I traveled to Wisconsin with two of my Shift-lab collaborators recently and spent a magical a week at Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. I have a lot to say about what we produced while we were there, so stay tuned, but first I must show you this:
An enormous clown head. Its grotesque and alarming smile is almost larger than Stephanie Carpenter, the assistant director of the museum, (kindly providing scale.)
The archives of Enquirer Printing, founded in 1895 by the Anderson family of Cincinnati, were recently donated to the Hamilton. Enquirer Printing specialized in the production of circus billboards. So this is what the museum looks like these days as they unpack the dozens and dozens of crates they’ve inherited:
(Obviously, as a child of the 80s and a human being, I go right to this.)
The good folks at Hamilton are engaged in a massive organizational undertaking as they unpack crate after crate of mystery blocks, each of which can be as large as four by four feet in size. Sometimes, however, they are irregular shapes, blocks which must have been carved from the closest or most convenient fragment of wood. Six or eight of these blocks come together form one massive image. Sure, it’s easy to identify a six foot tall clown head. But these billboards were printed in three or four colors, and so many of the blocks are harder to interpret. Like this:
Puzzles were unlocked every day we spent at the museum. We were lured away from our printing to come and see a herd of wild horses, or an enormous clown, or a life sized elephant, pieced together successfully on the warehouse floor. (How were they printed, you ask? On something like this. )
We made the trip for reasons other than the admiration of circus billboard printing matrices. The museum has hosted an exhibition of our recent project Trace, and Macy Chadwick, Denise Bookwalter, and I came for a residency that coincided with the closing reception. We moved into the visitor press room and spent four days designing and printing a new project.
Our plan, a simple one, was to use the time to create a book that responded to the museum in some way. We spent the first day looking through the available type and selecting a few letters and numbers that we liked. We were most intrigued by type that had been split in half in a deliberate and mysterious way. (You can see a few of these in the image above.) I’d never seen anything like that before, and we found it captivating. We made rubbings of the type we selected, then put together a mock-up to guide us over the next few days. Everything in the museum, as you have no doubt noticed, is HUGE. It felt right to make a big book.
When we returned the next day, we moved forward on the press, mixing our color palette based on our surroundings. Like this blue:
The mottled yellows and browns from this column:
The floor, the door:
We were excited to find split maple rounds (prepared to be cut with a pantograph and transformed into wood type, a process that still takes place at the museum.) The split maple and the halved letter forms resonated together somehow, so we locked them up in the press as best we could.
We (miraculously) held close to our original design and printed an edition of twenty five over three days. An edition, by the way, which is now available to purchase for $200, Details below.
Designed by Denise Bookwalter, Sarah Bryant, and Macy Chadwick during a Shift-lab residency at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin in September of 2017. Bound by Sarah Bryant and Katie Baldwin on Thanksgiving day in Huntsville, Alabama. Tricia Treacy, our fifth Shift-lab member, is spending this semester in Rome, but was with us in spirit.
Letterpress-printed from wood type, metal type, and uncut maple on Zerkall book paper, and sewn into in a translucent Pergamenta cover. Edition of 25 copies.
14 x 12 3/4″
For more information about purchasing Split Case, email me at sarahherrickbryant[at]gmail.com.
We are immensely grateful to Jim Moran, Stephanie Carpenter, and Tootsie Sommers for being so welcoming, and allowing us to spend a wonderful week in their company.
The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum hosts a huge annual Wayzgoose. Put it on your calendar! Rock star type designers, graphic designers, letterpress printers and other fabulous people attend every year, and you can too. Can’t get to Wisconsin? Bring Hamilton to you! They are having a kickass holiday sale right now. Money you spend in their shop helps the museum protect their important and immensely beautiful collection.
Thanks for everything Hamilton! Heart emoji.