Ian Marcos Gutiérrez, a 23-year-old printer at the Taller Experimental de Gráfica, in Havana, helps the author prepare a block of lithographic limestone for printing. (Arien Chang Castán)
by Mimi Dwyer;
Photographs by Arien Chang Castán
Lithography arrived in Cuba before anywhere else in the Americas, as a way to protect the sanctity and integrity of the country’s industry.
By the early 19th century, Cuban exports, especially tobacco, had a prestige that made them valuable throughout the world.
Exporters wanted a way to protect Cuban industry from counterfeiters.
Using lithography, they could make seals and rings that both decorated their products and distinguished them from those of competitors.
The process depends more than anything on the repellent properties of oil and water, and their interaction with limestone. By using acids, powders, solvents, oils, and gum in specific combinations, lithographers manipulate the places a stone receives ink.
In this way, they can use a stone to print precise and intricate images onto paper.
Cuba imported thousands of lithographic limestones from Germany in the 1800s, when the technology was first emerging.
Cuban businessmen brought machines from France and Germany and lured experts to Havana who knew how to use them. Many of the original machines still work.
The Taller’s oldest is an intricate, red woodcutting machine from 1829, still used by artists every day.
In the 1950s, shortly before the revolution, aluminum replaced lithography as the best way to protect product identity, and the stones fell into disuse.
Campesinos started to use them to make walking paths through muddy fields. Habaneros, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, laid them around the city along with whatever other stones they could find to serve as barricades.
Cuban lithography would have died then but for a few artists who recognized the value of the craft.
They lobbied the government to protect the stones, and in 1962, as minister of industry, Che Guevara signed a mandate to provide materials, space, and machines to Cuban lithographers in the name of art.
The Taller was born from that directive, and it remains the oldest and best known print studio in Cuba.
Elaborate Vintage Cigar Box Labels: A Plethora of Themes and Visual Curiosities
The collecting of cigar boxes is, like the collecting of stamps and coins, a specialized field of interest.
Peculiar Postage, which previously appeared here on Dark Roasted Blend, was not intended as a detailed study of stamps, merely a look at some of the more curious examples.
Similarly, the following article examines just a small selection of some of the most striking cigar box artwork from years gone by.
(Images in this article, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy Cigar Box Labels; used by permission)
Originally, cigars were sold to customers in bundles covered with pigs’ bladders, if you can believe it…
This hardly seems guaranteed to drive sales, but you’ll be relieved to know that vanilla was used to make this pork packaging smell a little sweeter. Large chests that could hold around 1,000 stogies were next introduced, but by the 1830s, cigars were being packaged in sealed cedar boxes.
Cedar apparently stops the cigars from drying out and matures the tobacco as well, but either way it sounds like a distinct improvement on the bacon bladders.
Between 1800 and 1960, wood was used to create around 80% of cigar boxes. The most common variety, called “nailed wood”, comprises six pieces of wood nailed together and holds 50 cigars.
Cuba is a fairytale place. I like that you can just stay in people’s houses or wander into someone’s home and eat with a family.
My last trip there was for a fashion shoot with Love magazine in 2012. We had so many clothes that the stylist had to stay over the road from me with this glamorous single mum called Lily and her son Richard.
We put her in a Versace outfit and she just owned it.
She knew exactly what she was doing. My work is influenced by 18th-century portraiture, which is why they are both posing in a formal manner.
This was taken just around the corner from Lily’s house. I had seen an art deco building that looked beautiful – all we had to do was wait for the sun to go down.
Although it is not a shot of a sunset, you can sense that’s what’s happening from the way the buildings are all lit up in different colours.