Wood type museum's new home nearly ready
- Article by: SUZANNE WEISS
- Associated Press
- October 19, 2013 - 12:05 AM
TWO RIVERS, Wis. — The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum elevates the craft of lettering to an art. It's no wonder an artist was chosen to create the sign on the outside of its new building.
As staff members were inside, getting the museum ready to open, John Downer of Iowa City, Iowa, stood high on a scissor lift and carefully applied paint to the top of the rough-textured exterior front wall.
The rectangular sign, with decorative end caps, was a meticulously planned and executed labor of love for Downer, 62, a journeyman sign painter and type designer who volunteered for the job, HTR Media reported (http://htrne.ws/1gl5TCp).
"The design is in keeping with 19th century aesthetics," said Downer, who compared the industrial style of lettering to that often seen in the faded, so-called "ghost signs" on large-city factories and warehouses.
He used a method dating back to Renaissance times to transfer the design to the wall. Called pouncing, it involves pressing powdered charcoal through perforations in paper.
Today's signs often are made from a vinyl wrap that is best-suited to smooth surfaces, Downer said.
He and his painting partner, Rob Novou of Milwaukee, also a journeyman sign painter, are creating the sign the old-fashioned way: by hand. John Joski of Kewaunee, a journeyman sign painter, and Dave Carpenter of Manitowoc, an oil painter with a Master of Fine Arts, also assisted in the project.
Downer, known as a "wall dog" in the trade, said he became fascinated with lettering when he was about 14.
He liked to fool adults with his skill and recalls tracing the letters "w'' and "o'' from a women's room sign and skillfully adding them to the nearby men's room sign. The women were surprised to find urinals when they walked in, Downer said.
"That's what you do when you're 14 ... it's amusing," he said.
The end caps of the new museum sign will be made from actual designs created in Two Rivers at the Hamilton Manufacturing Co., which was started in 1880 and became the largest wood type producer in the country during a time when nearly everything was letterpress printed.
The museum, run by the Two Rivers Historical Society, is named for the Hamilton company and has 1.5 million pieces of wood type in its collection as well as antique printing equipment and rare type specimen catalogs.
Formerly housed in the old Hamilton building on Jefferson Street, the museum had to move when owner Themo Fisher Scientific decided to close the facility in November 2012. The move to the new building, site of the former Formrite Tube Co., began in spring and involved 26 semi loads of printing equipment.
"We've been quite busy getting the museum unpacked. We can't wait to be open," said Stephanie Carpenter, assistant director.
"I have about 40 years of experience in printing ... I've never moved anything like this," said director Jim Moran. "We didn't know the extent of the collection because so much was in storage."
One surprising find, which will go on display, was a group of massive wooden furniture from printing company founder J.E. Hamilton's office including a large framed oil portrait of him, he said.
"It is coming together ... but the volume of details is immense," said Moran, who, in addition to setting up exhibit and printing work spaces, has been attending to the physical needs of the building, such as lights, boilers and roof repairs.
With the help of volunteers, Moran and Carpenter are getting the museum ready for hosting 200 registrants for the Wayzgoose 2013 printing conference on Nov. 8-10.
(Wayzgoose refers to a feast given by a master printer for his workmen and may have originated from the Middle English term for a harvest goose.)
The museum, in its 14th year, also is expected to open to the public in early November and will host an official open house in December, Moran said.
At 45,000 square feet, the museum is about double the size of the old space and will give visitors a chance to see more type and equipment in the exhibit areas as well as to see the printing process in action, Carpenter said. It also will have more storage space, she said.
Plans are to create three press rooms, the largest for teaching classes, an archival press room and a visiting artists press room, Moran said.
"We will have more hands-on programs in the new space," Carpenter said. "It's definitely going to be a museum where you can always see something different. We're working on making sure there are changing exhibits."
The space also will be more welcoming, with a greeting area and retail space in the front with a smooth and logical traffic flow from one area to the next, she said.
Carpenter said she loves the space because it was once a working factory and retains a historic feel plus it has natural light coming from skylights, which best shows off the type collection.
The museum's fundraising efforts continue. "The museum wouldn't be here is it wasn't for our friends, our families, our donors," Carpenter said.
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by HTR Media
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