By Mike Salmon
After shooting President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in 1865, John Wilkes Booth jumped off the balcony and caught his spur on a flagpole before escaping. That same flag, the Treasury Flag that decorated Lincoln’s theater box, was brought into Old Town Editions to have an image made for the Ford’s Theater Museum Curators, preserving this historic item’s legacy for years to come.
“It’s an incredible flag,” said Pat McMahon, a co-owner of Old Town Editions, a fine art and digital printmaking business on Powhatan Street. “It was in pretty decent shape for its age,” McMahon added.
The historic flag is just one of the priceless items that come to Old Town Editions periodically to have their experts digitally restore. Rachel Baron is the other co-owner, supported by graphics experts Jordyn Raia, Megan Cook and Cindy Ayala. They have worked with George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Vice President Pence’s wife, Hank’s Oyster Bar, The Glass Stash, Gallery Lafayette and Hotel Indigo, where Old Town Editions printed a large photo of a ship that was dug up when the hotel was built over the last few years.
At the Hotel Indigo, they were “inspired to incorporate the city’s rich maritime history into the hotel’s design,” said hotel manager Kate Ellis. Hotel Indigo was looking to go local for some art in the lobby and Old Town Edition’s “eye catching mural,” fit the bill.
They digitally capture the item, which is “not a photo and not digital either,” said McMahon. “Museums want it to look exactly like the photograph,” he added.
Working with priceless items such as the flag, or a Medal of Honor document a family once brought in, has its challenges. For example, the curators from Ford’s Theater watched the procedure carefully, making sure the flag was always handled gingerly. On another occasion, they worked with the Museum of Gettysburg, traveling to Pennsylvania to work with over 200 items.
Working with local artists is a big part of their business and artist come from the Torpedo Factory, the Lorton Workhouse Art Center, studios in Georgetown, and as far as the Sultanate of Oman. Todd Healy, Susan Makara and Matthew Johnston are a few local artists of note they’ve worked with.
In this day and age, it seems like scanners and Photoshop are part of everyone’s home computer set up, so this type of work appears like it could be done at home, but Old Town Editions takes it to another level. Any imperfections in a piece of art lower the value. “Sometimes people don’t realize the limitations of the home computer,” said McMahon. An upper level of appearance is important, whether it be in a museum, a new hotel lobby, or a family heirloom. “Just because its available doesn’t mean anyone can do it,” McMahon said. “The whole industry is full of ‘good enough,’” added Baron.
This brings on a certain level of sticker shock too, but they have been in business for nearly 20 years at various locations in Old Town, so there is a niche for their work. “We can offer the benefit of our 20 years of experience,” McMahon said.
Their spot in north Old Town is crowded though, and it might be time to relocate if they can find the right place. The small house they are in has a main print room with layout tables, a color booth off to the side, a wood shop for making stretching frames, a small office, and a kitchen. They are looking for “a little more elbow room,” McMahon said. Trying to stay in Old Town might not be financially possible.