An amazing synergy has developed between a historic Wisconsin wood manufacturing operation and the trendiest of graphic design afficionados. As a result, the young hipsters are seeing saws, sanders and routers as the tools for a creative tomorrow.
It's happening at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, Two Rivers, WI. It is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type.
Wood type was widely used in the 19th century and into the 20th center, especially for large billboard printing, circus posters, etc. Many people are familiar with metal type, but wood type was popular because it could be prepared in really large sizes. And because it was lighter and so could readily be shipped.
Wood doesn't have the same sharp edges as metal type - and it doesn't carry and print ink as smoothly, because the surface is less uniform, depending on species being used. But young designers find these natural deviations from perfection charming.
Within Hamilton Wood Type there are stored an estimated 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns. Estimates are the operative word because the collections garnered from wood type foundries around the country have been amassed at Hamilton Wood Type. (Hatch Show Print in Nashville, a working poster printing shop, is also engaged in printing from wood type, but not in the cutting of the type fonts.)
The craftsman professionals from Two Rivers, WI still live in the area and regualrly visit the museum, teaching young people how to work the router and pantograph to replicate wood type.
Hamilton Manufacturing Company was the largest wood type producer in the country. Founded in 1880, and in addition to wood type, the company has manufactured medical office furniture, light tables, the first gas powered clothes dryer and in its 130th year, produces steel lab equipment.
Jim Van Lanen, Sr., the founder of the Museum, says the craftsmen in the area "show us, from memory, how the type workshop really operated - the old secrets that make these extraordinarily beautiful and distinctively American alphabets." When professors and students from Purdue University and Columbia College come to Hamilton Wood Type to learn, they can watch a log be sawed to lumber, sized to a uniform printing height, and cut by a router wood into font shapes. Afterward, the type is inked up and impressions are pulled on printing machinery.
The Museum, at 40,000 square feet, is certainly the largest fully functional wood type workshop in the world. Thousands of visitors come through every year get to see how wood type was made at the foundry. Students, artists, typographers and designers visit to take workshops and actually put their hands on and use the collection to create works of art and scholarship from wood type printed in the pressroom at the Museum.
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