December 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Date of Visit: November 2014
Numerous Churches in Aksum and Lalibela
According to the ancient Julian calendar Christmas (Ganna) will arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015. The holiday will begin with a day of fasting followed by a 4 am church service the next day. No special events happen until January 19th when a 3-day celebration (Timkat) commemorates the baptism of Christ. There is no exchange of presents, instead a traditional feast, music and games are enjoyed after religious ceremonies. Clearly not part of the Christian world’s Christmas frenzy, Ethiopia enjoys its own treasures of early Christian architecture, artifacts and Bibles. In November 2014, Designtraveler photographer, Eric Allen, visited the country for a humanitarian mission but took time off to visit ancient churches and photograph the Byzantine illustration in early Bibles.
Ethiopia is the only African nation never colonized by another country therefore no crusading army or missionary ever imposed its religion on the populace. Christianity came peacefully in the 1st century when a prisoner from Tyre, Frumentius, converted a ruler of the Aksumite kingdom; by the 4th century it was adopted as the official state religion, making Ethiopia the second Christian nation in the world (after Armenia).
Moslems conquered neighboring Egypt in 640, leaving Ethiopia cut off from the rest of the Christian world (except for a weak link to the surviving Coptic Church in Egypt). This separation along with the blending of the spirits and devils of the established African traditional faiths made for a unique form of Christianity.
The Churches and Bibles of Lalibela
The mountain town of Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, is home to eleven churches hewn from living volcanic rock. The edifices, constructed in the 12th century, are positioned in a manner that replicates Jerusalem. The churches in the Lalibela area are entirely hand hewn from rock, beginning at the earth’s surface and continuing underground.
The Holy City of Aksum
About 300 BC the Aksumite empire, a civilization that, in its heyday, rivaled Rome and Persia, established a capital in Aksum. One can still visit a number of inscribed stone stelae from that period.
Erected in the 4th century Aksum’s holiest church, St. Mary of Zion, is reportedly the home to the Ark of the Covenant. During the 10th century the ruling power shifted to the Zagwe Dynasty, practitioners of a Judaic form of Christianity. The capital moved to Lalibela, 200 miles to the south.
All photographs Eric Allen
Additional Content Sources:
Cotter, Holland. Bedrock of Art and Faith, April 20, 2012, New York Times.
November 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Date of visit: September 2014
25 Rue du 1er Film,
69008 Lyon, France
Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
13, rue de la Poulaillerie
69002 Lyon, France
Mémorial de la prison de Montluc
4 rue Jeanne Hachette
69003 Lyon, France
Lyon’s geographic position at the confluence of important European trade routes has fostered its wealth and intellectual growth since its days as the capital of Gaul. Today it is a center of gastronomy, banking, history and architecture. In the evenings, the city glows in warm lights illuminating the facades of many of the beautiful landmarks. By day visitors can experience other forms of light—projections of cinematic history, typesetting with strobe lights, enlightened French cuisine and the light of truth shone upon the dark relics of the Gestapo.
The Institute Lumière
During the late 1800’s, inventors sought ways to create the illusion of motion using still photographs. Through the efforts of Lyon residents, the Lumière brothers, that illusion was achieved, and for the first time the moving images were projected for an audience to enjoy. Their invention, the Cinematographe, a combination camera and projector, makes Lyon the birthplace of cinema.
Auguste and Louis Lumière, (lumière is ‘light’ in French) inherited a photographic heritage and wealth from their father, a manufacturer of photographic supplies. Their former family residence, Villa Lumière, now preserved as a museum was our first destination in Lyon.
We arrived at Institut Lumière on a rainy but warm September afternoon. The building is an opulent art nouveau affair with many of its period details intact. First floor galleries are devoted to a history of cinematography with displays of antique artifacts from the early attempts at image animation: shadow puppetry, magic lanterns and zoetropes. One of the Lumieres’ inspirations, Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope (1891) is included in working condition. Edison’s device was a standing wooden box with a peephole through which only one person could watch. The Lumières’ Cinematographe (1895) not only projected to audience, the hand cranking power source allowed portability.
Using their employees as ‘actors’ the brothers first film, La Sortie de usines Lumière (1894), captured a crowd of men and women leaving the nearby Lumière manufacturing plant. The brothers filmed ten such “documentary shorts” and then sold tickets for public displays in theaters. The culture of public cinema was born.
Louis turned his attention to color photography, experimenting with dyed potato flour to separate color in an additive process he named ‘autochrome’ in 1903. His ever-inventive mind moved on to experiments including huge circular panoramas and 3-D photography.
The second floor of the museum presents Lumière projects outside the field of photography. Auguste concentrated on medical inventions in response to the horrific injuries sustained by soldiers in World War I. He developed a special gauze bandage for burns (still used today) as well as a functioning prosthetic hand for amputees. (Undoubtedly the loss of a younger brother in that conflict was an influence.)
Cinema is the focus of the institute and a large modern film complex on the grounds hosts current movie showings and cultural events. After several hours at the museum, we left in search of some legendary Lyonnais food. Fortunately, the famous food hall, Les Halles du Paul Bocuse, was only about 15 minutes by foot. Paul Bocouse is known for lightening the traditional French cooking into today’s nouvelle cuisine which stresses fresh, high quality ingredients. The sleek modern hall placed us squarely back in the 21st century. We sat down at one of the food stalls to enjoy a plate of mixed oysters and a glass of wine as we observed the end-of-day gastronomical activities whirl around us.
The Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lyon emerged as an important location for Europe’s growing publishing market. A flourishing book trade and active printing community supplied rich local book collections, both public and private. To preserve this legacy printer and book historian, Maurice Audin, along with Henri-Jean Martin, chief curator at the Library of Lyon, sought and received strong support from their community. By 1964 their efforts culminated in the opening of The Museum of Printing, dedicated “to educate the broader population on the role of printing and books in the formation of Western culture”. The privately funded collection became a national museum in 2005.
We arrived at the museum on a day celebrating French cultural heritage, when all national museums are open free to the public, including foreign visitors. As part of the celebrations live book arts demonstrations were in progress throughout the establishment. (You can read a general overview of the visit on the website, printeresting.org.)
For the type obsessed read on…
Our specific intent for visiting the museum was to learn more about phototypesetting, a technology with a connection to Lyon. Although the commercial phototypesetting era lasted only from the 1960’s through 1990’s, it was a significant period of transition from hot metal to digital typography. Having very little knowledge of this technology we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of Dr. Alan Marshall, an expert in printing history and the author of Plum a la lumiere (Lead to light: Lumitype-Photon and the birth of modern graphic arts). After escorting us to a room dedicated to the history of phototypesetting he gave us a quick run down on some of the particulars of the local connection. It was a very busy day for him and we appreciated his time and expertise.
As much as photography rocked the traditional world of 19th century painting, it also had a transformational effect on the industry of typesetting. Starting in the 1860’s, inventors sought ways to use the new technology to replace the labor of metal type casting. With newspapers and magazines demanding faster and cheaper ways of typesetting, various parties in Germany, England, Japan and the US raced to achieve that goal using photography. It was not until 1894 that Hungarian Eugene Porzolt succeeded in producing the first working model. All of the early attempts were transitional technologies that in some way retrofitted existing linotype or monotype machines. Their technological improvement lay in replacing hot metal type with film and photographic paper, allowing type to made the jump from the third dimension to a flat photographic image.
While the first generation phototypesetters relied on mechanics, the second consisted of electromechanical equipment with valves, relays and other electronic devices. The first successful prototype of this version was the brainchild of two French telecommunication engineers who worked in Lyon, René Higonnet (1902 –1983) and Louis Moyroud (1914–2010). Higonnet and Moyroud, not previously involved in typesetting, were appalled when they encountered the painfully long processes used to prepare type for offset printing: typesetting, casting the type, printing the type and then photographing the printed type for a negative to make an offset plate. Surely they could find a better method in 1943!
By 1944 they had developed enough drawings and plans to apply for a patent and seek financial backing. Higgonet traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts and through a connection made via the eminent American engineer, Vannevar Bush, Higgonet met with William Garth, owner of an offset duplication company (Lithomat, later Photon). Enthusiastic about the project, Garth raised funds by forming the Graphic Arts Research Foundation, a collection of large publishers and printers interested in the cost savings that phototypesetting promised.
The Lumitype “used three essential elements in the process: a master image of the type character, a lens system to size it and a positioning system to place the characters in a line in the proper sequence”. Dr. Marshall explained that one of the problems Higonnet and Moyroud needed to overcome was the difficulty of “freezing” the image of a letter onto the photographic paper. Other attempts to develop a fast “shuttering system” to capture a sharp, crisp letter image had fallen short. Working in the US at MIT the pair adopted Harold Edgerton’s stroboscope (electronic flash) as the solution to that problem. For imaging the type they arranged negatives of the letters onto a round disc and fashioned a method to spin the disc into place at high speeds.
During the input stage, every keystroke is recorded on a memory that notes the width of each character. When each line is complete, a binary computer allocates space for justification of the line. “The signals are then sent on to the setter, at whose heart is a disc made from glass or plastic. The disc carries glyphs (in negative) arranged in concentric circles. When the character is in front of the window display, the electronic tube emits a strobe flash to expose the image through a lens (for sizing) onto a prism or mirror that moved on a track to the required escapement widths for each character. The characters were projected on photo-sensitive paper or film and then developed with chemistry.” (Frank Romano)
Lacking a typographic background, the pair naively selected a bastard version of Bodoni as the font to reproduce. Bodoni was a terrible choice because it has extremely difficult hairline serifs that were difficult to hold using photography. They finally opted for the sturdier Scotch roman style.
Higonnet and Moyroud sold the North and South American distribution rights to Garth and retained the distribution rights for the rest of the world. They demonstrated their invention in Europe in 1948 to a skeptical audience but the French type foundry, Deberney and Peignot, invested heavily in the new technology. Charles Peignot marketed the machine using the name Lumitype in 1954. A young Swiss type designer on the D&B staff, Adrian Frutiger, converted existing typefaces to Lumitype format but earned considerable fame from his original sans serif designed specifically for phototypesetting. The font, Univers, a design he had been working on since his student days, was released simultaneously in both metal and film technologies.
The Lumitype, under the brand Lumitype Photon, was presented in New York in 1949. Garth had spent over $1 million to create the prototype (named Petunia) that typeset the first book using phototypesetting, “Wonderful World of Insects” in 1953. The following year the first phototypeset newspaper, The Patriot Ledger, was printed in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Phototypesetting was not a perfect solution to making type. The letterforms tended to become thin, making pages of text look pale. The spacing tended towards tightness because the physical metal bodies of letters had disappeared, leaving the spacing determination up to the taste and skill of the individual setter. I was required to use an ancient Compugraphic phototypesetter while designing publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art way back in the early 1980’s. A clunky affair, it had a rubbery black curtain that draped over one’s head and shoulders to create a tiny darkroom. Filmstrips of letters were exposed onto a roll of photopaper about four inches wide. Despite zero training as a typesetter, I set headlines for books and posters for the museum. Sadly my lack of training shows, the letter spacing collapsed and the exposure of the letters was hard to manage under primitive conditions (unacceptable now but the über tight setting was fairly common in that era).
In 1983, Louis Moyroud deposited all the Lumitype archives in the Printing Museum in Lyon. Moyroud and Higonnet were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1985, the year in which a new third generation of typesetting was introduced. The new machines did not use negatives or flash tubes to create a letter, rather the glyphs formed electronically on an illuminated CRT tube. That story is for another time…
Our final destination was Montluc Prison. This grim and quiet place served as a prison since 1932 but took on a more sinister role during World War 2. When the northern half of France fell under military occupation by the Germans, the south was declared a “free zone” under the Vichy government, a puppet regime. To ensure Vichy cooperation the Germans kept two million French soldiers in forced labor inside of Germany. As part of the condition for relative autonomy the Vichy authorities were required to round up Communists, deGaulle supporters, resistance fighters, political refuges, Jews and “others considered undesirable by the Nazis.” Who was left I wonder?
Montluc Prison functioned as the holding station for those arrested, where their fate and final destination was determined before exportation. After the fall of the Vichy in 1942 the Germans ramped up the activities to executions and torture interrogations, many of which were at the hands of Gestapo head, Klaus Barbie, the infamous “Butcher of Lyon”. After the war the building returned to its role as a domestic prison and later closed, only to be reopened in 2010 as a “monument of major importance.”
We were almost the only visitors in the prison museum; most opt to see the Center for Resistance and Deportation Museum closer to the city center. On the exterior there was very little to indicate the entrance but the large and imposing walls gave away the purpose for the structure.
Inside many of the cells are pictures and biographies of the men, women and children who passed through during the war. All are poignant: a group of 44 orphans that Barbie sent to Auschwitz, mothers and children split up and shipped off to different destinations, the Catholic nun Élise Rivet shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp and executed for hiding refugees and resistance materials.
While it is not a pleasant visit, it is important to keep the reminders of the cruelty of war close by. Unfortunately such prisons and tortures continue today, although not on the popular radar and easily forgotten by the distractions of pretty culture and the constantly shifting news stream. There is much to morn in this place, but also one cannot help but be impressed by the conviction of the resistance fighters who fought to free France.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Dr. Alan Marshall, September 20, 2014.
Andrew Boag, “Monotype and phototypesetting”
Frank Romano, “The Phototypesetting Era”
The Journal of the American Printing History Association
Volume XXIII, Number 2, 2003.
All photography, Eric Allen
with the exception of the Higgonet and Moulard from
Kevin Donley, “Louis Moulard: 1914-2010
July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
Black Mountain College & Penland School of Crafts
Date of Visit: June 2014
1. Black Mountain College /Defunct Campus*
375 Eden Lake Road
Black Mountain, North Carolina
*Currently privately owned by Camp Rockmont for Boys
2. Black Mountain College and Museum Arts Center
56 Broadway Street
Asheville, North Carolina
3. Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina
Where western North Carolina rubs shoulders with Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina rise the Blue Ridge Mountains, some of the most beautiful mountains in the United States. The southern Appalachian peaks are higher than any others east of the Mississippi but of equal stature are the music, art and crafts that flow out of the hollows and valleys in between. We visited two centers of art education that originated in these mountains, one highly experimental (Black Mountain College) and the other more traditional (Penland School of Crafts). Although these schools started within 10 years of each other and both had a focus on the arts there is very little documented interaction between the two. Read on to understand why.
Black Mountain College
Although Black Mountain College existed for only 20-some years, never achieved accreditation and barely enrolled more than about 50-80 students per term, the impressive roster of students and teachers who passed through significantly impacted American art ; Josef and Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa, Joseph Beuys, Harry Callahan, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, R. Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Franz Kline, Elaine Marie de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Cy Twombly, Peter Voulkos and many others.
We had been under the impression that the school was some kind of a “new world Bauhaus” but under closer investigation we learned that art was just one part of the BMC curricular view that music, art and drama “should no longer have a precarious existence on the fringes of the curriculum but…should be at the very center of things.”  It was not originally intended as an art school, in fact the most influential member of its group of founders, John Andrew Rice, considered art schools as the “most awful places in the world.” At BMC the arts were originally meant as way for students to “express something of a student’s inner being, “not a ‘neurotic”, egoistic focus on making art.
Rice, fired from his professorship at Rollins College for unorthodox behavior and battling the administration, rounded up a few other ex-Rollins faculty and students to start their own educational experiment in 1933. Their initial effort coalesced within the buildings of a religious summer conference center left vacant during the winter in the town of Black Mountain (about an hour from Asheville). Because the founding group did not include art educators painter Josef Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni (both past instructors at the Bauhaus in Germany) were hired on the recommendation of Architect Phillip Johnson and the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, Edward M.M. Warburg (who was active in relocating artists who fled persecution in Europe). Mr. Albers did not speak English however his lack of language meshed with his pedagogy that art cannot be explained by words or literal descriptions…”the performance, how it is done, that is the content of art.”  It must have been a culture shock for the Albers to land in the American South shortly after leaving their home in Berlin.
BMC was an exercise in democratic cooperation— the faculty owned the college and included the students in decisions about curriculum and policy. Faculty and students lived in close proximity and dined together at each meal. Every decision of consequence, including student applicants and faculty hiring, was by consensus in a seemingly endless schedule of community meetings. As in all such intimate arrangements personalities, personal philosophies, slights and major disagreements lead to dissension. Rice lost the confidence of the community after professional and personal missteps and was asked to resign in 1940.
By 1941 the college relocated to their own year-round campus on a rural setting of 667 acres featuring a small lake and a few cottages. Grandiose plans for the new buildings were drawn up by Walter Gropius and his partner Marcel Breuer but the estimated construction cost was out of reach for the perennially cash-strapped college. A. Lawrence Kocher (on the faculty from 1940-43) proposed a more modest general “studies building.” The construction was overseen by a local contractor using the labor of BMC students. (Can you imagine asking students to help build their own campus today?) There was, understandably, some student discontent about the arrangement and the work sessions reduced to 3 afternoons a week.
The Albers introduced Black Mountain’s most successful program, the Summer Institutes, in 1944. Summer 1945 included visual and performing arts; Walter Gropius, Lionel Feininger, Alvin Lustig, Robert Motherwell on the art faculty and musicians and composers Ronald Hayes, Carol Brice and Alfred Einstein in the Music Institute. The success of the summer program convinced Albers and sympathetic faculty that the college should concentrate specifically on the arts during the winter term. During this early post-war period the full-time student body grew to almost 100 funded by tuitions from the GI bill. BMC painting stars, Robert Rauschenberg (drawn to Josef Albers’s rigorous curriculum) his future wife, Susan Weil, and Kenneth Noland studied at the college.
Crafts were not taught at BMC although a ceramics studio was established. The Albers looked down on ceramics, and crafts in general as “associated with hobbies, Nazi kitsch, and therapy.”  Nevertheless an impressive number of important artists-in-residence worked in ceramics: Daniel Rhodes, Warren MacKenzie, Peter Volkous, Karen Karnes and David Weinrib. Voulkos and Weinri pushed ceramics beyond the craft arena into fine art sculpture. None of the faculty received much salary. Karnes reports that pay was $25 a month for teaching along with free room and board. BMC attracted the sort of individual who was less concerned about money than the artistic freedom the college afforded.
The Summer Institute continued after the Albers’ departure in 1947. During the 1952 session John Cage performed his Theater Piece No. 1, an unscripted event considered by many as the first Happening. The Dada-like multimedia performance featured simultaneous events; Cage read texts from atop stepladder, Rauschenberg displayed his white paintings, David Tutor performed on the piano, Charles Olson and M.C. Richards recited poetry while Merce Cunningham and a dog danced around an audience seated in four triangular areas.
Money from the summer sessions probably allowed BMC to live a bit longer than it might if solely dependent upon the term students. During the last few years, as the school spiraled toward bankruptcy, the curriculum shifted to literary arts. Work of avant-garde poets and writers at the college (or somehow connected to the school) appeared in The Black Mountain Review.
Ideological differences, a constantly shifting faculty and student body, a reputation of Bohemianism and a serious lack of funds led to the college’s closure in 1956. The campus is now privately owned.
Visiting Black Mountain College Today
A lovely stretch of tree-lined road leads you a spot where the campus is viewable from across Lake Eden. (We can’t stress enough that the campus is now private. We were permitted access as the camp was not yet in session). On close inspection Kocher’s building is showing its age. Large trees and bushes obscure the Modernist lines. A set of murals, painted by Jean Charlot during the first Summer Institute have severely faded. However you can sense how it must have felt like a creative utopia, ringed by hills protecting the artists from the outside world.
The Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center
In 1993 Mary Holden founded the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Asheville to preserve its legacy. We arrived on a Saturday morning at opening time and entered into the gallery space filled with selections from the permanent collection. Apart from the show there was a nice video about the history of the college and a good selection of books for purchase. Having read a few of them, we can recommend both Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey and Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community by Martin Duberman. Entrance is free and the location, in downtown Asheville is convenient to the hip sections in town. Well worth the stop.
The Penland School of Crafts
After leaving Black Mountain it was just a short drive to Penland School of Crafts. Once again we were entering a beautiful rural campus much removed from the rest of the world but despite their proximity and originating within five years of each other there was apparently very little connection between the two establishments. While both schools fostered a spirit of cooperation BMC was all about experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration influenced by academic Europeans while Penland was an all-American endeavor born out of a mission for traditional craft revival.
(We dug around and found a few intersections of note: In 1945 Anni Albers is on record as having lectured at Penland on Functional Design in Relation to Weaving. In 1967 former BMC ceramic artist-in-residence, Karen Karnes, taught at Penland where she was first exposed to salt glazing, a turning point in her work.)
Penland’s forerunner, the Appalachian Industrial School, was an Episcopal vocational mission school founded in 1914 by Reverend Rufus Morgan (1885-1983) to provide economic support to mountain families. Rufus’ sister, Lucy Calista Morgan (1889-1981) arrived in 1920 to teach but was also urged by her brother,”to learn to weave, and to possibly interest others enough to revive an art that had lingered longer in the mountains than anywhere else.” 
During the winter of 1923 ‘Miss Lucy’ studied weaving under Swedish-born weaver Anna Ernberg during an extended visit at Berea College in Kentucky. As early as 1893 Berea’s president William G. Frost “recognized the possibilities for employment of mountain craftspeople at a time when industrialization had diminished the production of crafts in the large urban centers of the country, and consumerism had found its way into the Appalachian Mountains, ending what had been a survival skill of the 18th century. Consumerism entered mountain communities through country stores and the arrival of the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog.”  While at Berea Miss Lucy also met Edith Matheny who had established a successful cottage industry of community weavers, the Berea Fireside Industries and was deeply inspired.
In the spring Miss Lucy returned to North Carolina with a mission to both preserve the local art of weaving and to improve the lives of her community (as was the prevailing philosophy of the William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement that was sweeping the county). She initiated the Fireside Industries of the Appalachian School by teaching a local woman to weave and paid her for her wares. As soon as the news circulated that there was a means for women to earn a living from home Miss Lucy was besieged with anxious weaving students. A dedicated weaving cottage was built with donations of logs and labor from the students and community.
With a group of over of 60 weavers in her charge Miss Lucy invited well-known weaving expert and champion of the manual education movement, Edward Francis Worst (1866-1949), to work with the weavers. A published report from that event generated such interest from weavers all over the country that the following year (1929) Mr. Worst returned to a class of locals mixed with out-of-state students. The Fireside Industries was soon renamed The Penland School of Weavers and then again as The Penland School of Weavers and Potters. The school remained under The Appalachian School until 1938 and then became its own entity.
Today Penland is a thriving community of students who arrive for two-week workshops, 8-week intensive studies, two-year core studies or as part of the highly selective 3-year artist-in residence program. There are 14 media offerings including clay, paper, printing, letterpress, metal, iron, wood, glass, photography and of course, weaving. Each area has a dedicated studio building with plenty of studio space for each student.
We spent an inspiring and exhausting two weeks at Penland, one of us enrolled in letterpress and the other in woodworking. The facilities were terrific. Our teachers, leaders in their fields, were inspiring and helpful. The mish-mash of over 140 strangers bonded quickly into a cohesive bunch of artists who supported and admired each other’s work.
Certainly being in the protective environment of the hills helped us block out the world and delve deeply into our work. There are precious few places like this and hopefully Penland will continue into the future, alive and flourishing unlike its past neighbor at Black Mountain.
“Nichi, nichi kore ko kore.” Every day is a good day – a Zen saying adopted by students at Black Mountain College.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Deb Schillo, librarian at Southern Highland Craft Guild, Andrew Glasgow at Penland School of Crafts and Professor Christopher Benfey (Author, Professor and The Albers’ grandnephew) for helping me verify facts on Anni Albers at Penland.
 Duberman,Martin. Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community. 2009, Northwestern University Press, p.38.
 Ibid, p. 41.
 Ibid, p. 47.
 Benfey, Christopher. Correspondence.
 Morgan, Lucy. Gift from the Hills. The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2011). Page 9.
 Stopenhagen Broomfield, Sarah. 2006. Weaving Social Change: Berea College Fireside Industries and Reform in Appalachia. Textile Society of America Symposium. University of Nebraska – Lincoln Digital Commons.
Robert E. Lee Hall from Wikipedia and YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
Albers, Faculty Meeting, BMC Work Camp, Weaving cabin images from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Western Regional Archives Link
Images: Blue Mountains, inside BMC Museum and 2014 Rockport Camp, Penland today by Eric Allen Link
Anni Albers Guild Workshop documentation, Southern Highlands Craft Guild Library.
Edward Worst and wife Link
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.