It’s no surprise that designers of all walks are enamored by letterpress printing. There’s the tactility, precision, depth and dimensionality that comes with the handiwork that begs you to take a closer look.
There’s no doubt about it—letterpress is beautiful.
That’s why the folks at Neenah Paper and Crane Papers launched The Beauty of Letterpress, an online resource that showcases the industry’s most innovative letterpress work that designers can reference for all kinds of inspiring eye candy.
As they were developing the project, they couldn’t ignore that a landmark institution for the letterpress community—the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum—was in need. The Hamilton is the only museum of its kind that is solely dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. With 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns, the collection housed at the museum is one of the premier wood type collections in the world.
Yet, that collection was in danger, as the museum was in the process of relocating and was in desperate need for funding and volunteers to move millions of pieces of type, plates, presses, tools and raw materials.
It seemed a ripe opportunity to pair the two together, and so The Beauty of Letterpress also became an avenue to raise money for the museum by selling limited-edition letterpressed prints that designers (including Design Army and Marian Bantjes) and printers (such as Hatch Show Print in Nashville) have donated, and which are printed on paper stock provided by Neenah and Cranes Paper.
“The collaborative energy amazes us,” says Tom Wright, Neenah’s senior director of advertising and design. “We’ve been fortunate to have a wide range of designers donate their time and energy to this project. We loved what Robynne Raye from Modern Dog said in relation to this project: ‘When the design community stands together, it is powerful.’”
Powerful, especially given the fact that the museum is located not in a heavily visited part of the country, but instead in the small Wisconsin town of Two Rivers, situated on the western edge of Lake Michigan. The reality is that many of the designers who contribute—whether their time and efforts creating the prints or their money to buy them—may never actually step inside the museum and see the fruits of these labors.
“This is part of our collective history,” Wright points out. “Understanding how the medium of printing has evolved is vital to understanding the changes in communication and design. One of the most exciting things about this project is that it’s showing Hamilton how many true friends it has!”
The team at the design and letterpress shop Studio On Fire, which created one of the prints sold to raise money for the museum, agrees. “We found this an excellent opportunity to support our roots,” says Studio On Fire’s Ben Levitz. “As so much of the printing industry has been lost to other mediums of design expression, letterpress as a printing method has been able to keep its value because of the craft and detail inherent in the process. Letterpress forces simplicity into the design. Simplicity is often elusive for a designer to achieve and we like that the printing process keeps it simple because of what it can do mechanically.”
That’s part of the beauty of this project: It is bringing together designers near and far as they celebrate this artistry. With prints costing only $5 each (and all proceeds benefiting the cause), designers have been opening their wallets to contribute. To date, the project has raised $14,106 of its $15,000 goal (of which Neenah will match all contributions).
Interestingly enough, as The Beauty of Letterpress has helped revive the Hamilton and conserve its collection of letterpress rarities, it has been creating a treasure trove of its own. “The Beauty of Letterpress is the only online visual gallery of modern letterpress work we know of,” Wright says. “Letterpress printers are able to regularly share their new work keeping this incredible craft alive. We’d like to see more designers share their work as well. Can you imagine how rich this resource will be in five, 10, 25 years?”
Talk about a beautiful thing.
Additional Resources: Upcoming Online Learning Opportunities