK: PrintHouston Members Exhibition, its annual membership show. The museum’s website says that this final show closed on September 30, 2023.

Though staff and volunteers were on site at the end of March emptying the museum’s building, TPM has not made a public statement about the closure, and its website is still active, noting that “The Printing Museum galleries and studio are open BY APPOINTMENT ONLY, Tuesday through Friday, 10 am – 4 pm.” Earlier this year, the museum did not respond to Glasstire’s emails or phone calls about making an appointment to visit the institution. It is unclear how long the building had been closed to the public, as TPM’s last social media posts were made in July 2023.

Anonymous sources have relayed to Glasstire that prior to closing, certain TPM staff had gone unpaid for a significant period of time and that the organization had debts, including back rent. 

A photograph of boxes and stored items from The Printing Museum.

The Printing Museum preparing to vacate its Midtown location.

During the final days TPM was in their building, a team of staff and volunteers worked to organize and disseminate objects. Prints, historical equipment, and other items were sent to auction. While some studio equipment was sold to local artists for personal use, other items were donated to an emerging print organization, Red Bird Press. 

A photograph of the Red Bird Press community printmaking studio in development.

Red Bird Press space in development, photo: Lauren Christlieb.

Lauren Christlieb, a Houston-based printmaker, told Glasstire that she is working to establish Red Bird Press as a community print studio. The space will be located in Houston’s East End and will host workshops and social events, and will have membership options for artists who want to use the printing equipment. Ms. Christlieb’s goal is to open Red Bird Press in September. 

Sources have also indicated to Glasstire that an auction of items from the institution is forthcoming, although no details have been publicly released. 

Glasstire reached out to TPM staff and board members, however, they have declined to share a statement at this time or respond to specific questions regarding the closure and allegations of unpaid staff. Additionally, TPM has been silent about what will happen to the museum’s collection, if the institution plans to continue on in any way, shape, or form, and what actually caused the museum, a 42-year-old institution, to seemingly suddenly become insolvent.

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3 comments

Carolyn June 16, 2024 - 11:42

The Printing Museum’s closure is a loss to the community and the book arts in general. The old equipment was fascinating, the tours and lecture’s superb, the gift shop wonderful, and the collections and exhibitions some of the best in Houston. Perhaps it follows the book store closures, the lack of interest in paper and print, but its historical value and its mission to keep the craft alive were admirable. I shall miss it. I always took visitors there bec it was something unique in Houston

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Patrick Masterson June 18, 2024 - 16:18

Such sad sad news about the closing. Devastating what happened. Hopeful things will get better with a new print shop. Still it makes you wonder what happened among all that. Houston always needs more print.

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Natacha June 30, 2024 - 18:50

I’m so surprised and sadden by the news of TPM’s closure. As a design professor, I encouraged my students to check the collection. It was such a treat to see their archive. It will be missed.

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