March 17, 2014 § 2 Comments
Women’s History Month 2014
Featuring: Julia Ferrari of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press
Date of Visit: February 21, 2014
1. David Walter Master Craft Gallery
The Whole Art of Language, Julia Ferrari & Dan Carr’s Presses at Golgonooza
81 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont
2. Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press
25-30 Main Street
Ashuelot, New Hampshire
In mid-2012 Julia Ferrari became the sole proprietor of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry and Press after 30 years of partnership with her husband, Daniel Carr. The premature death of Carr two years ago deprived Julia of both her life partner and her business partner, a double loss from which she is now beginning to emerge with renewed purpose. It has not been easy but she is determined to continue the press, or some incarnation of it, on her own.
Julia is not alone in her situation, in fact she is but one in a very long line of women who inherited their family presses and or foundries. (Please notice that we did not write their husbands’ presses, for most women were active partners in the family business from the start of their marriages.)
Printing Widows in History
For much of history women entered the graphic arts trade through family connections, by either marrying a printer or as a printer’s daughter with a share of the print shop as her dowry. Often the printer/husband was much older, having spent his youth establishing a shop and saving enough money to start a family. The younger wives would work at the press and eventually inherit the shop if no male children or partners were present. Out of convenience, the widow frequently married a senior printer within her employ. The press would then revert to male ownership and the cycle would repeat.
Apart from the remarriage option continuing the family printing business was a difficult but possible endeavor. The widows were familiar with the day-to-day press workings as it was common for the printing workshop to be physically intermingled with the domestic household. Proximity and familiarity alone were not enough; the women needed to be highly literate in their native tongue (and Latin) plus retain a network of writers and business contacts who were willing to work with a woman. If all of these criteria were in place the surviving widow could continue the press, providing her husband’s guild granted her permission.
A printer’s widow would usually identify her own work with her late husband’s name to capitalize on his reputation, however, some women printers credited themselves. Charlotte Guillard (d. 1557), the most notable of the 25 or so widows operating presses in early 16th century Paris, is recognized as the first important woman printer. She began her 50-year career when she married printer Berthold Rembolt, a partner in the prestigious printing house, the Soleil d’Or. A decade later Rembolt’s death left Guillard to continue the press alone until her subsequent marriage to Claude Chevallon. Guillard (then Madame Chevallon) imprinted with Chevallon’s name on their collaborative work until his death 15 years later. Working alone for the next 20 years Guillard printed over 150 entirely new editions, almost all in Greek or Latin, using her own name. Her substantial operation included four or five presses with three or four men at each press.
Guillard’s Italian counterpart, printer Caterina De Silvestro of Naples, also left her own mark, literally, when she inherited her press in 1517. She initially signed her books as “Wife of the Master ”, but within five years she changed the imprint to “In the house of Catherine de Silvestro.” Her self-attribution remained in use for eight years until her marriage to one of her husband’s former apprentices.
Margherita Dall’Aglio Bodoni, (1758-1851) inherited the press of her husband, the renowned Italian type designer, Giambattista Bodoni (1740– 1813). (Luckily, we will soon be able to learn much more about her in Valerie Lester’s upcoming book, Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His Work, scheduled for publication by David Godine in September 2014.) Ms. Lester shares this advance information: “Ghitta (Bodoni’s preferred name for her) worked alongside Bodoni all their married life. She was 33 and he 51 when they married in 1791, and they had 22 years together before his death in 1813. She coped with the business side of the print works, dealing with correspondence and the many visitors they received. She wrote in Italian and French and studied English so that she could converse with their English customers. Ghitta took over the reins of the private press with Luigi Orsi, Bodoni’s foreman, at her side.”
In a chapter devoted to Signora Bodoni, La Vedova (The Widow) Lester writes: “Just four days after Bodoni’s death, Ghitta wrote to Count Doru, informing him that Baron Pommereul had given her permission to work as a typographer in Parma. She immediately turned her attention to Bodoni’s uncompleted commissions and picked up exactly where her husband had left off: with the French classics ordered by Murat. The Théatre Complet de Jean Racine was on the press on the day of Bodoni’s death. Even as she grieved the loss of “il venerato e diletto mio Bodoni” [my revered and beloved Bodoni], she lost no time in fulfilling his wishes, and the Racine was published before the end of 1813.”
Ghitta is most appreciated for printing her husband’s 600-page masterwork, Manuale tipografico, upon whose title page she proudly imprinted her own title: La Vedova. In the opening Discourse by the Widow she describes the task of assembling the work: “From the start I was intimidated by the extreme difficulties presented by the mere collection and arrangement (following the guidelines established by his unique genius.) … having gathered and arranged the different alphabets and all the other articles necessary to form this entire work, I had it typeset and then printed. I knew very well the gravity of the burden I placed upon myself, but I husbanded all my resources, my love for him and his fame sustaining me. And I courageously set about the printing in order that Italy and Europe should not be defrauded of so distinguished a monument to the art of typography.”
For another 20 years Signora Bodoni subsumed not only her deceased husband’s business interests but also his professional reputation. When the French type designer, Didot, impugned Bodoni’s Virgil for “appalling proofreading and inferior literary quality,” the widow Bodoni countered by pointing out that Didot’s own edition of Milton contained 85 printing errors on 94 pages as compared to Bodoni’s 600-page Virgil which contained only 37.
Press Widows in America
The widow-inherits-press scenario occurred continuously in Europe and was likewise repeated in the American colonies. The first American printer on record is a woman, Elizabeth Glover, whose husband died during the family’s voyage from England. Arriving on shore with a cortege of five children, some tradesmen and servants, Mrs. Glover’s effects included a press shipped by her late husband. Mrs. Glovers’s involvement with the press is vague. She obtained permission to start the press (although not allowed to use her own name) and then assigned the operations to locksmith Stephen Daye. By the time Glover married the president of Harvard College in 1641 her press had published 1,700 copies of the first book to be printed in the colonies, The Whole Book of Psalms, now known as The Bay Psalm Book.
The second press in the colonies was also inherited, however the beneficiary, Dinah Nuthead, did not have the resources of Mrs. Glover and therefore worked hands-on at the press to assure her family’s financial survival. Perhaps due to her illiteracy, Widow Nuthead’s work was restricted to printing blank forms for the government.
In 1738 Elizabeth Timothy, mother of seven, inherited not only her husband’s print shop but also his six-year partnership contract with Benjamin Franklin. Not permitted to use her own name, Timothy ran her South Carolina Gazette and press under the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter. Franklin observed in his autobiography that Mrs. Timothy was a far better business partner than her husband. Mr. Franklin was perhaps partial to businesswomen as his brother’s widow, Ann Smith Franklin, successfully continued her inherited press as the official printer to the colony of Rhode Island.
In Philadelphia a convergence of both expertise and family connections left widow Lydia Bailey with one of the largest printing firms in the city. Her husband, an abysmally poor businessman, died leaving Bailey with four children and considerable debt. She mastered typesetting and went on to instruct the male apprentices at her press in the “mysteries of typography.” Not only was she able to get the business back into the black, she was able to buy her father-in-law’s failing press and turn that into a profitable venture. In 1813 she was awarded a lucrative contract as the City Printer of Philadelphia, a business relationship that extended over 30 years.
Preserving the Foundry
Continuity and conservation, rather than designing or making type, were the most important contributions made by women in the early type founding industry (as we have already noted in the case of Bodoni). The obituary of Mrs. Elizabeth Caslon (1730-1795), widow of type founder William Caslon II, extolled her ability to continue and expand the foundry well after her husband’s death in 1778. “Mrs. Caslon, as we have observed, had for many years habituated herself to the arrangements of the foundry; so that when the entire devolved upon her, she manifested powers of mind beyond the expectation from a female not then in early life.” (Mrs. Caslon was 48 when she inherited the business). Later a falling out with her partner and son (Caslon III) left Elizabeth continuing the business “with talents uncommon to her sex and with a close attention extraordinary indeed at her advanced age” in partnership with her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowe Caslon.
Sarah Eaves, type designer John Baskerville’s housekeeper and eventual wife, continued printing for a short time after his death in 1775. Two volumes bear her sole name on the imprint. She kept the foundry active for another two years .Although the history books may not give women their due their spouses always knew the value of a wife/partner. We can see evidence in Frederic Goudy’s writings of his wife Bertha M. Sprinks Goudy (1869-1935), his partner in The Village Press. From 1903 to 1935 the Goudy’s collaboratively worked in a shop modeled after the arts and crafts ideals of William Morris.
Goudy set up a foundry at the press and taught himself how to engrave the matrices as well as cast type. Bertha, by all accounts a quick study, was also an able typographer as evidenced in her cutting of the entire 24 point Deepdene italic. Although her husband was clearly the design star, having designed and produced up to 100-odd typefaces, Mrs. Goudy was also highly regarded for her typesetting and printing skills. These quotes from a 1933 Time Magazine article recognize her contributions.“Most of the sheets were hand set and printed by Bertha Goudy who can match her husband’s reputation as a type designer with her own as the world’s ablest woman printer.” The New York Times Review had equally glowing praise, “Highlight of last week’s exhibition was a broadside of the Oath of Hippocrates, set by Bertha Goudy in Fred Goudy’s Forum type. This was saluted by the greatest U. S. printer, Bruce Rogers, as ‘the finest piece of printing I ever saw.”
Bertha was not a widow: she predeceased Goudy in 1935 leading her grieving husband to discontinue their press and concentrate solely on type design and teaching. Goudy wrote of Bertha: “…her intelligent and ready counsel I welcomed and valued; her consummate craftsmanship made possible many difficult undertakings. She ever sought to minimize any exploitation of her great attainments, that the acclaim which rightfully belonged to her should come, instead, to me. For two-score years she unselfishly aided me in every way in my work in the fields of type design and typography, and enabled me to secure a measure of success which alone could never have been mine.”
Julia Ferrari’s Golgonooza Press :
Poetry, Printing, Punchcutting and Pasta
Although there is little recorded evidence of the abovementioned historical women we are able visit with their descendent, Julia Ferrari, who generously shared her insights. We met her on a chilly, rainy day in late February, following a treacherously icy drive to the David Walter Master Craft Gallery in the center of the artistic town of Brattleboro, Vermont. A front gallery room was filled with books, broadsides, metal type, digital type, monotype prints and typographic punches for her exhibit The Whole Art of Language, Julia Ferrari & Dan Carr’s Presses at Golgonooza. Walter generously provided space for us to settle in and conduct an easy conversation that would continue for five hours.
Ferrari’s career has combined aspects of self-exploration and serendipity. Born in rural southern New Jersey, she grew up living next door to her grandmother’s chicken farm. Self-described as quiet, artistic and cerebral, she was raised by her mother (a high school teacher) and father (a carpenter). Having a self-employed father proved to be an important role model in building Ferrari’s future confidence to navigate through the uncertain world of self-employment, she learned the invaluable lesson that working for one’s self is economically unpredictable but that it is possible to survive.
She enrolled in Northeastern University in Boston to study psychology but found that her Jungian interests did not match the behaviorally based curriculum. A rebellious mood prompted her to leave college to pursue the more expressive fields of art and poetry. One day she stumbled across a small advertisement in the alternative weekly Real Paper inviting anyone to “Come print your own poetry.” She called the telephone number and made her first connection with Daniel Carr.
Ferrari arrived at Carr’s print shop at 7 Sherman Street, Charleston (near Sullivan Square), a large wooden-framed building that housed an ad hoc artists’ coop. There was not an immediate love connection between Carr and Ferrari, but similarities of interest drew them together intellectually, especially their fondness for poetry and William Blake. Julia apprenticed under Carr for 6 months before their relationship bonded— romantically as well as professionally.
The couple joined with book artist Mark Olson (now at Innerer Klang Letterpress, Asheville, North Carolina) to create the Four Zoas Night House Ltd., which was an off shoot sister press to their Four Zoas Press (the name derived from a prophetic book by Blake). The small literary press published fine press books, chap books and poetry. Carr added a foundry division that cast type from a library of English and American Monotype faces. Finances were tight. To augment income Julia took part-time work at Monotype keyboarding for Michael Bixler’s type foundry.
By 1982 Ferrari and Carr were married. In that same year encroaching gentrification threatened the studio’s location and precipitated the couple’s search for an affordable building elsewhere. Friends in Winchester, New Hampshire, suggested a nearby industrial building in Ashuelot (a Native American name pronounced Ash-we-lit) that they subsequently purchased.
The Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press
Moving meant downtime in the shop and after about a month of no income Carr began to worry. Ferrari, accustomed to this sort of income lull from her childhood, pointed out that a pantry full of spaghetti would sustain them until an income flow was restored. Money was never a huge objective for the couple nevertheless outside clients were needed to sustain the pasta stockpile. Neither partner was much of a self-promoter and it was more than likely that new work would find them through word of mouth.
The Ashuelot press, dubbed the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press (from a mythical city of art and science from William Blake), was a vertical operation of bookmaking and type founding: writing, layout design, printing, binding, typesetting, casting and punchcutting. The couple had a well-oiled working relationship sustained, no doubt, by their complete separation of tasks. Carr assumed the role of the poet, book designer, punchcutter and type caster while Ferrari was the visual artist who created illustrations, printed on the presses, bound books, proofread, edited, and composed type for the Monotype. (By then Ferrari had earned a degree in Fine Art and Art History from nearby Mount Holyoke College.)
Carr was the more visible partner through his poetry and writings in typographic periodicals as well as his typographic font designs. Inspired by the prospect of seeing his personal writings printed in his own custom typeface Carr set about learning the difficult crafts of type design and metal punch cutting. From 1990-1994 he created two text fonts Lyons and Cheneau. His skills were further refined during a period overseas. In 1992 the type historian Stan Nelson invited the couple to participate in workshops at the University of Reading in England, an experience that expanded into an opportunity for Carr to study punchcutting at the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris. Training under the expertise of master craftsmen Christian Paput and Nelly Gable, Carr was awarded the Diplome of Matire-graveur Typography (Master of Punchcutting) after completing his original design, Regulus, (1997).
The first completed* use of Regulus was in a collaborate book by the couple, Gifts of the Leaves (1997) published under Golgonooza’s Trois Fointaines division. Shown above is the colophon about the artist (Ferrari) and the poet (Carr). Ferrari created the art, the cover of pastepaper painting over boards, the binding, damped the paper and set the shaped colophon, which she helped print; the text printing, typeface and poetry were by Dan Carr.
Another Carr font, Parmenides, was part of The Fragments of Parmenides and an English Translation, a collaborative project with Robert Bringhurst and Christopher Stinehour for printer/publisher Peter Koch. Carr designed, cut and cast the Greek face and Ferrari set Bringhurst’s English translation in Golgoonoza’s Monotype Dante.
Another important collaborative piece in the exhibition, The Reach of the Heart, 2008 (shown above) is “a sequence of poems that explore the small epiphanies of ordinary life.” Ferrari is currently organizing a publication covering the history of the press during the period of the couple’s partnership.
After several hours at the gallery we embarked upon the 20-minute drive to the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press location in nearby New Hampshire. The shop is located on the ground floor of a 150-year-old brick building with views over the Ashuelot River. At the entrance we were greeted by a picture of Carr whose presence still permeates the atmosphere.
The large shop is chock full of equipment of all types needed for professional printing, binding and type casting. Every surface is covered with metal type paraphernalia, paper or tools. Type cases shine with rows of fresh metal type, so clean and organized—it’s enviable.
Like her predecessor Signora Bodoni, Ferrari not only mourns her beloved but feels compelled to complete his unfinished work. After discovering that Carr had not fully completed several numerals for Regulus, Ferrari has set about learning the art of punchcutting— as part of a revival she & compatriots refer to as the “refounding” of Golgonooza.
During the spring of 2013 Ferrari traveled around Europe to learn as much as possible about the cutting and casting of type. In the Netherlands, she trained with John Cornelisse on comp casters. A note in her trip journal marks her resolve, “I can fix and run a Monotype keyboard, proof galleys, work on the frame, make corrections, and print, but after losing our skilled caster person, Dan, I feel it is important to put myself in front of the task of making letters in metal.” In London she visited at the Type Archive to train on the super caster with her former teacher, Gerry Drayton. “It was Gerry who first taught me how to take apart a Monotype keyboard in 1985, and put it back together, adjusted. Gerry was never sexist in this very masculine machine world, encouraging me to work to my potential alongside Dan, telling me stories of an all woman’s Monotype shop in Piccadilly Circus in London that did everything themselves except clean the pumps (too heavy). He always made me feel that it was within my power to master these typographic wonders of the industrial age.
Ferrari also returned to Paris and the Imprimerie Nationale where she visited with punch cutter Nelly Gable**. The two women planned a three-week punchcutting workshop which took place during the summer of 2013. When Gable first arrived at Golgonooza last July she set about cleaning Carr’s workspace and his rusted tools. Over the next few weeks of intensive work Ferrari was able to grasp the fundamentals of the art and when Gable departed the two friends pledged to continue their connection, albeit virtually, as Ferrari hones her skills.
Ferrari has many plans for her future. She will soon find a distributor for Carr’s digital fonts, publish a book on the history of the press, continue to study type cutting and casting and plans to establish a typographic center in Asheulot. She has all of the tools, the energy and an extremely large and helpful network of compatriots to launch her new direction.
Ferrari’s story echoes those of widow printers before her. Perhaps they, like Ferrari, felt a continued connection with their absent spouse by using his tools and carrying on their work. All of their husbands would probably be a little amazed at what their wives could accomplish on their own, and mostly likely, very proud.
*The lower case for Regulus was printed in a chapbook titled Intersection in 1989, but had a different fit for the letters.
**You may recall our earlier post about Gable and the fate of the historical typographical works at the Imprimerie Nationale. Gable is still working with the collection although it has moved to Douai in northern France for the time being. There have been reports of plans for yet another move of artifacts and staff to Normandy, to the site of the publishing archive IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine) near Caen. It remains to be seen if this ever materializes.
Berry, John D. dot-font: Preserving Ancient Wisdom with Age-Old Printing Techniques, June 15, 2001, Hyperlink.
Bertha S. Goudy, First Lady of Printing: Remembrances of the Distaff Side of the Village Press. Tributes by Bruce Rogers, Mabel H. Dwiggins, Alice Goudy Lochhead, Paul A. Bennett, George Macy, and F. W. Goudy The Distaff Side, 1958.
Davidson, Rebecca, W. Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders and Book Designers. Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection, 2009. Hyperlink.
Hansard, T. C.. Typographia: an historical sketch of the origin and progress of the art of printing; with practical directions for conducting every department in an office: with a description of stereotype and lithography. Illustrated by engravings, biographical notices, and portraits.. London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1825. Print
Lester, Valerie, Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His Work, scheduled for publication by David Godine in September 2014.
Jack, Belinda Elizabeth. The Woman Reader. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.
Parker, Deborah. Women in the book trade in Italy, 1475-1620. New York: Renaissance Society of America, 1996. Print.
Symposium on Hand and Computer, June 10-11, 2001 in the San Francisco Public Library. Speakers: Robert Bringhurst, Dan Carr, Peter Koch and Christopher Stinehour.
Tedder, Henry R. “John Baskerville”, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Vol 03, London: Smith, Elder and Co. Print.
All images property in Section: Julia Ferrari’s Golgonooza Press, Poetry, Printing, Punchcutting and Pasta) are copyrighted by Nancy Stock-Allen, Julia Ferrari and Eric Allen.
Bertha and Fred Goudy Images:
America Marlborough, Emily Amodeo, Joanne Sagarese Pagnotta and James B Cosgrove, Marlboro Free Library, Acadia Publishing, Charleston South Carolina. Print.112
Typographica cover from A Specimen of the Village & Other Types Cast at the Village Letter Foundery [sic], Marlborough-on-Hudson, N.Y., by Fred & Bertha Goudy.” Typographica, Number 5, Summer, 1927.
January 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
Date of Visit : April 2013
Mila I Fontanalas 14-26 2n 2g
Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain)
Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque
calle Cardenal Herrero 1, 14003 Cordoba, Spain
The Unique Arts Heritage in Spain
Each region of Spain has its own unique cultural and political viewpoint, however, almost all share the common influence of 800 years of rule by Muslims from North Africa (800-1492). The Moors, who referred to their holdings on the Iberian peninsula as Al-Andalus, infused their architecture and crafts with decoration as prescribed by Islamic culture: complex patterns derived from geometry or vegetation as well as elaborate interlocking calligraphy.
The distinctive style of Al-Andalusian art and architecture evolved through the confluence of two factors — geography and religion. Massive mountain ranges separated the country from the rest of Europe but it lay distant from the major Islamic centers as well. This position allowed for a community that intermingled diverse cultures along with their respective artistic traditions.
Islamic motifs were retained as part of the vernacular even after the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 15th century. The Islamic-influenced style is known as Mudejar, a derivation of the Arabic world “mudayyan”, translated as “he who is permitted to remain”.
Is there any evidence of Mudajer in Spanish typography? We will address that a bit later on, but first what is “Spanish style” typography? The term appears frequently in typographic literature but it is hard to find a solid explanation. (And there are those who strongly contest the notion of national styles.)
Printing and punchcutting arrived in Spain long after it commenced in the other parts of Europe, almost twenty-five years after Gutenberg’s bible. The first book printed in Spain was executed with imported typefaces. The printer was German, Lambert Palmert who set up his press in Valencia and quickly collaborated with a local goldsmith, Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba (presumably to fabricate type for the press). In the hands of Fernández and other Spanish metalworkers the imported type design soon acquired, as type historian Daniel B. Updike wrote, “something characteristically Spanish.”
Updike seems at a loss to explain clearly how Spanish style crept into the existing designs – only that it must have been “something about the air, the sky and the landscape that bewitched the immigrant German printers.” The Spanish style proved stealthy and pervasive, “Even the Spanish copies of Baskerville and Caslon acquired a Spanish flavor.” Updike’s vague explanations finally concede with “Like the flavor of olives, “Spanish” cannot be described.”
Andreu Balius: The TypeRepublic
Along the northeastern coast of Spain lies the autonomous community of Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, home of the TypeRepublic. Although the actual territory of the TypeRepublic is confined to a computer on the desk of type designer Andreu Balius (and virtual space of the internet) we were still able to enjoy a very pleasant visit there in April 2013.
We traveled by subway, surfacing near some of the city’s fantastical Art Moderne architecture, however Mr. Balius’s building on Mila i Fontanals felt straight out of New York’s Chelsea district — a clean modern building housing studio spaces for model agencies, photographers and artists. On the third floor we found Balius’s studio, part of a cooperative space shared with other designers and illustrators. After greetings and introductions we left Balius’s studio mates lunching at the communal table in the front of the studio and moved to his section.
Balius: Education and Training
Balius is the kind of person we like to meet – a combination of very accomplished yet casually approachable. An outdoor enthusiast and avid traveler, he is also a serious student. He first studied sociology at the University of Barcelona before developing an interest in visual communication. A degree in Graphic Design at IDEP (Barcelona) was followed by another in Fine Arts (Graphic Design) at Southampton University in the United Kingdom and finally a PhD in Design from the University of Southampton UK in 2013. Balius extensively studies type history both as a personal interest and as part of his design process. To better grasp letter formation he trained with master calligrapher Keith Adams. (And another Adams link) All of these studies contributed to a personal design process, including his sociologist commitment to make all of his type design work within an appropriate social context.
We started our discussion with a quick overview of Spanish type history touching on the work of several major figures from The Golden Era of Spanish punchcutters; Eudald Pradell (1721–1788), Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros (1732-1812), Geronimo Gil. Also acknowledged were the more recent Richard Gans Foundry (active 1888-1975) and printer and typographer Ricard Giralt Miracle (1911-1994). Each is an interesting topic unto itself, but the one Balius knows most intimately is Eudald Paradell (or Edward Pradell) after creating a historical interpretation of Pradell’s work for digital use.
Pradell, an illiterate but a highly skillful engraver of armor, is recognized as Spain’s first punchcutter. Under the royal patronage of Carlos III, Pradell opened a foundry in Madrid to produce fonts for Spain’s Imprenta Royal. Balius’s work on Pradell earned awards from ATypI 2001 and the Type Directors Club in 2002. The descriptive blurb for the digital version on myfonts.com states “Although it is a very contemporary product, Pradell has a very distinctive Spanish flavor.” (There is no elaboration on what Spanish flavor means, not even a reference to olives or the Spanish sky.) Balius later created a customized version of Pradell, (Pradell Chillan) for La discussion, a newspaper in Chile.
Starting out in the 1990′s, when learning digital type design was not an academic option, Balius taught himself the complexities of digital media. His first type face, Temble, (a rather distorted design) was released through ITC in 1996 and is still available today.
In 1993 Balius initiated a co-operative type design community “open to anyone that wanted to take part”. The over 60 fonts offered were created in the spirit of experimentation. (Today the community goes under the name Garcia Fonts.)
From 1996 to 2001 he co-created Typerware with Joan Calres Pérez Casasin based in the village Santa Maria de Martorelles (near Barcelona). Balius and Casasin jointly designed the whimsical Font Soup in 1997, later reworked into a German version for FontFont.
Balius: Type Offerings
Today Balius’s personal selling vehicle is the TypeRepublic, an independent foundry featuring commercially available fonts as well as a showcase for his custom work. We only had time to discuss a few of our favorites.
This face, originally designed by Elizabeth Friedlander for Bauersche Giesserei foundry in 1938, is one of the few type designs by a woman before the digital age. Normally a font is identified by a designer’s last name (think Gill, Caslon, Didot, etc) but this design was created in Germany during the late 1930’s when a Jewish name was considered a liability. Friedlander was rejected for the more Arian friendly Elizabeth.
Commissioned by Fundicion Tipographica Neufville, Balius based his interpretation of Elizabeth upon specimens in an old Bauer type catalog (although the final digital version required extensive optical scaling).
Another of Balius’s fonts carries a female’s first name however the design, entirely by Balius, reflects the passion and intrigue of the infamous Spanish gypsy. A 2008 commission for Prosper Merimée’s Carmen (1845) the design is firmly rooted in Didot, the major type influence of the 19th century.
In 2011, the sexy retailer, Victoria’s Secret, commissioned a promotion display version of Carmen. It was awarded one of the year’s best typefaces in 2008 from Typographica.org and named a Top Type of 2009 by FontShop.
A Latin-Arabic Typeface: Al-Andalus (2009-2013)
A one-week course in non-Latin typography at The University of Reading inspired Balius to create a typeface design that would address communication between the Latin and Arabic languages used in his home country. To better understand the form and function of an unfamiliar language he studied Arabic calligraphy from a Syrian calligrapher based in Barcelona. Balius based his design on the calligraphic style, Naskh, the form most commonly used for printing Arabic.
Balius designed the Arabic font to combine perfectly with his existing roman face Pradell. Al Andalus includes a complete set of characters in Arabic, including all glyphs for Farsi & Urdu, as well as a complete set of ligatures and basic punctuation.
There are so many more of Balius’s original and custom designs that we did not have time to discuss (check out his website). It is also possible to read his thoughts on type application in his book, Type at Work, The Use of Type in Editorial Design, published in English by BIS (Amsterdam, 2003).
Leaving the Type Republic
Outside of type design Balius is an outdoor enthusiast – hiking and mountain biking are his favorite activities. He also travels extensively throughout the world giving workshops and lecturing at prestigious conferences. Whether on the road for fun or work he takes along sketchbooks to record his unending flow of ideas.
We left with a better understanding of his typography and a list of places for hiking and visiting in Southern Spain. He recommended some great hikes in the White Villages of Andalusia.
During the remainder of the trip we kept our eyes open for type designs that we felt displayed some of the decorative influence of Mudejar.
We were also intrigued by lettering that was hand drawn on the walls of a university building in the town of Baeza. Only later did we realize that Balius had created a custom typeface, Universitas, from that same academic lettering tradition.
For more of Spain and Spanish typography see our guest post on Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro in Madrid on Printeresting.org.
Carmen image from design boom
Paucker, Pauline: “New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander.”
(Oldham): Incline Press, (1998)
October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Featuring Type Designer Carl Crossgrove
Date of Visit : November 2012
I. Carl Crossgrove
1875 South Grant Street, Suite 720
San Mateo, CA 94402
II. M&H Type Foundry
1802 Hays Street, The Presidio
San Francisco, CA
NOTICE: This entry suggested only for serious typographic enthusiasts!
The Monotype Type Casting System
From its start in the mid-15th century, type composition (arranging cast metal letters for printing a page of text) was a labor-intensive process requiring scores of employees (including strike-prone trade union members). During the 19th century the demand for an automated system spurred a number of inventors to invest their careers and fortunes in that endeavor. One of the most successful entrants in the race to automate was the Monotype type casting system, patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887.
Lanston’s complex invention was fraught with serious problems that threatened its viability. John Sellers Bancroft, a mechanical engineer in Philadelphia, came to the rescue in 1899 as he “took what came to him scarcely more than an ingenious mechanical toy, frail, unreliable and difficult to construct” and redesigned it. He “produced a thoroughly practicable substantial machine of much greater scope and capacity than the original. From a partial failure Bancroft evolved a great commercial and mechanical success.”
Monotype’s main competition was the Linotype, a device that cast entire lines of type. Each of the two systems had certain advantages: Linotype’s lines of type were easier to move around in large set-ups, making it practical for newspapers whereas the Monotype system produced single letters, easier to tweak when setting complex material or to correct in case of error, a better match for small fine press printers and mid-range production shops. Elbert Hubbard of the Arts and Crafts era Roycroft Press, purchased a Monotype caster for his shop in East Aurora, New York. Hubbard embraced the new mechanized type system with his typically populist enthusiasm. “Goodbye Expert. Farewell, Prima Donna. Any compositor can operate this new composing machine at sight.”
Lanston Monotype grew into one of the top three type suppliers in the world. In addition to manufacturing type casters, the company designed and supplied fonts adapted to work with their system. The type library expanded and grew prominent in the decades between 1920 – 1950 under the management of Sol Hess (designer of 85 typefaces) and the designs he commissioned from Frederic Goudy.
A separate type concern was born from Lanston’s Monotype, the British Lanston Monotype Corporation Ltd. In 1887, just after obtaining his patent, Lanston needed a cash infusion to complete the refinements on his invention. Financial relief came from the sale of the British and colonial patent rights for $1,000,000 to a group headed by Great Britain’s Lord Dunraven (who installed himself as chairman at the London office).
At first the British branch repaired and refitted the Monotype casters shipped from the United States and offered training classes for Monotype keyboard operators. All of the initial type offerings were limited to existing 19th century type designs (Albions, Clarendons, Grotesques, Old Faces and Moderns) that were adapted to work with the Monotype system. By 1911 the first original type offering, Veronese, was released.
Things changed after WWI when the company expanded in response to the peacetime demand for equipment and new typefaces. The UK branch started manufacturing equipment and embarked on an ambitious type development program. The chief architect of the British Monotype library was Stanley Morrison, a self-educated type expert and contributing author to prestigious typographic journals such as the Fleuron and Penrose Annual. While writing for UK Monotype’s house organ, Monotype Recorder, Morison’s proposal for developing a “programme of typographical design, rational, systematic, and corresponding effectively with the foreseeable needs of modern printing” earned him the position as British Monotype’s typographic advisor in 1922 —and a pulpit from which he would exert a serious influence over the future of modern type design. Morison commissioned and developed numerous important type designs but is broadly known for his involvement with Times New Roman (1932) a face he developed (drawn by Victor Lardent) as a challenge to improve legibility of The London Times.
By the 1940’s British Monotype broke into three divisions, each independent entities. Its name changed, as did ownership, through continual acquisitions of other type vendors and a merger with Agfa /Compugraphic in 1998. Today as Monotype Imaging, the company has acquired some of the best known type libraries in the world, including Bitstream, ITC and its old rival, Linotype. Currently based in Boston, there are offices across the US, throughout the UK, Europe and the Pacific rim.
Monotype in San Francisco
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries San Francisco was home to a large concentration of printers, making it an ideal location for type founding. On a recent stop in San Francisco we were able to see some of the West Coast descendants from both the British and American Monotype still actively at work. From Monotype Imaging we met with type designer Carl Crossgrove and later briefly toured one of the last stops of the Lanston Monotype Company, the M&H foundry.
One of ten staff designers for Monotype Imaging, Carl Crossgrove creates type for the digital market at the San Mateo location just outside San Francisco. He also releases faces through his personal foundry, Terrestial Design. Because he works from home two days a week we were able to meet him for a Mediterranean lunch in the Castro district. It was easy to spot his fierce signature mustache but behind that visage resides a refreshingly calm, self-effacing and thoughtful individual.
Crossgrove spent his formative years experimenting with lettering styles influenced by comic books and album covers, but towards the end of his high school years he turned to classical lettering and calligraphy. Although Crossgrove’s path to becoming a full-time type designer was circuitous, he never ceased designing letterforms. He did not rush immediately to college after high school but spent time exploring other directions (including painting and a lot of printmaking), not aware that type design could be a viable occupation. Then, during a visit to Boston in 1990, he learned otherwise when he met David Berlow, Mike Parker and Matthew Carter of Bitstream (the first digital type foundry). He came to the realization that “there was actually such a thing as the type industry and type design could be a real career.”
He rather spontaneously attended a late summer type conference, Type90 in Oxford, England, and returned to attend the printing program at Rochester Institute of Technology. His intention was to train as a professional printer with hopes of building his own independent type practice on the side. Although there were not a lot of classes offered for the “type concentration” part of his degree program, he augmented his training by applying for a summer position for “type enthusiasts” that he stumbled across in the back of Fine Print on Type. The position was a six-month internship at Adobe Systems in Mountain View, California. Adobe Type Manager David Lemon hired Crossgrove based upon a telephone interview and his portfolio, the contents which Crossgrove now wryly recalls as being “rather primitive.” Two separate Adobe internships exposed Crossgrove to talented Adobe type designers, including Carol Twombly and Robert Slimbach, who influenced and refined his sensibilities. At both Adobe and RIT Crossgrove worked with the Ikarus system, teaching himself details of typography such as spacing, kerning, etc.
A student of type history and type designers, Crossgrove traveled to printing museums in Europe to study the original drawings of lettering giants Rudolf Koch, Georg Trump and Hermann Zapf. One of his most respected type heroes is Czech type designer Oldřich Menhart (1897-1962) who trained as a calligrapher and printer before beginning a career in type design. Menhart, who “saw writing, calligraphy, lettering and type design as belonging to the same discipline”, designed one typeface for British Monotype, Menhart Roman and Italic, in 1934.
Crossgrove in San Francisco
After graduation from RIT in 1994 Crossgrove moved west to San Francisco where his highly technical printing education was more than adequate for his first position which he describes as “the curmudgeonly guy on the computer at the back of a quickie printer.” The shop was his necessary bread and butter as he continued to draw custom type designs on his own time.
Before long his side work received considerable attention. Curlz for Monotype (with Steve Matteson) was hugely popular (especially with my novelty-hungry students) in 1995. His Scripsit was given Serif Magazine’s Judge’s Choice Award in 1996. He also worked on heretofore unreleased proposals Tarantella Script, Ranunculus and Penmark. Following shortly after were Minska in 1997 for ITC and Reliq, with the look of ancient Greek graffiti, for Adobe in 1998.
Although his early novel faces were popular, this direction was not necessarily where Crossgrove’s predilections were leaning. Some of his formers classmate from RIT, on staff at Monotype Imaging, fed him projects, and finally his hard work turned into a full-time position in 2001.
Crossgrove’s work at Monotype started with translating several historical revivals for digital format. His Othello, in 2002 (with Steve Matteson), is the heavy, rustic face originally offered by Monotype in 1928 as an alternative to Rudolph Koch’s Neuland.
The delicate Fairbank allowed Crossgrove (in collaboration with Robin Nichols at Monotype in the UK) to work in a more calligraphic mode. The original design was by Alfred Fairbank (1895-1982), a disciple of Edward Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. It was Fairbanks’s only type face as he was more devoted to calligraphy and calligraphic activities and his role in the British Society of Scribes and Illuminators.
Crossgrove’s Advice for Fledgling Type Designers
Oldřich Menhart advocated for type designers to study old masters but then to develop a contemporary style. Similar advice comes from Crossgrove when he offers pearls of wisdom for aspiring type designers: “Get deeply into historical styles then create your own personal approach.” Additionally he suggests throwing away your first three type designs; he cites the Japanese practice of discarding the first 5 years of painting as an example. Another piece of advice is getting professional guidance. “You can train yourself but it is better to show your work to someone knowledgeable if you can.”
Crossgrove strongly believes in hand drawing: “I typically sketch letter shapes over and over, throughout the process of development, so that while the outlines are evolving in digital format, I’m testing shapes on paper at the same time.”
Expansive Original Faces
By 2003 Crossgrove was a seasoned and mature designer who was building a library of his own expansive type families. His ten-year project, Mundo Sans, has 14 styles with weights ranging from hairline to extremely bold. Inspired by faces like Gill, Futura and Syntax, Crossgrove “didn’t intend Mundo Sans to be revolutionary”; rather, he sought to create “a design with subtle pen ductus, a wide range of weights, and a fluid, unobtrusive italic.”
Described by some as Crossgrove’s magnum opus, the super family of Beorcana took 14 years to develop. The first release from his Terrestrial Design, Beorcana’s name refers to a runic letter for the European white birch tree, a symbol for new growth and possibility. It was an appropriate choice for a face that branched out to 28 styles.
Beorcana is a roman face designed without serifs, not a sans serif but rather a member of the unusual category of ‘serif less roman’ (or more appropriately, a calligraphic sans). The strokes appear to have grown from a pen, as does the very human diamond shaped dot over the i. Although it is customary for text faces to have serifs, this calligraphically inspired face is expressly designed for text.
The amount of work behind this design is staggering. Crossgrove created each of the styles using optical sizing, ie. designing each variation based on his visual judgment, not just increasing or decreasing the strokes by mathematical increments. His attention to scaling means that even the micro-style—as small as 3-points—harmonizes with all of the other sizes and weights. The Type Directors Club cited the design for excellence in 2007.
Biome (2009), another TDC winner, is what Crossgrove terms a “superelliptical sans, more fluid and organic than the typical sans serif”. Crossgrove points out that the soft elliptical forms are not symmetrical; if you print them out and flip them upside-down this will become apparent. It has a “retro-futuristic” feel, the sort of vibe that the Modernists were trying to accomplish (in a non-retro way) in the 1950’s.
Crossgrove is especially happy that he has been able to experience a wide variety of styles. Recently he worked on a revival of an Arabic type family, Noori Nastaliq, a connecting style of calligraphy characterized by sloping word alignments. Working with linguist Kamal Mansour, manager of non-Latin type at Monotype, the pair devised forms to fulfill the need to slowly descend along a base line. Using Open Type technology Crossgrove analyzed the original calligraphy to find a common joining scheme that would work technically while providing fluid, realistic written joins.
Crossgrove has plans for future designs, I’ve never released a serif text face of my own design. Origami is really meant for display. I think the prospect is a little intimidating when there are centuries of excellent serif book types in a huge range of styles. If I can come up with a design that serves modern purposes, I would like to complete a small serif family. I’d also like to finish a rough calligraphic design that’s been on hold for a long time: Tarantella Script. I think there is potential in the sort of eccentric, dark style of it.
Now in his 40’s, Crossgrove is well positioned between the old guard and the new. With his range of experience, his historical perspective and intense dedication his complete oeuvre will likely be substantial.
II. M&H Typecasting
While the digitally adapted Monotype Imaging is still active, the American Lanston Monotype did not fare as well. During the decades after Goudy, labor disputes and manufacturing issues plagued the company. It was resold a number of times before American Type Founders purchased it in 1969, then sold to Mackenzie and Harris (M&H) in San Francisco and finally in 1983 by Gerald Giampa (1950 – 2009). Giampa set up shop on Prince Edward Island where he manufactured the type casters until 1987 when, in 2000, the last remnants of the Lanston Monotype machine works and institutional records were lost in a tidal wave. Today all that remains are the rights to the Lanston Monotype name and font library, now owned by the digital font foundry, P22, in Buffalo, New York.
While in San Francisco we had a very quick peak at the type foundry, M&H Typecasting, one of the last stops along the Lanston Monotype trail. The foundry is located in the historic Presidio complex as part of the Arion Press. Because we arrived on a Sunday, the machines were not working; however the shelves were lined with packages of recently cast type and the row of machines attested to a busy operation. One can find a catalog of their fonts at their website.
How can you differentiate Lanston from British Monotype if you are a letterpress printer or student with access to metal type? Monotype is a general term covering a number of iterations of the original caster: composition, sorts, giant, supercaster and Thompson are all casters from Monotype and each machine casts a very different type. However, I have been taught that the shape of the nick is a reliable indicator.
Shown above left is a piece of Lanston Type from M&H, identifiable by the round knick. On the right is a piece of English Monotype from the Bixler Foundry in Skaneateles, New York, sporting a square nick. But of course the explanation of Monotype is never simple, and since we are not a type casting expert we turned to Rob LoMascolo, printer and trained type caster, for a better understanding of how to differentiate the two. (Rob is the proud owner of a 1968 English Composition Caster and plans to refurbish it in the near future.)
“The English/ American Monotype division is somewhat confusing. For example, the Bixlers use all English mats, but that does not mean that they are using all English Monotype equipment. English Monotype mats can be cast on an American caster, and American mats can be used on an English caster. The biggest difference between the American and the English mats is the depth of drive. The depth of drive is how deeply the letters are recessed into the mat, and thereby how high the face of the type will be on its body once cast. American mats are .030” and the English are .050”. The deeper depth of drive of the English mats makes type that will wear better, especially with characters that kern.”
Ok, have you got that? There is still a smattering of commercial Monotype casters across the US: in addition to M&H and Bixler are Skyline Type Foundry in Prescott, Arizona, and Sterling Foundries in Indianapolis, Indiana. Monotype casters also survive in the hands of dedicated private individuals who still cast their own type and sometimes work with serious printers, Hill & Dale (West Virginia), Firefly (Boston) and Ed Rayher’s Swamp Press in Northfield, Massachusetts.
Here’s hoping that a different sort of tidal wave (not the destructive sort but one of burgeoning interest in letterpress printing) helps to sustain the remaining Monotype casters for the foreseeable future.
In addition to our Interview : Some Sources Used for this Article.
Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 187 by Persifor Frazer, Apr 1919, pages 518-519.
Fine Print on Type, “Oldrich Menhart”, by Paul Duensing, San Francisco, 1989.
Catalogue of Printed Material issued by The Monotype Corporation.
The Monotype Story, by Fred Williams, Editor-Publisher, Type & Press, Spring 1984.
Stanley Morison: Significant Historian, 21 October 2011, HYPERLINK: “http://www.lawsonarchive.com/category/typographically-speaking/” Typographically Speaking, The Alexander S. Lawson Archive.
Barker, Nicolas, Stanley Morison, Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (June 1972).
Surviving Radical Technological Change through Dynamic Capability: Evidence from the Typesetter Industry, HYPERLINK : http://ideas.repec.org/s/oup/indcch.html”Industrial & Corporate Change. Oxford University Press, Volume 6 (1997), No: 2 (March), Pages: 341-77.
Burian, Veronika and Shaw, Paul. Type with Spirit: The Work of Oldřich Menhart. Codex: The Journal of Letterforms, Fall 2012.
Smitshuijzen, Edo, Interview with Kamal Mansour, Manager of non-Latin products at Monotype. Hyperlink http://www.khtt.net/person/250/en
Coming In November 2013 -Andreu Balius and his Type Republic in Barcelona.
July 25, 2013 § 4 Comments
Dates of Visits
October 1971 / July 22, 2013
1/ Bertoia Studios
3/ Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound
James A Michener Art Museum
138 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
July 20 – October 13, 2013
Background / Born in Italy in 1915, a teenage Harry Bertoia first traveled to Canada but spent his high school years in Detroit, living with his brother Oreste, an employee at General Motors. There Bertoia attended the Cass Technical High School and the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts before earning a scholarship to nearby Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1937 Cranbrook was an institution that allowed students to pursue multiple disciplines—a perfect fit for the multi-talented and inquisitive young artist. He initially worked in the metal department creating jewelry of such high caliber that his work was included in exhibitions at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York City alongside well-known artists such as Alexander Calder.
Among Bertoia’s associates in the art school community were Charles and Ray Eames (for whom he created wedding rings), Florence Schust (later Knoll) and Eero Saarinen. All of those relationships would generate professional opportunities for Bertoia after graduation—however, the most important personal liaison was with Brigitta Valentiner, a Cranbrook textile artist, daughter of the director of the Detroit Institute of Art and his future wife.
At the invitation of the Eames Studio in California, Bertoia moved west in 1943 to help his former classmates investigate the commercial potential of molded wood furniture. Although history books would later credit Bertoia for his contributions in the studio, at that time the lack of recognition lead him to find work elsewhere.
After seven years on the west coast, a visit followed by an invitation from Hans and Florence Knoll enticed Bertoia to move his wife and children east to Pennsylvania. The Knoll furniture company sponsored the artist for two years while he freely experimented in his own studio. The atmosphere was much like Cranbrook; working without formal deadlines and taking time to develop the potentials of material and form.
This commercial and artistic partnership gave birth to what would become a classic in the Knoll collection. Bertoia’s sculptural furniture, comprised of criss-crossed steel rods formed in specially created jigs, was named the Diamond Series. First released in 1952, the design expressed much of the spirit of the Mid-Century Modern: a single unbroken main component and a clean aerodynamic shape. The lightness and space captured between the metal rods was a fresh and whimsical take on the “vessel and valley” chair form that Bertoia had developed with Charles Eames.
Each of the Diamond seating series, although manufactured from essentially industrial materials, was a comfortable fit for the human body. Most significantly, the success of Bertoia’s design enabled him to purchase a studio in the small town of Bally, a home for his family in nearby Barto, and the financial freedom to work independently for the remainder of his career.
The First Bertoia Studio Visit, 1971
Twenty years after the release of the Diamond Series I was a sophomore in college and tentatively declaring sculpture as my major of choice. Because I was completely baffled about the future implications of such a profession, my professor James J. Kelly (The Sculptural Idea) suggested I visit a local sculptor. I followed Kelly’s advice and arranged to visit the Bertoia Studios, naively unaware of the artist’s history or importance in the international art world.
My old jeep carried me along the rural roads of Berks County to the tiny burg of Bally, Pennsylvania. Bertoia greeted me outside his large studio and invited me inside to observe his work in fabrication. There I found a few young men wrestling with a large suspended piece of metal, attempting to correctly position it onto a sculpture on the giant platform below. (Most likely it was Bertoia’s son, Val, and another studio worker.) A number of Bertoia’s metal rod sculptures-in-progress were scattered around the space. The long vertical rod clusters, finished in a brownish-red patina, were a familiar site. We had one in the lobby of the art department at school, and we occasionally dared each other to brush up against it to make the bell-like sounds flow out.
Bertoia asked me about my future. I am sure I had a very weak response, clueless as I was of the world beyond my college environment. Perhaps it was my lack of direction that motivated Bertoia to make two suggestions: 1. Go to Italy and study art and sculpture and 2. Attend Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan (his alma mater) after graduation. Fortunately, as things turned out, I was later able to follow both pieces of advice.
The Second Bertoia Studio Visit, 2013
Forty years after meeting Harry Bertoia I learned that an exhibition dedicated to his work would open in July at the James A Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a few miles from my home. Discovering that the Bertoia studio was still active, I contacted Val Bertoia to arrange a visit.
We traveled about an hour to the address Val had provided and waited to meet up with a group tour in progress (private tours can be arranged). Apart from the Bertoia sculptures at that location I realized that nothing looked familiar. My memory told me that there was a large gravel courtyard yet today there was only a grass-covered lawn. While recalling a number of large industrial buildings, instead we found a home and a stone barn. It was strangely disorienting but Val was a welcoming soul and I shrugged the feeling away, chalking it up to my age.
We were invited into the stone barn where we found perhaps 50 or more of Bertoia’s Sonambient sculptures— kinetic works that produce sounds when activated. The forms were mostly clusters of vertical metal rods of copper and bronze welded to bases. Other pieces included pairs of short rods suspended from the ceiling and immense round and rectangular gongs. Bertoia did not create his sculptures with a specific sound in mind but rather delighted in the surprise tones of each piece. Val treated us a live performance spontaneously named “Summer Heat on a Full Moon with Harry Sounds.” (It WAS rather warm in the unventilated barn at noon in late July.)
Four large microphones suspended overhead remained from when Bertoia recorded 360 individual magnetic tape recordings of his Sonambient music. Sounds resonated across the space as Val plucked, stroked, squeezed or rubbed the sculptures: other worldly, ethereal, with hints of nature, rain, thunder, wind-in-trees, rushing water after a storm. (Watching the following Youtube video helps you get the idea .)
Afterwards we took a short walk in the nearby woods. (Poison ivy alert—wear shoes and socks.) The grounds were full of works by Bertoia as well as those of Val, an artist in his own right. At walk’s end we passed a massive round gong, reportedly weighing a ton, that serves as the reverent place keeper over the graves of Bertoia and his wife.
After the home tour we had a fast glimpse inside the studio in Bally. There we saw the diamond chair prototypes and but again, I felt no tinge of recollection of the space. Another disappointment.
Fortunately all became clearer the next day when I came across a photo on the Knoll web site. It showed Bertoia sitting on the platform that I remembered so clearly. A quick check with Val confirmed that it was the same studio I had visited the day before. “The asbestos platform was initially used for welding up large sculptures. Here’s the story that Jim Flanagan told me much later. Harry wanted the whole platform (which may have been nailed to the floor) moved further away from the windows. When he asked Jim and Ed Flanaganto move it by hand with ropes, they could not do it with all their strength. Harry yelled for them to move aside, and he moved the whole platform by himself. I always believed he was superman, and he even told me one time, when I was a boy asking what is under that trapdoor at the entrance ramp; ‘Superman lives there.’ Well, certainly, Superman worked there.”
Bertoia at the Michener Museum
The exhibit at the Michener Museum fills two small rooms with monoprints, sculpture and jewelry. The Diamond chair, along with the form used for its fabrication, and a few variations from the diamond series are clustered together on one platform.
The monoprints, mostly ink on rice paper, were often Bertoia’s plans for future sculptures but the works stood up as art prints on their own. The subtlety of repetitive fine lines, the restrained black and white tonal range and the compositional strength is impressive.
It is entirely appropriate that the exhibit space is adjacent to the museum’s George Nakashima room. Val spoke of the many visits the Bertoias made to the Nakashima home and studio near New Hope, Pennsylvania and the warm friendships between the families. There was a relationship between the sculpture and the furniture too—Nakashima wood pieces made the perfect sounding board for Bertoia’s Sonambient sculpture.
The sad bit is that you cannot touch any of the sculptures. The room is silent although one pair of headphones allows the visitor to hear Bertoia’s Sonambient recordings—it is not the same as hearing and feeling the sounds in the flesh. What would happen if the museum allowed guests to play with the sculpture? It would be mesmerizing for the visitor but disruptive to the rest of the museum I suppose. I confess that I could not resist playing my own concert while I waited for Val to arrive at the homestead.
May 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
Date of Visit: April 2013
The German Pavilion for the Barcelona World Exposition, 1929
Web Link: www.miesbcn.com
In sharp contrast to Barcelona’s curvaceous and ornamental buildings of the Modernisma movement (1888-1910) is a minimalist icon of the International Style, Mies Van der Rohe’s German Pavilion. The building is actually a 1986 recreation of the original that was built in 1929 but the famous Barcelona Chair found inside is authentic. The chair, frequently attributed to the well-known Mies, was designed in collaboration with another German designer, Lilly Reich, who teamed with the architect on furniture and interior projects between 1925 and 1938. This time span is the only period in which Mies designed furniture, later noting, “ A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” It was certainly easier with Riech, who was trained in industrial textiles, at his side. The chair, named after the city in which it premiered, was their greatest joint project, made when the duo served as the artistic directors for the German Pavilion in Barcelona’s World Exposition in 1929.
We started our day nearby, taking in the mural paintings in the Museu National d’Art de Catalunya on the little mountain of Montjuic high above the city. The neo-Baroque style which building served as the Spanish pavilion was more in line with what people considered as architecture in that day. We descended many levels of stairs alongside the cascading Magic Fountain to street level and starting searching for the Mies building. It was tucked away, not immediately visible, off to the left. It must have been a shocking site in 1929 because it is still a novel edifice in Barcelona today.
My traveling companion chose not to join in the visit. He has read the TripAdvisor comments including one that advised “just look at it from the outside, There is nothing to the inside … Literally, one of the worst cost/benefit ratios in my entire traveling career. We scooted through in under a minute…” It’s hard to imagine why someone would visit this out-of-the-way building with such a lack of understanding but travel compels some people to blindly trudge through any and all attractions.
The 4 euro charge did seem a bit steep but there were plenty of takers streaming in and out at the entrance steps. The guard, a grouchy young woman, barked at us as I was handed the camera across the stair threshold, “This is the entrance, don’t cross if you haven’t paid!” Indeed it would be fairly easy to click off a few decent pictures and a quick peek if you weren’t up for the entrance fee.
We, like you, have seen this chair (authentic and knock-offs) ad infinitum in fancy corporate lobbies, spas and private homes. We admired it in Johnson’s Glass House a few years before, but this is where it truly belonged, echoing the building’s cantilevered structure and commanding center stage against the marble and onyx background.
The chair was originally designed as a throne for the King of Spain (with matching stools for royal attendants) during the pavilion’s opening ceremonies. Made from white pigskin, they were barely showing their 84 years. (Imagine your own white furniture after only 10!) There are conflicting counts on the number of pieces needed to produce the leather upholstery, but let’s go with the version that claims that 148 individual panels of leather were cut, hand welted and hand tufted. Although only these few were produced for the pavilion, many tens of thousands were mass produced after Mies sold the design rights to Knoll International (several years after Reich died).
The only other free standing object was a sculpture that animated the space with a slow dance. Several water features were calming, flat and quiet, matching the mood of the building.
We had seen the “Chair of the Century” and it was time to join the endless lines at Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada—a building that promised to hold the attention of any traveler, whether they knew what they were looking at or not.
March 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
I. Benjamin Franklin Court
Gentlewomen of the Press
317 Chestnut Street
II. Monotype Factory Building
Women typecasters during war-time
24th and Locust Street
III. Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
What do we know about the history of women in the graphic arts? According to all of the major academic texts on the subject virtually no women worked in the field before the mid-twentieth century. However, despite the impression left by those authors there have been women printers, typesetters, type casters, punch cutters, type drafters and type designers since the 16th century. Women have worked alongside their fathers, husbands and brothers as valuable partners, regularly taking over while men traveled, left to fight in wars, were incarcerated or inebriated. If the absent man was able to return to his press the women were frequently demoted or dismissed.
Just as their own families have marginalized the roles of these women so have modern design historians. In 1920, the eminent type historian Daniel Berkeley Updike, (himself a grandson and great-grandson of the colonial Goddard women printers) wrote of the female worker matter-of-factly and dismissively, “women in the type foundry, like child labor, is nothing new.” In essence, women were there but of they were of no consequence. Fortunately things are changing and women from the present, as well as the past, are getting their due recognition.
Benjamin Franklin Court
Colonial Ladies of Letterpress
Part of the Independence National Historical Park includes a colonial print shop on the former site of Benjamin Franklin’s home. The press now houses a few type cases, a bindery and a large antique printing press used for live demonstrations. On each Saturday of March a short lecture, Gentlewomen of the Press (Women Printers of the 18th Century), highlights some of the women in colonial print shops. My son discovered the free event and he and his girlfriend gamely accompanied me to the presentation.
Finding the press took a bit of persistence. The Franklin Court complex is located inside of a city block with minimal signage to announce its whereabouts. The entrance begins next to the colonial post office and snakes past the construction site that currently covers most of the Franklin museum complex (slated for completion by Fall 2103).
We entered just in time to hear the ranger’s enthusiastic explanation as to why colonial Philadelphia had a high rate of female literacy. The colonial Quakers encouraged women to read for participation in Bible study, a necessity in a religion that required self-learning rather than instruction by church officials. Literacy was certainly an advantage for women in the press shop (although we’ve read of one illiterate woman printer, Dinah Nuthead, who became the tenth woman licensed to print in the colonies in 1696.)
Our presenter surveyed numerous Franklin women and female associates who were active in the printing field, most of whom fit the pattern of marginalization we noted earlier. Benjamin’s wife, Deborah Read (1708-1774), was the manager of the family press during Franklin’s long absences overseas— holding down the fort and helping to expand the business throughout the colonies. Franklin only credited his wife for her financial prowess, “Frugality is…a virtue I could never acquire in myself, but I was lucky enough to find it in a wife, who thereby became a fortune to me.”
It was the female in-laws of Franklin that actually “got inky” at the press. Ann (Smith) Franklin (1696 -1763) the sister-in-law of Benjamin and widow of his brother, became the first woman printer in Newport, Rhode Island at age 39 when she inherited her husband’s press in 1735. She ran the press while raising five children alone, later joined by son James when he completed his apprenticeship with Uncle Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1748. When James died Anne (then age 65) fed the family by continuing the print shop assisted by her son-in-law and her two daughters, who were “correct and quick compositors.”
Franklin was also in a business partnership with Elizabeth Timothy (?–1757), a widow in South Carolina, whose newspaper printing skills were praised by Franklin over those of her late husband. Mrs. Timothy, as a woman, could not be legally recognized in her position and therefore placed the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter, on the paper’s masthead as the official publisher. Using a male child’s name was a common tactic for printing widows and one of the reasons that many women printers names are unrecorded.
The most historically notable woman of the group was Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), daughter of another female printer, Sarah Updike Goddard, and ancestor of the aforementioned Daniel Berkeley Updike. Mary Katherine took over her brother William’s newspaper during his frequent incarcerations for “public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper” and while he fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1777, Congress authorized her to print the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the original signers, but she made her livelihood and reputation at the newspaper. One of her contemporaries, newspaper publisher Isaiah Thomas, considered her,“ an expert and correct compositor, doing good printing besides fine work with copperplates.” Nevertheless, not all was peaceful after the Revolution as brother William returned to the press and summarily dismissed Mary Katherine. She lost her printing business to her brother despite a slew of influential names attached to her letters of petition to the government and five attempted lawsuits. She persevered by selling books, stationery and dry goods.
We saw the press in operation by two different women park guards who competently made their way through the printing as they explained the process. Several woman-centric printed items were on sale. Satisfied in mind but not in stomach, we lunched a few doors away at Fork restaurant.
The Monotype Factory
Women in War Time Prove “We can do it!”
The next stop was 24th and Locust Street, location of the former Monotype Factory. This time Philadelphia-based graphic designer and Hofstra Design professor, Bez Ocko, accompanied us. Although the name Monotype is now associated with digital fonts the term was first used to describe a metal type-casting machine sold in the United States and Great Britain. In 1887 Tolbert Lanston designed the Monotype prototype which required two pieces of equipment, a keyboard and a metal typecaster. The process began with an operator typing the text using a keyboard of 276 keys, the amount required to cover all of a font variants such as italic, bold, etc. Each key strike triggered a number of holes punched along the length of a 4-inch wide paper ribbon. The typecasting machine used the perforated ribbon to dictate the specific order in which individual metal letters were cast from a brass a matrix. (We will include much more about the Monotype in our next posting in late March.)By 1905 the American Lanston Monotype Company moved its manufacturing to Philadelphia, first on Callowhill Street and later to 24th and Locust. The new five-story brick structure housed 200,000 square-feet of matrix making, letter drafting, tooling, assembling, milling, casting, inspection, engineering and training facilities.
Today the only remainders of the Philadelphia Monotype factory are the stone letters over the door and past volumes of the house organ, Monotype: A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency. In those publications one can read how women at Monotype and across the country, normally confined to keyboard input, filled in for men during wartime. The articles praise the women for their important contribution in war time but make it clear that it is only a temporary situation.
From an 1918 edition, “The present shortage of male Monotype operators and runners has opened a new field for the girls and they are making good at it.” From Omaha, Nebraska came the story of how a woman became a Monotype type caster during the man shortage of World War I. “As the weeks rolled by and no suitable candidate for the job appeared it began to look as if our foreman would be compelled to operate the casters himself. About this time a copy of Monotype containing the picture of a young lady operator in New York fell into the hands of a Miss Wells who was working in the bindery. She applied and after considering the matter for some time we decided to give her a chance to show what she could do. She began by watching how the work was done. This she did for several days after which she was taught to take off the galleys, keep the metal pots full, and the temperature of the metal right, to put on the spools of copy and the other incidentals of caster running. She has not attempted to change the molds but hopes to be able to do so in the future. As matters now stand Miss Wells is learning as rapidly as the average young man and is more dependable.”…“In this connection it might be well to consider that all trades are breaking down traditions and find that woman can perform many operations for which they were supposed to be in some way unfitted.”
Despite the women’s suitability for their work the male run trade unions squashed any future prospects. “At the last meeting of the American Publishers Association there rose a request to the International Typographic Union to train women operators for the newspaper, but the proposition did not meet the approval of that body, who considered the newspaper end of the business as too strenuous for the women.” In this case it was the union, not family members or the actual workshop managers that kept women out of the foundry.
4:00 PM The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
December 2, 2012 – April 14, 2013
Our last stop of the day was a joint showing of the work of graphic designer Paula Scher (b. 1948) and her illustrator husband Seymour Chwast (b. 1931). The exhibition was the perfect demonstration, not only of Ms. Scher’s talent, but also of how far women have come in terms of professional and marital equality. The couple was given equal billing and space in the large gallery. Both spouses showed high quality work, but at a distance Sher’s exudes a more powerful energy, a deliberate approach she cultivated in response to the environment where her work is often seen, New York City.
Scher, educated at Tyler School of Art just outside Philadelphia, began her career designing album covers for CBS and Atlantic Records. In 1984, she co-founded Koppel & Scher with fellow Tyler graduate Terry Koppel and it was during that partnership that she designed her intensely controversial Swatch poster. The poster was a near perfect replication of the travel poster designed by Herbert Matter in 1934. Although she obtained the rights from the Matter estate, and it appears that she was clearly referring to Swiss culture, Matter and the dying era of Swiss design, the subsequent critical uproar included accusations of plagiarism or a least a lack of professional integrity. Perhaps part of the controversy was that Scher was a woman appropriating the work of a male icon, (recently deceased) and the perceived lack of reverence was just too provocative.
The exhibition display was big and bright. The space, divided equally in half, featured walls filled to the rafters with their work plus separate but equal media presentations. The east wall, displaying a single A from Scher’s logo for the Type Director’s Club is directly countered by the west wall sporting the organic A Chwast drew for Artone India Ink. Each spouse was given their proper due, a sweet end to a day tinged with female inequality and anonymity.
One can never know if her predecessors had the luxury (or burden) of reflecting on their professional relationships but perhaps they might have had some of the same thoughts as Scher, “If I had not been with him, would I have lived my life exactly this way, or am I with him because I always wanted to do it this way? I don’t know. I ask myself this question all the time.’’ * To see more of her work and hear Ms. Scher in her own words you can view her interview, Paula Scher : The Geography of Design by Nicholas Heller.
Barlow, Marjorie Dana. Notes on Women Printers in Colonial America and The Untied States, 1639-1975, The Hroswitha Club, University Press of Virginia, 1976.
Photo Mary Katherine Goddard: Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library
Monotype Doing Her Bit, While Her Soldier is Serving His Country. Monotype A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency, Published by the Lanston Monotype Company of Philadelphia.
•Volume 5, No 6, March April 1918, p 133.
• Volume 6, No 1, May June 1918.
Tiger, Caroline. Together – never; except in an exhibit of their graphic designs at the Art Museum. The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 1, 2012.
Paula Scher: The Geography of Design (Part 2) Nicholas Heller, August 2009. Youtube.
Written by Nancy Stock-Allen
February 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
Date of Visit: January 2013
I. The Gandhi Museum
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
II. The Sarasvati Mahal Library
Thanjuvar, Tamil Nadu
Link: Library catalog
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Near Maduri, Tamil Nadu
The state of Tamil Nadu (Tamil country), once called Madras, is located on the southeastern coast of India. Inhabited by the Tamil people since 500 BC, it still holds fast to its regional language, Tamil, used along with Hindi (the national language) and English on official signs. The state is home to a rich history of architectural and literary works achieved during the powerful dynasties of the Chera, Chola and Pandya. That heritage, threatened with extinction during a period of European colonization, has thankfully been saved by strong social reformists and conservationists for us to enjoy in the 21st century.
I. The Gandhi Museum / Preserving the Legacy
We retreated from the cacophony of Madurai’s streets for a few hours to tour the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. By coincidence it was January 26th, Republic Day, the annual holiday commemorating the adoption of the Indian Constitution and when we arrived the front garden was full of students making speeches and carrying flags. Once inside the building we were quickly swept up into the story of India’s struggle for independence starting in 1598 when the British East India Trading Company commenced their campaign of colonization. The Englishmen pitted regional Indian rulers against each other, bribed others and bludgeoned the rest to gain control over of a major portion of the country. (Similarly the Portuguese, French, Danes and Dutch injected their own spice trading groups.) Once established the British traders sucked the country’s resources dry by denying Indians the right to manufacture their own goods and forcing them to buy imports from England. Native landowners and peasants alike were highly taxed and that revenue bought Indian commodities to ship back to England. As John Sullivan wrote, “The Englishman flourishes like a sponge, drawing up the riches from the banks of the Ganges and squeezing them on the banks of the Thames.”
The British Parliament was advised to obliterate Indian culture and religion in an infamous report by Lord Macaulay, who suggested the following to his superiors back in England, “… I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.” Missionaries were dispatched to introduce Christianity to India as part of that scheme.
When Queen Victoria assumed the role of Empress of India in 1858 westernization accelerated. Railroads and the telegraph reduced travel and communication time across the vast continent and English was instituted as the official language (facilitating more contact between India and the Western world). Indians, however, were not convinced that British ways were “good and greater than their own.” To the contrary, Indian scholars began to rediscover their indigenous history and literature spawning an Indian Renaissance, a resurgence of national pride and an urgency to expel the colonists. Many dedicated Indian patriots and martyrs would perish in the pursuit of independence over the next century.
We now know that it was the transcendent personality of Mahatma Gandhi that successfully inspired India’s masses by his new method of action, “satyagraha” (a word Gandhi combined from the Sanskrit for “ truth” and “holding firm”). The title of Mahatma, or “Great Soul” was bestowed by Gandhi’s contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, the author of India’s national anthem. (If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember that Aina Cederblom, from our last post, taught weaving at an experimental school run by Tagore near Kolkata.)
About half of the museum space presents the arc of Gandhi’s personal and public life. We learned that it was in Madurai that Gandhi chose to adopt the dhoti, a simple Indian peasant garment, as a symbol of his solidarity with all classes of his countrymen. He spun the thread for his personal clothing on a spinning wheel, setting an example to urge Indians to resume making their own goods. The exhibit concludes with a small room containing a single profoundly moving artifact—the blood stained dhoti that Gandhi wore on the day of his assassination. The whole experience gave us a deep respect for the combined efforts of Gandhi and his predecessors who helped India regain self-rule in 1947 and preserved the rich cultural heritage of India.
II. The Maharaja Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library / Preserving Literature
Thanjavur, South India
About 200 kilometers north of Madurai is Thanjavur, a cultural mecca that evolved under the patronage of kings who supported religion and the cultural arts of music, dance, art and literature. The city is most known for its stunningly beautiful Brihadisvara Temple built during the Chola dynasty by Raja Raja the Great (985-1016). We visited the enormous temple complex at dusk while the setting sun best emphasized the sculptural facades.
Thanjavur priests and scholars were active writers of religious and scholarly manuscripts, many composed in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism. The nearby royal palace stored much of their work in a library named Sarasvati Mahal during the Nayak period of the 16th century. A later ruler, Raja Serfoji II (1798-1832), enlarged the collection by dispatching pandits (experts in Sanskrit) to buy or copy Sanskrit manuscripts from Northern India and other important Sanskrit centers.
Serfoji, an ardent bibliophile, studied English, French, Italian and Latin under Danish missionary, Reverend C. F. Schwartz. In 1805 he set up a printing press in 1805 in the palace and equipped it with “cast Devanagari type imported from Madras”.  (Devanagari is one of several writing systems used for recording Sanskrit.) Other sources describe the type as stone type. “The Types and Blocks were prepared using soft stone and hard wood.”  The press, known as Navavidyakalanichi, was inaugurated with an edition of Maratha Pachanga (The Almanac) produced on European paper. Serfoji also ordered translations of English story books for educating village children.The royal library eventually passed into public hands upon the death of the last Maratha queen in 1983.
The library is still situated within the royal palace complex in the heart of Thanjavur. We arrived on a Tuesday before the 10 am opening (There are a number of conflicting sources on the opening days and times. Tuesday seems the most reliable). We first viewed the palace art gallery next door which was undergoing extensive renovation—a work in progress that will be far superior after completion. The library however was well worth the visit.
The brightly painted exterior book store hints at what will be for the entire palace complex in the future. Once inside a hallway leads you to junction between a museum on the right and the library archives on the left. The museum very strictly prohibits any photography and the four or so grim-faced guards in charge of the small museum loudly slap the showcases with dust rags, glaring at all visitors to show that they mean business. (The library officials suggested that we scan images to illustrate this piece from The Painted Treasures of the Sarasvati Mahal Library .)
All sorts of books are on view: palm leaf books, manuscripts and printed bound books of diverse subject matter: Vedas (Hindu scriptures), epic poems, purana, (histories of the universe from creation to destruction) philosophy, modi (business registers), jyothisa (astrology), medicine, literature and scientific illustrations. Well-known works including the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata and several versions of the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey) including one known as Valmiki Ramayanam which features all 24,000 verses written in Grantha script so miniature that the letters are impossible to read with naked eye. (A magnifying glass is suspended above for viewing.) Some of the palm books are entirely script while others are illuminated with a single color or elaborate multiple color decorations. Also on display are maps, early Western books and curios such as the smallest and largest palm leaf books.
It is a bit confusing to sort out some of the facts about the collection. According to a library-produced pamphlet for tourists the oldest dated palm leaf manuscript, the Andhrabhagavatam, by Telugu poet Bammera Pothana, is dated 1432 (although Pothana’s lifespan was 1450-1510). Yet a book the library published in 2011 the oldest palm leaf manuscript is the Gadyachintamani written in 1550.
We were most fascinated by the books made from palm leaves, a common book material in ancient India. The process of preparing a palm leaf for writing is labor intensive: the dried leaves are cut to equal lengths, drilled for the string binding, boiled in water, dried again and then buried in sand before a final polish with conch shells. A salaka (metal stylus) was used to inscribe the text into the leaf surface and then washed with a mixture of charcoal and vegetable juice to add contrast to the letters. The finished leaves were smoked over a fire and coated with juices to provide protection from insect damage.
In the 1700′s a plant-based paper was beginning to be manufactured as a substitute for palm leaf material. The paper manuscripts were written using wood, bamboo or quill pens with an ink that was a mixture of lamp soot and extracts of the needle bush (Vachellia farnesiana). The natural preservative for paper was a bath in a turmeric and water solution.
Behind the Scenes Preservation and Transcription
Today the library’s mission includes preservation of the collection, recording it on microfilm as well as transcribing the ancient texts into computers for publication. Anxious to know more we asked to see some of the work behind the scenes. We were grateful for the limited access granted by head librarian, Dr. S. Sudarshan, to see the transcription and preservation processes. We were introduced to one of the Telugu pandits, Mr. D. Ravi, who graciously conducted a short tour of the four manuscript divisions which are divided by language (Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu).
One of the pandits was translating and hand transcribing content from an ancient palm leaf book. She was handwriting the entire text in ball point pen on paper, preparing it for electronic entry in the nearby computer center.
Large wooden cabinets hold the manuscripts along one side of the archives. Although there is no air-conditioning or climate control the storage is relatively stable deep within the thick stone-walled building. As a precaution if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees the palm leaf pages are not handled. (The library computers are pampered with air-conditioning inside a separate glass walled section.) Hopefully environmental control will come for the manuscripts in the future, but for now the collection is preserved using traditional natural methods. Each palm-leaf is routinely cleaned with Citronella, an extract of lemon grass which insures flexibility of the leaves and acts as an insecticide. If the cleaning process lightens the lettering it is refreshed by a wash of black ink and oil. Approximately 60 of the 25,000 palm leaf manuscripts are cleaned each day.
Mr. Ravi opened the first storage cabinet and out flowed the lush odor of the Citronella. Each manuscript is individually wrapped in white linen, tied with a string and identified on the outside. Our guide kindly untied one to demonstrate the flexibility of a preserved leaf that was several hundred years old.
In another section of the building paper books were in various stages of repair. Stabilization of holes and tears in delicate pages is achieved by layering a piece translucent “Japan paper” (we suspect it was rice paper) over the entire page and then trimmed.
A small group of men was binding newly printed books containing the text from an ancient palm leaf book manuscript. We saw similar reprints for sale in the library bookstore and in shops inside temples all over Tamil Nadu.
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Preserving Sanskrit and the ancient Grantha Script
Although India has one national language, Hindi, it also recognizes 22 regional languages out of it hundreds of local tongues. Without any expertise in this area we are reluctant to wade into the topic of Indian languages but what we surmise is that there are two major branches of language development in Tamil Nadu. One is the Sanskrit family—a historical language related to modern Indian languages in much the same way that Greek and Latin connect with western languages. Separately there is the Dravidian family of languages, 85 in number including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam systems that we observed in the Sarasvati Mahal library collection. What muddles the water is the fact that some of the Dravidian languages can be used to write Sanskrit while other can reproduce the full range of sounds in Sanskrit.
Although it is an ancient language, Sanskrit is still used in some instances in the modern world. For example when yoga teachers instruct their students, they frequently use the Sanskrit names for positions, ie: Adho-mukha svanasana is Sanskrit for downward dog. Om, ॐ, is also a Sanskrit word.
A more academic use of Sanskrit is in religious practices, including Hinduism. We were able to observe Sanskrit as a living language while visiting a traditional Vedic school dedicated to educating boys of Brahmin birth to become Hindu priests. While one does not expect boys between the ages of 10 and 18 to be interested in conversing with older adults these fellows were a respectful and inquisitive group. They were enthusiastic in sharing their Sanskrit lesson books using Grantha script, a once common form now replaced in the secular world with Devanagari script. They were a lively group but when it was time for their twice daily chanting and prayer ceremony they scrambled into their places, executed some nostril breathing exercises and then flipped open their books to chant in unison as a cohesive whole.
Be not like the frog in the well. The frog in the well knows nothing bigger or grander than its well. So are all (bigots) narrow-minded persons, they do not see anything bigger than their own wells. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886).
Unless otherwise noted, all images 2013 © designhistory.org.
 The Indian Antiquary, page 194 June 7,1872.
 Srinivasanm G, Treasure Trove in Thanjavur, The Daily Hindu, November 7, 2011.
 Wujastyk, Dominik, Thanjavur Library – A Realm of Knowledge, The Sampradaya Sun-Independnet Vaisnava News, Oct 14, 2012.