April 15, 2015

The Beauty of Wood Type: Jim Moran at the 39th CreativeMornings in Chicago

Imagine life back in 1880, the year the J.E. Hamilton Wood Type Company was established. “Science Magazine” was first published. The first electric streetlight was installed in Wabash, Indiana. The Cologne Cathedral was completed. The first cash register was patented in Dayton, Ohio. This time period is the context for the evolution of wood type, the passionate focus of Jim Moran’s CreativeMornings/Chicago presentation—celebrating the fact of precedents.

In its first 20 years, the Wisconsin-based J.E. Hamilton Holly Wood Type Company grew to be the largest producer of wood type in the U.S. Its growth was due to the surging popularity of print, particularly by newspaper companies. During the early 1900s, the company changed its name to Hamilton Wood Type Manufacturing. It continued to manufacture wood type until the end of the 20th century.

Today, that history is preserved at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin—the only museum of its kind dedicated to the history, education, and creation of wood type. Moran is driven to preserve this piece of history—a noble effort, because human beings forget technological progress. At the 5th “D: All Things Digital Conference” in 2007, Steve Jobs, in reference to the beginnings of the personal computer revolution, recalled what is judged as increasingly miniscule when it comes to computer memory: “We ship computers now with a gigabyte, two gigabytes of memory. And nobody remembers: 128k [kilobytes].” Moran wants people to know about the invention of wood type and appreciate its importance in the history of tools.

An audience member asked about why there is a cultural fascination with type and printing. “Physicality” was noted by Moran, in addition to “handling” wood type and its tools. The sensation of movable type (invented circa 1040) is physical. The movement. The handling. Moran said, “There’s that beauty of type that never goes away.” This tactile sensation is also shared by Ches Perry, a traditional sign painter, who spoke at the 32nd CreativeMornings/Chicago gathering. Like Perry, Moran handles physical tools to make things. Compared to Perry’s paints and brushes, Moran uses wood type and printing presses. A desire for the human touch in human creativity, which marked the large turnout to see Moran, was also apparent in the large turnout to see Perry, particularly when he demonstrated painting letters by hand.

Majority of the CreativeMornings/Chicago meet-ups are concerned with the present than the past, with speakers such as Jason Fried on software, Scott Thomas on web-based icons, and Sara Frisk on branding. In the attitude and practice of previous speakers, such as Perry, who persist traditional sign painting, and Jay Ryan who persists screenprinting, Moran reminds us how the past is relevant. His talk stressed the importance of a period of history, upon which today’s communication toolkit is built upon—and would not have evolved without.

The Hamilton Wood Type Museum has a collection of more than 1.5 million pieces of wood type in a 45,000 square foot space. This constitutes a critical development in the long line of precedence toward our current way of communicating. It inspires reception of visitors from all over to not only attend, but also participate in its activities dedicated to the narrative of wood type: its physicality, its handling—its beauty—and printing with it.

Moran’s emphasis that Hamilton Wood Type is a “working museum” (above), with its open invitation for everyone to experience the physical craft of wood type, bolsters the importance of remembering someone, a group, an invention, an identity, that contributed to an aspect of life that is easily taken for granted. Glad that Moran is enthusiastic about wood type, and the methods that go with using it. I’m motivated by his keeping the memory of something alive and making it accessible for everyone who’s interested to handle wood type, compose with it—then go to print.

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Soundtrack while writing:
“Words Of Love” by Patti Smith
“Nightswimming” by R.E.M.
“The Geography of Nowhere” by William Tyler
“Tessellate” by Alt-J
“Ride My Arrow” by Bill Callahan
“Cirrus” by Bonobo
“None Of This Will Matter” by The Autumn Defense
“Don’t Let it Bring You Down” by Neil Young
“Life of Sin” by Sturgill Simpson
“Lonely Daze” by Kate Tempest
“Everlasting Arms” by Vampire Weekend
“Zero” by The Smashing Pumpkins
“Number 9” by Moon Hooch
“I Don’t Want To Change You” by Damien Rice

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Big thanks: to BraintreeThe Department of Design at Leo Burnett (Host), Vitamin TRazorfishChia Pods, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #39; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: view more photos of 39th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more write-ups about CreativeMornings.

Jim Moran also spoke at the 6th Cusp Conference (above) in Chicago. Read my write-up and view photos. Furthermore, the Hamilton Wood Type Museum was the focus of documentary film “Typeface.” Read my interview with its director and producer Justine Nagan.

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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