Category Archives: Exhibitions

The Resurgence of Letterpress Printing

The current resurgence of letterpress printing may puzzle many techies. Like saying blacksmiths and haberdashers are really making a comeback. But it is true, letterpress (platen presses and handset type) is being celebrated again after what was thought to be its extinction. Designers love it for the hands-on experience of creating something in the physical world and consumers love it for the feeling of old world charm and exclusivity it connotes. The growth of letterpress workshops and classes has exploded all over the country and many art schools are now offering these classes. I soon hope to have a guest post from a friend who is currently taking one of these classes.

In reading about this I came across a documentary called Typeface, a film by Justine Nagan, about the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, WI. The film chronicles the preservation of and renewed interest in handset type at one of America’s great wood type printing companies. Old timers who used to work at Hamilton mix with graphic design students from Chicago who travel 175 miles north to Two Rivers to participate in workshops and use the museums working presses. It’s a fascinating look at an analog craft once thought long-dead that has been rediscovered by a digital age generation that had never known it.

The DVD is well worth purchasing, especially for the typophiles among you. I bought a copy and enjoyed it very much.Watch the trailer of the film here.

Looking at this picture of the California Job Case instantly brought back memories of this phrase: Be Careful Driving Elephants Into Small Foreign Garages. It’s one of many mnemonic devices that Mr. Little, my junior high school printshop teacher, taught us as a way of remembering the compartments in which the movable type for letterpress printing was stored. It was in this class that I first fell in love with the “graphic arts.” Thank you, Mr. Little.

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Filed under Exhibitions, Films, Graphic Design, Printing, Typography

A New Exhibit Opens at DESIGN MUSEUM

There’s a museum for almost every interest: there’s the Spam Museum, the Hobo Museum, the Conspiracy Theory Museum, and of course the famous Mütter Museum of medical oddities. You can’t make this stuff up. But did you know there is also a design museum? Granted, there are several design museums around the world but being the Anglophile that I am, (it’s not a bad thing) the one I visited several years ago is the Design Museum, London. Currently located on the banks of the Thames, it houses a collection of over 2,000 objects ranging from early Modernism of the 1900s to cutting edge contemporary design. Anyone in an art-related field who finds themselves in London with a few hours to spare will want to visit this exciting and inspiring place.

The museum just opened a new exhibit called This is Design, now on view through 22 January 2012, which features highlights from the museum’s collection and includes the Anglepoise Lamp, Apple iMac and Britain’s famous red telephone box. Each item in the exhibit, which brings together such diverse disciplines as architecture, couture, product design and identity, demonstrates an aspect of the design process and shows how design influences contemporary culture.

One object of note in the exhibit is the UK road sign. These signs are an excellent example of the now-specialized field of information design (ID). The state of the country’s road signage in the 1950s was so abysmal and confusing that the government appointed a special committee to solve the problem. To quote Design Museum’s excellent web article on the subject,

“The government of the day took the unusual step of entrusting the development of the new system to the typographer and graphic designer Jock Kinneir (1917-1974) and his assistant Margaret Calvert (1936-). They devised a rigorous signage system of carefully coordinated lettering, colours, shapes and symbols for Britain’s new motorways. Efficient and elegant, their system was one of the most ambitious information design projects ever undertaken in Britain. It became a role model for modern road signage all over the world and is still used today.”

It was interesting to read that their objective was to produce signs that could be easily read and understood at high speed and that they developed a new typeface for the project, based in Akzidenz Grotesk. They created a heavy and medium weight typeface for different applications to compensate for the illusion that makes identical black letters on white backgrounds appear thinner than white letters on black backgrounds. Below is an example I did using Akzidenz Grotesk that illustrates the phenomenon. All graphic designers should have a broad knowledge of typographic principles such as this.

The exhibit at Design Museum is worth visiting, or, short of that, doing some independent research about an object in the show that interests you. You may find something interesting that will help you with your next project.

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Filed under Exhibitions, Graphic Design, Typography

The Marston House and the Arts & Crafts Movement

On a recent trip to San Diego I had the opportunity of touring the historic Marston House. Built in 1905 for wealthy local merchant and philanthropist George Marston, this unique home is a prime example of architecture from the Arts & Crafts Movement. Our tour was led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent and lasted over an hour. It may have been because we arrived mid-week but my companions and I were the only participants of the tour so it really felt like a private showing.

I am a great lover of the Arts & Crafts Movement and have toured many Craftsman homes in California. I felt this home’s exterior lacked the beauty of similar turn-of-the-century Craftsman-style homes that tycoons had built for themselves at the time in Southern California. The Gamble House in Pasadena — an architectural masterpiece by Greene & Greene — is an example that comes to mind. The home’s interior, however, is a fine example of the genre and is filled with a large collection of Gustav Stickley furniture. 

I could detail at length all my observations of the house but of particular interest to me were the closets. More on this in a moment. Following is an excellent example of how technology and scientific advancement can drive design. The Germ Theory of Disease, which proposes that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases, may seem like an obvious idea today but was a new and highly controversial concept in the 19th century. Once accepted by the general public many steps were taken to increase hygienic practices in the home and much was written on the subject. It was also believed that a dust-free and well-ventilated home promoted good health. Ornately carved Victorian furniture and heavy tapestries and drapery that could trap dust were considered anathema to these ideals. Edward William Godwin (1833–1886), one of the originators of the movement, deplored “fluff and dust as two of the great enemies of life.”

So back to the closets. Mr. Marston subscribed to all these modern new ideas about hygiene and had all the closets in the Marston House built to have a two inch raised floor to prevent dust from entering the closet from the adjacent room. One would therefore step up into each closet. See photo, left. All the closets also have a window that can be opened onto an adjoining hallway or bedroom to facilitate the free flow of air in the closet. This concept of the free flow of air as promoting health was also manifested into the screened sleeping porch, a ubiquitous feature of many Craftsman homes of the time. The Marston House also features a sleeping porch.

This is an excellent tour worth attending for any architecture, Arts & Crafts or history buffs. The Marston House tour can be done in a few hours.

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Filed under Architecture, Exhibitions