August 28th, 2010
I first heard about the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in 2005 or 2006 while attending the “Seek” conference at Northern Illinois University. I believe one of the speakers was from Thirst and she showed a couple of images that caught my eye. After the talk, she mentioned how great this little place was — this place where they printed the images I liked. It was a design destination only a couple hours from Chicago and even better yet, she mentioned that it was a “working” print museum — a place that might even let you create your own prints. It was obvious that I needed to look into this a little more.
Fast-forward a few years, and a few jobs, and I still had not looked it up. It had almost completely slipped my mind until sometime in 2009 when someone mentioned a new design documentary called “Typeface“. All I could get from the hype was that it was about a museum in Wisconsin dedicated to wood type and somehow involved The Post Family, a group of Chicago area artists and designers who are constantly showing up on the scene. (If you are unaware of these guys, I encourage you to visit their site.)
So… by chance… I noticed that a 9 AM showing of the documentary was scheduled at the 2010 Geneva Film Festival. I bought my ticket Friday night, and headed to the Saturday-morning screening.
That’s when it all came flowing back. I had heard of it, had been told about it, and somehow had avoided going to it. I was one of the folks mentioned in the documentary — one of the people who have not been there. I was one of the folks who have not experienced it and I might even be one of the folks letting it die in obscurity. What a shame.
So, last week (August 22nd), we finally made it happen. I had a weekend that was not completely packed with freelance work, and it felt like a great time to take a break from the Chicago suburbs. It was my chance to go to Two Rivers, Wisconsin and check out the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing museum for myself.
The city of Two Rivers sits directly on the shore of Lake Michigan (map). It’s about a 3 hour drive by tollway and freeway from Chicago and is commonly used as a quick stop-over for Chicago area vacationers on the way to Door County. It’s a city known as the birthplace for both for the ice cream sundae and the automatic clothes dryer (invented by the Hamilton company, the very same company that made the wood type housed in the museum). People seem to do a lot of fishing here, but it’s actually becoming a world-renowned destination for the typographically inclined.
With only one full-time employee, Jim Moran, and the help of a few volunteers it’s a wonder how they keep things straight. Jim’s ongoing schedule of workshops and printings seems to be accelerating as more people hear about its existence. At a recent Two Rivers Historical Society meeting Jim mentioned that they had a couple of designers from overseas come in to the area specifically to visit the museum. Several well known Chicago design schools travel there yearly and according to Jim they were even asked to supply some wood type to the “Levis Workshops“. Unfortunately they were unable to fulfill the request because of under-staffing and time restraints. Many corporate design teams and design boutiques are constantly calling the office looking to hold workshops for their staff. There was a small rumor circulating that Nike’s design group may even be interested in hosting a workshop for its creative team. But you didn’t hear that from us.
Interest in typography has recently hit a high-water mark. Memberships in design groups like Chicago’s own STA “The Society of Typographic Arts” seem to be on the rise. And as you can tell, typography is even in their name. The art of placing type in meaningful and communicative ways into layouts is the very thing that makes most of us design professionals. Who else can FEEL the white-space between the letter “W” and the letter “A”, when inappropriately un-kerned? Past this initial interest, there seems to be a trend toward hand-rendered type and, most fortunately for The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, an interest in what existed before computers — before the mac ruled our world.
The Museum is quickly becoming the centerpiece of Two Rivers and will shortly unseat the ice cream sundae as a reason to stop in for a visit. Its future seems a little brighter than it did in the documentary and we hope its star continues to rise. With continuing support from its volunteers, the printing community and designers worldwide we can be sure it does.
For those of you lucky enough to live near the museum, what are you waiting for? Go go go! And for those who would like to go, but may be overseas themselves, they’ve recently opened a shop on etsy where you can buy one of their limited-edition prints. It’s worth the visit, and although more people are starting to notice it, it still seems to be one of the surprising hidden design destinations you can see before it get’s too big.
We also invite those who have been here to post a little something about their experiences at the museum. Just use the form at the end of this article. We also ask that you feel free to correct us if we got any facts mixed-up in our post here — after all, I’m really just an Art Director not a Journalist.
A full link round-up is available at the bottom of this post — after the images.
(Click on the images to get a full description of what you are looking at).
Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum
Hamilton Wood Type on Twitter
Hamilton Wood Type on Facebook
AIGA Article written by Steven Heller
Typeface Film on Twitter
Buy Hamilton Wood Type Prints on Etsy
Our Flickr Set About Hamilton Wood Type
A Flickr Group About Hamilton Wood Type
The Post Family
Hatch Show Print
Take a Trip! Get There by Google Map
Thanks go to Jim for opening the doors to me and my wife on his busy day.
Thanks go to you for being interested in such a unique attraction.
We’re always interested in hearing from you.
Please leave comments about the museum or the article here: