As I've written before, I'm a big fan of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Now there's a new documentary about the museum, called Typeface: A New Film on American Wood Type, made by Chicago's Kartemquin Films.
I got to see its world premiere Thursday night at the Walker Art Center.
The film depicts the museum as a microcosm of many issues in our country today -- the declining industrial base of our economy, the loss of craftsmanship, our inability to appreciate what we have until it's gone, the effect of technological change, the marginalization of rural America. It's poignant and inspiring, and exemplifies the way documentaries can motivate audiences to act.
Typeface shows the beauty of the wood type itself and the printed pieces that are created with it. But the primary thing the film does is tell the story of some wonderful people:
- Greg Corrigan, technical director of the museum and its only paid staff person. With a dedicated crew of volunteers, Greg has fought an uphill battle to keep the museum operational while improving its collection. Watching the film, it's easy to think of all sorts of things Greg could do to grow the museum, but this reverie is quickly interrupted by footage of Greg taking apart wooden pallets to satisfy the fire marshal. The museum needs more money and more volunteers, plain and simple.
- Norb Brylski, longtime volunteer at the museum and master craftsman. Norb worked for Hamilton creating wood type up until the time they stopped producing it in the mid-1980s. Now 83, and facing some health issues, he has had to stop volunteering at the museum.
- The young men of the Post Family artist collective, who were inspired by the museum to set up their own letterpress shop in Chicago.
- Dennis Ichiyma, one of my favorite print artists. A professor at Purdue University, Ichiyama organizes groups of his design students to make the six-hour trip to the museum to learn the craft of printing and use the amazing collection of type. He says he can see the effect it has on the students' design work and wishes they could all make the trip.
- Bill Moran of St. Paul's Blinc Publishing, a third generation letterpress printer, who has been instrumental in creating and sustaining the museum.
- James Van Lanen, owner of the Light House Inn in Two Rivers, who had a vision of building the city's economy by creating museums to draw tourists on their way to Wisconsin's popular Door County area. While it might be easy to view Van Lanen is "just" a small town booster, he has set an example for us all about the importance of being involved in our communities.
Some time in the last year or so, the museum was gifted with pallet-loads of show card "cuts" and wood type from Globe Corporation in Chicago. Globe is the place that made the presses used to create large posters for county fairs, circuses, and concerts, and this donation is hugely significant... but Greg and the volunteers at Hamilton haven't even had time to unpack the pallets completely to see what's there.
Here's a look at some of the Globe collection as I saw it back during my July visit:
I both loved and was revolted by a scene in the film where Greg meets with the museum's board. A member suggests that they sell one of the Globe pallets for $2,000 to someone who's interested in it. Every fiber in my body wanted to yell, "No!" I understand the need for money to operate, but at the same time this is a priceless, irreplaceable collection of objects that hasn't even been catalogued.
In the discussion that followed the film, Greg offered an analogy for the situation: It's like someone walking into the Louvre and saying, "Hey, why don't you sell some of these paintings? You could make some money!"
Bill Moran, with his brother Jim, has gone to the museum to make prints from a few of the Globe cuts. The museum is hoping to sell these very large poster prints. Right now, I think there are three to choose from (the two shown here and one other that featured an illustration of a stock car on a red oval -- it was cool but I couldn't get a photo of it).
Bill promised there would be some new information on the Hamilton website soon, both about buying the posters and about the museum's upcoming 10th anniversary this spring, when they hope to have workshops and more. I'll be watching for it!
Typeface is directed by Justine Nagan of Kartemquin Films. See the Typeface film official site for more info.