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Old-fashioned wood type is new again, as Minnesota book center adds Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish letters

Jenna Ross, Star Tribune on

Published in Fashion Daily News

Minnesota Center for Book Arts hopes to attract new audiences. "Wood type feels so human," says one designer.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the basement studios of Minnesota Center for Book Arts, wood type fills drawers and cabinets, its nicks and scratches hinting at decades of printing history.

But upstairs sits a box of type that's not yet been inked.

Hebrew letters, carved from maple. Spanish and Swedish glyphs. Soon, the Arabic alphabet.

The Minneapolis nonprofit has become the country's first public center of its kind to offer wood type in other languages. Its leaders are hoping it will act as an invitation, introducing this old-school art form to new audiences.

"We're really excited to see how the power of this form can be opened up to more people and can be used as a tool to tell more stories," said Elysa Voshell, the center's executive director.


The type, perfect for posters, hails from Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wis. Located on the coast of Lake Michigan, the nonprofit — founded in 1880 as Hamilton Manufacturing Co. — is no dusty mausoleum; it offers classes and presses to both newbies and skilled artists.

Its typecutter fashions new wood type, too, first using a pantograph machine and then trimming the details by hand, with a chisel.

"We are using old guitars to play new songs," said Jim Moran, master printer and collections officer.

Hamilton has never before cut Arabic type, Moran noted. "It'll be a brand new project."


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