Summer 2017 Outbound residency
at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum
By Ben Blount, July 2017
I was so excited driving on my way up I-43 N headed to Two Rivers, WI for my residency at Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum. We borrowed our friend’s car for my family to drive me up and drop me off for two weeks of printing fun. Two weeks! I’d never spent that much dedicated, concentrated time just printing. Even in grad school, which is the last time I focused this much time on printing, I had the other parts of my life to juggle. I was a newlywed, then a new father, and always a full-time employee. I had spent time making and printing on and off since then, but I was ready to get my artist/printer on full-time for two weeks.
My proposal for the TRANSIT outbound residency at Hamilton was pretty broad. I wanted to explore the language we use around race in America through a series of broadsides. I planned to reference everything from the way race was talked about historically to current euphemisms, slang, and slurs. I thought a museum of type and printing would be the perfect place to explore a project on language and history.
I had been to the museum once before in 2012, to attend the last Wayzgoose held at their previous location. I had a great time learning in the different workshops, and meeting so many people interested in typography and printing. I was anxious to see the new space and connect with the staff. I’d met Jim and Bill Moran at the Wayzgoose five years back and their passion and knowledge left an impression on me. I remember buying one of Bill’s “Letterbug” prints and Jim letting me interview him for a presentation I had to give when I got back to work in Chicago. For the residency, I came prepared with several ideas of what I wanted to print. My goal was getting a lot of printing done while still allowing the environment at Hamilton to influence me and the work.
The influence was immediate. I spent my first afternoon looking at the dozens of fonts of type available to me and I began to rework my ideas about what to print. That evening, back in my rented room, I reprioritized my ideas and made some new sketches. An idea about numbers and how the measurement of bloodline is so important in our history moved to the forefront after seeing the collection large beautiful wooden numbers that I could print.
If anything, this became the theme of my time at Hamilton. Using my ideas as a starting point and letting the unique character of the type help bring the story to life. As a designer, I have a tendency to over plan, but the breadth of options and my limited time forced me push beyond what was sketched in my notebook and be influenced by what was around me. That was the magic of this experience. The expansiveness of options and the limitation of time.
The need to manage my time was ever-present in my days in the studio. Parkinson’s law—the idea the work expands to fill the available time—was in full effect. No matter how the day went, I seemed to always be distributing the type and throwing away my inky gloves from clean-up at 4:59 pm, one minute before closing. By the second week, I didn’t always distribute all of the type at the end of the day and I often skipped lunch to maximize printing time.
But I did do more than just print. My first Saturday at Hamilton I taught a workshop called Make a Dent, where 12 printers signed up to come put bold messages down on paper. It was a great group with a range of experience. Most had printed at Hamilton before and had ideas of what they wanted to say. We spent the day printing, talking, and sharing, and went out for a few beers afterwards. It was a great opportunity to share some new approaches to printing and meet some members of the larger Hamilton and letterpress community.
Beyond the type, the prints, and the history at the museum, I was impacted by the people. The museum is staffed by a bunch of great volunteers and I got to meet several (Lou, Emily, Glenn, Georgie, Dennis, Nick) over my stay there. They do a range of activities from set-up for classes and printing items for the store to organizing and giving tours. I got great questions—and some unsolicited advice—from the visitors touring the museum. They would often catch me printing as they came through on their tour. It was fun sharing my work in progress and I was happy they were able to see more of the printing process. The museum had visitors from all over the country come through the 2 weeks I was there and they seemed really impressed by this gem nestled in Two Rivers.
The staff made the greatest impact because I got to see them nearly every day. Tootsie helped me figure out where to stay, what to do, and what not to miss around Two Rivers. She helped me get around (thanks for the bike) and make sure my stay was comfortable. Tootsie is a rockstar.
Jim really brought the history home for me. The host with the most, he told me about the history of Hamilton, hooked me up with some paper when I ran low, and showed me the process of unpacking and organizing the Enquirer Collection.
Stephanie was my support when it came to my day to day work at the museum. She helped me get set-up and settled. She answered my questions about the presses, about type, and helped me understand how things are done at the museum. But beyond the practical, Stephanie was invaluable as a second set of eyes during the printing process. It was great to have another designer and printer nearby to bounce around ideas, and problem solve. She helped improve my work, made me more efficient, and let me play my music as loud as I wanted.
To sum up my experience as an artist in residence at Hamilton, picture this: A dedicated space to make work; a dedicated press to print; the support of a staff of museum and printing professionals; the enthusiasm of volunteers, visitors, and students; plenty of Esperazna Spaulding’s Emily’s D+Evolution and MF DOOM’s MM…Food played loudly in heavy rotation; and the history and mojo of the world’s largest wood type collection as backdrop. Nice, right? Needless to say, I had a great 2 weeks. I got a lot of printing done and look forward to showing the work. Thanks again to TRANSIT and the staff and volunteers at Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum for the wonderful experience.