September 13 2011

Saxa Loquuntur: Stones and Stories of Hoen Lithography

Baltimore's buildings have something to say and as architects we sometimes get to hear them shout. We were reminded of this while documenting a beautiful building in East Baltimore where an inscription reads Saxa Loquuntur or "The Stones Speak". In this city "bursting with architectural gems", we have the pleasure of sharing yet another historic urban treasure, one that also tells a rich story...the A. Hoen & Company Lithography Plant.

Example of salvaged lithograph. Photo courtesy of Avagara

The A. Hoen & Company Lithography Plant reeks of historic value. It was home to A. Hoen & Co. of Baltimore (formally known as Edward Weber & Co.) since 1835, and rapidly became one of the most prominent printing companies in the country. It was within the walls of this building that August Hoen patented several methods of lithography which globally accelerated and refined the process for both business and art. Products included colored cards, colored maps, cigar boxes, music sheet covers, and medical name a few. It is fascinating to consider the parallels between the increase in production and distribution of medical illustrations and advertisements, and the growth of Johns Hopkins. (Chicken or egg, anyone?)

The process of lithography is fascinating in itself. As opposed to intaglio printmaking (where the design is carved into the block,) or relief printmaking (where the negative of the design is carved out of the block,) lithography occurs on one surface and is based on the immiscibility of oil and water. The image to be printed is drawn onto a stone slab or metal plate with an oil-based medium. Gum arabic, which does not accept ink, is applied to the entire stone and around the original image. A molecular film of the drawing material remains on the stone, rejecting the gum arabic and water, while accepting ink. Simple enough, but it gets a little more complicated when color is involved...The more challenging chromolithography of 1837 required a separate stone and a separate print for each layer of color. Hoen helped develop various processes to produce half tones crucial for high quality chromolithographs.

flickr image by Maryland Department of Planning

It is undeniable that the scientific, artistic, and industrial products yielded from within the walls of the Hoen & Co. plant have played a significant role in the Baltimore area, and have given a name, a face, and a pulse to 2101 E. Biddle Street. It is therefore no surprise that the cartouche above the entrance includes the Latin inscription "SAXA LOQUUNTUR," or "THE STONES SPEAK."

"Saxa Loquuntur" - flickr image by Maryland Department of Planning


After sitting vacant for decades, the A. Hoen & Co. Lithography Plant has the unique opportunity to not only tell the story of its history, but also to host a portion of a new program developed by the Baltimore Food Collaborative. The program stretches along the spine of the Amtrak rail in East Baltimore and its goal is to encourage healthy eating/living/working in Baltimore, and provide employment and entrepreneurship opportunities within the neighborhood. Ziger/Snead is providing master planning and conceptual design services for the BFC, and has the opportunity to reinvent the use of this particular building and resuscitate the industrial neighborhood. Learn more about the BFC and Hoen Central Food Commissary on the Ziger/Snead projects page. Learn more about A. Hoen & Company here.

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