• Steven Heller

Digitizing Wood

If I were stranded on a desert island with just one special pleasure, it would be the entire Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum (and perhaps some electricity and maybe Bill Moran, who with his brother Jim, the director of the Museum, are the major forces behind this amazing repository of past and present type, typography and printing). Short of that wish, I’d like to have my laptop with access to the Hamilton’s new website. I ask Bill to use this opportunity of a redesign and launch to discuss plans for the future of the Hamilton.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum has come into its own over the past decade. Your Waysgoose conference has been the talk of the Fall season. Now you have a new website. Can you tell me about the new features? One of the new site’s goals is to let folks know what’s going on here using more photography. With 80,000 square feet of space, 1.5 million pieces of type (and growing) hundreds of vintage presses and amazing prints, there’s a lot to show off. The imagery is intended to lure you to Wisconsin to see it in person. We offer workshops, gallery openings, tours and many other ways to get your hands dirty. Realizing that Two Rivers is a 90 minute drive from a major city, you have to plan your visit, our hope is the new site tempts you to come. A big shout out goes to Knorth Studios for their killer photography and design of the site.

Our new calendar is way more intuitive, letting you get a better survey of what’s coming up on a single page. Our blog page, made up of photo-driven essays, is laid out so you can see the content thread more clearly. And of course the store is a central feature of the new site. The product photos are bigger and the check out process is much easier. We’ve got some cool new products to sell including these sassy catchword blocks designed by Jonathan Hoefler. You can print with them or admire them on your shelf (as long as you don’t mind reading backwards). We’ve got some cool books for sale by Julie Sola, Carolyn Porter, Esther Smith and Louise Fili. And, of course, lots of prints created here at the museum. Retail income is one the best ways our fans can support the museum so we need to keep cool products out in front of our online visitors.

Obviously, the new site links to new activities at the Museum; talk a little about the overall growth of the institution. Teaching typographic and print related skills is in our DNA. We’re always looking for ways to broaden the appeal of the collection for the design and print community. In late February we’ll be offering our first-ever digital font making workshop. Participants will proof wood type from the collection, scan them, and create their own personal font. It’s a great way to take a slice of the museum home with you. Led by the fine folks at Font Diner, https://www.fontdiner.com/ this collaborative workshop is a new way of offering unique programming with great partners.

Last year, museum director Jim Moran oversaw the launch of cataloging and printing with the Enquirer Collection of letterpress blocks. We acquired them in 2016 and they are epic both in size and complexity of carving. Printing them to create items we could sell was our original goal when we purchased them, but once we started unpacking and photographing them it became clear that the blocks themselves are works of art and exhibition-worthy. It’s opened a door for us for museum visitors to not only appreciate the process of printing, but also the artifacts of printing. You can read about the Enquirer Collection here.

The museum is also working to foster and showcase the best letterpress printing being done today. Assistant director Stephanie Carpenter is heading up our fourth annual juried exhibition called New Impressions. With the help of a rock-star judge’s panel, she is curating some of the best and brightest work being done in letterpress today. Read more about it here.

What is it about wood type in general and Hamilton in particular that in my view is causing such a wave of interest? Letterpress printing evokes all the senses. I think that this wave of interest is a response to the amount of time we spend in front of computer screens, but it’s an oversimplification to call it nostalgia. Letterpress is being redefined in 2018 and while the tools may be the same the work being done is really fresh. Hamilton has a critical role in preserving, using and teaching this craft and as my brother Jim says, “It’s like playing a new song with an old guitar”. As for the interest in wood type, we spend so much of our lives surrounded by digital fonts and when you encounter analog letterforms, there’s something so sumptuous about them.

The sophistication of design achieved in the 19th century when so much great type was made, hasn’t been surpassed. Even a non designer can recognize that it’s something unique and authentic.

What are you planning for the future? We’re working on new fonts with the uber-talented Mark Simonson and Juliet Shen. Mark is working on the newest addition to our Wood Type Legacy Project and with Juliet’s help we are hoping to cut an original font design for the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin similar to her Lushootseed font.

Our 10th annual Wayzgoose is coming up November 3–5, 2018. We’ve invited a lineup of speakers and workshops that will be announced in June.

This summer we’ll be exhibiting a collection of rare, printed Renaissance capitals. These ornamental letters, spanning from 1470 to the early 1700s, were printed from hand-carved wood type.

Our Artist in Residence, Jim Sherraden will be exhibit a new selection of work called Paper Quilts. Using borders from the Hamilton Collection, Jim has been making collages with printed fragments. They’re stunning and a really cool departure from the work he did while at Hatch Showprint.

Finally, 2019 will mark our 20th anniversary as a museum. Look for a big open house printing big type on big presses. It’s gonna be huge! Visit, Learn, Print, Repeat!

Jim Sherraden, artist in residence.

Jonathan Hoefler’s sassy catchwords.

Gail Anderson speaking at Wayzgoose.

Anderson on the Wayzgoose stage.


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