Letterform Archive — News

Letterform Archive News

Jun 6, 2022

Books on Text and Textile

Vivian Sming, our new curatorial fellow, pulls on threads within the collection, tying together concepts of weaving and language.

Vivian Sming, 2022 Letterform Archive Curatorial Fellow

We are proud to announce the Letterform Archive Curatorial Fellowship, a new program designed to strengthen and diversify the collection. Rotating annually, the fellow works with our curatorial team to interpret and share material from the Archive, as well as expand the collection through new acquisitions and connections to artists and designers.

The 2022 fellow is Vivian Sming, an artist-publisher based in the Bay Area, who produces a wide range of artists’ books through their publishing studio Sming Sming Books. Sming’s first contribution to our blog highlights four books that combine weaving and language.

Jun 5, 2022

Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest Opens July 23, 2022

Letterform Archive’s second exhibition will celebrate design that empowers communities and fights oppression.

In collaboration with Polymode, we’re excited to announce Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest, a new exhibition on view beginning July 23, 2022. Curated by Silas Munro of the design studio Polymode with Stephen Coles of Letterform Archive, the exhibition will feature more than 100 objects, including broadsides, buttons, signs, t-shirts, posters, and ephemera spanning the 1800s to today.

In sections exploring the many ways to voice dissent (VOTE!, RESIST!, LOVE!, TEACH!, and STRIKE!), the show will chart a typographic chant of resistance across more than a century of protest graphics.

May 26, 2022

Beyond the Bauhaus: Ecuador, Land of the Shuar

Posted In: Collections

Vanessa Zúñiga Tinizaray refocuses geometric and systematic design principles on a culture far from 20th-century Europe.

Vanessa Zúñiga Tinizaray
This article supplements a Bauhaus Typography at 100 interview with Vanessa Alexandra Zúñiga Tinizaray.
See the interview

Letterform Archive’s current exhibition celebrates, among many things, the centenary of the Bauhaus. Such recognition indicates the significant impact of the school in modern culture. The Bauhaus has become synonymous with minimal and geometric systems of design. This makes it convenient to attribute this school of thought as a source for any graphic work that shares these characteristics, but similar ideas have been around long before the Bauhaus. The Ecuador, the Land of the Shuar poster that is part of the “Beyond the Bauhaus” section of the show is an example of contemporary designers practicing some of the principles associated with the school, and, in this case, principles rooted in a marginalized history.

Apr 28, 2022

Typefaces Inspired by the Bauhaus

From Futura to ITC Bauhaus, our survey of Bauhaus type continues with a look at typefaces that adopted the school’s simplified, geometric ideals.

László Moholy-Nagy, cover for Bauhaus Buildings Dessau (Bauhausbauten Dessau), 1930. This late Bauhaus Book may be the only official Bauhaus publication to use a typeface inspired by the school (Futura Black), though it was perhaps lettered by hand with the type as a model.
This article supplements Archive Salon Series 29: Bauhaus Typefaces. Members can access the recording. Watch the Video

Our first installment of this two-part series showcased the various typefaces found in official publications and other objects by Bauhaus instructors and students. We learned that the type used at the school was primarily utilitarian, readily available to printers at the time. But what about the radical geometric letterforms we connect to Bauhaus principles? Let’s look at minimalist typefaces inspired by the school, many of which live on as commercial successes long after the institution was forced to close down.

Mar 12, 2022

Typefaces Used by the Bauhaus

Posted In: Collections

The school’s main typographic story is not about inventing radical typefaces, but using existing typefaces in a radical way.

Nameplate for bauhaus magazine, vol. 1, no. 1, 1926.

Letterform Archive’s inaugural exhibition, Bauhaus Typography at 100, displays nearly 200 objects representing the school’s influence on printed design. From its start in 1919, the Bauhaus incorporated mass production techniques in the creation of artworks across various programs offered on campus, from architecture and product design to textiles and graphics. While the school has come to be known for a simplified, geometric approach across all these disciplines, the exhibition narrates an evolution of letterform styles and illuminates the many people who developed what we now recognize as Bauhaus typography. As a companion to December’s Archive Salon, this two-part article series focuses on the core material that shaped Bauhaus typography: the typefaces.

Mar 2, 2022

Type West 2021 Typefaces

Posted In: Education

A new website showcases the results of Letterform Archive’s yearlong program in type design.

The Class of 2021 was the first Type West cohort to meet entirely online. The program brought together a group of 19 students from across the globe who logged into sessions multiple times a week. It was not only a space for learning the tools and techniques necessary to make fonts, but an international gathering place of shared interests and goals.

Feb 9, 2022

This Just In: Milwaukee Transit Passes

In the 1930s–60s, Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company offered trolley and bus riders a weekly burst of color and hand lettering. About 300 of these tickets are now in our collection.

A Milwaukee streetcar, 1955. Photo courtesy Barry Lennon.

Milwaukee claims to be the inventor of the weekly transit pass, and for several decades they could also boast to have some of the most beautiful ones. On August 18, 1919, Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company (TMER&L) launched a weekly pass experiment for its extensive streetcar service. It was an overnight success and went into full operation in 1921. The design of the passes was utilitarian and banal until the 1930s when they brought the production in-house and added color, public-service announcements, information about local events, and illustrated depictions of civic history.

For design and letterform lovers, the passes issued between 1937 and 1972 stand out as particularly colorful and cohesive. They follow a fairly consistent design program of large hand-drawn numbers for the week of the year, lettering for the valid range of dates, and small-print information set in type, all functionally decorated with jaunty banners, frames, and rules. Thanks in part to a donation from type designer Tobias Frere-Jones, the Archive now holds about 300 tickets between 1932 and 1969.

Jan 24, 2022

From the Collection: Ludmila Hellmann-Kavalla

Posted In: Collections

Original artwork from an Austrian student’s portfolio reveals the process of mid-century fashion advertising and illustration.

Selected spreads from a fashion catalog dummy created by Ludmila Kavalla as a student. (All images on this page are displayed at high resolution. Pinch or zoom to enlarge.)

Ludmila Hellmann-Kavalla, also known as Mila Kavalla, was an Austrian illustrator and graphic designer. Born in Baden, Lower Austria in 1924, she graduated from Vienna Academy of Applied Arts in 1950 where she trained under E. J. Wimmer-Wisgrill in the master class for fashion. While at the training academy, she met her future husband and business partner Roman Hellmann with whom she set up the “Hellmann-Kavalla” design office where she worked until about 1955.

Jan 11, 2022

This Just In: Trajan Rubbing and Recutting

Posted In: Collections

A 1970 rubbing by Father Edward Catich and a 2021 recutting by Paul Herrera bring the classical Roman capitals to life at the Archive.

Trajan column site photo by Carl Rohrs
Trajan’s Forum and Column in Rome, Italy. Photos by Carl Rohrs, September 2017.

The letters found at the base of Trajan’s Column, a second-century celebration of the Roman emperor, are widely considered the archetype of Roman capitals. Their shapes and proportions have inspired calligraphy, lettering, and type design for centuries. While we can’t transport the 100-foot, 700-ton marble monument to San Francisco, two recently acquired works offer some of the most true-to-life representations of the inscription.

Dec 13, 2021

Letterform Archive Featured in New Book: Collecting Graphic Design

The Optik Books title highlights 10 collections around the world which specialize in a discipline that is traditionally overlooked by art and design institutions.

Letterform Archive in Collecting Graphic Design

Archives are more than just warehouses; they are greenhouses for the nurturing of narratives. Out of archival seeds, mighty stories grow. — Steven Heller on Collecting Graphic Design

A5/10: Collecting Graphic Design — The Archiving of the Visual
A5/10: Collecting Graphic Design — The Archiving of the Visual, Optik Books, 2021

Based in Düsseldorf, Jens Müller has authored, edited, and published dozens of books on design. The A5 series — under his own Optik Books imprint — offers affordable and beautifully documented snapshots of design history at a digestible length and (you guessed it) A5 size. The 10th volume in this series, Collecting Graphic Design, calls attention to the few institutions and private collectors who concentrate on preserving and sharing objects of graphic design, such as posters, logos, book covers, design manuals, and ephemera.

Nov 12, 2021

A Year of Letterform Lectures: 2021

Posted In: Education

Watch 12 presentations that showcased diverse approaches to letterform history and creation across the globe.

The letterform lecture series continued to be held virtually this past year. It has become an opportunity to practice the radical accessibility Letterform Archive strives for while also fortifying the virtual Type West program. While we look forward to a future where we can also have free and open sessions at the San Francisco Public Library, the nature of these online sessions allowed us to host speakers from across the country as well as other parts of the world. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few weeks after each event. We bring to you a roundup of all the talks the Archive hosted in the past year and quick access to the ones you might have missed or wish to revisit.

Oct 24, 2021

From the Collection: Gujarati Type Foundry’s 1937 Specimen Book

Posted In: Collections

Reporting from India, Tanya George offers a glimpse into one of the country’s most extensive catalogs of locally produced metal type.

Based in Bombay for most of the twentieth century, the Gujarati Type Foundry was one of India’s leading metal type manufacturers. Tanya George, our new regular correspondent, makes her Letterform Archive News debut with an in-depth look at the Indian scripts shown in the company’s catalog, a highlight of the Tholenaar Collection.

The Book of Typefaces and Printers’ Auxiliaries, Gujarati Type Foundry, ca. 1937, showcasing display weights for Gujarati and Devanagari in upright styles as well as a slanted italic style. (All images are displayed at high resolution. Pinch or zoom to enlarge.)
Aug 4, 2021

From the Collection: Greatest Hits of Social Media

Posted In: Collections

Rediscover Archive gems in a new series showcasing our most popular posts from Instagram and Twitter.

Three popular Letterform Archive posts on Instagram with a heart animation in the background.

At least twice a day we share items from the Letterform Archive collection on social media. Connecting with our community on these platforms has always been a big part of what we do, even before the physical library was open to the public. That said, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are plenty of Archive members, newsletter subscribers, and website visitors who don’t see all that good stuff we post there. Meanwhile, the limited canvas of social media doesn’t always do justice to a rare printed book or detailed piece of calligraphy. With that in mind, here’s the first in an ongoing series showcasing your favorite posts, reprised in expanded form on the blog.

Jul 14, 2021

Transforming the Black Experience in Design

BIPOC designers are still underrepresented and undervalued in every part of the field. Dr. Dori Tunstall offers six ways to turn the tide.

Dori Tunstall portrait
Dori Tunstall. Photo by Ishmil Waterman.

Last summer, amid a long overdue racial reckoning in the United States, we republished a landmark 1968 article by Dorothy Jackson on “The Black Experience Graphic Design”, and asked 16 current design leaders to compare it to their own experience. Their stories spanned the gamut from exhaustion to hope. They shed light on the progress and stagnation of the design world, both academic and professional, and offered advice to organizations and individuals within and outside the BIPOC community. One thing we heard over and over again in their responses was the name Dr. Dori Tunstall.

Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall is a design anthropologist, researcher, and educator. She is the first Black dean of a faculty of design anywhere in the world, a position she has held at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) in Toronto since 2016. From the moment she took the role she led a transformation of OCAD U’s equity practices that have become a model for many other organizations. In our interview she lays out six ideas from her own experience that other institutions can put into practice if they are serious about equity and liberation for BIPOC designers.

Jul 1, 2021

Type West 2020 Specimens

Posted In: Education

Web and print specimens showcase 14 original typefaces produced by recent graduates of our yearlong program in type design.

The Type West Class of 2020 dedicated a year to learning type design and history through hands-on workshops and in-depth instruction. Students trained with the best in the industry, including Grendl Löfkvist, James Edmondson, Graham Bradley, Kel Troughton, Maria Doreuli, and many guest instructors. The finale: creating an original typeface, from sketch to font.

At Letterform Archive, Type West students have access to an unparalleled typographic library as they research and create their own original typefaces. Librarians, curators, and other members of the Archive's knowledgeable staff guide students through thousands of type specimens, reference books, and original examples of lettering and graphic design.

May 6, 2021

This Just In: Quiet Type by Zai Divecha

Posted In: Collections

A remarkable sculptural installation of 26 letters and 10 numbers will grace the walls of our new home.

Quiet Type by Zai Divecha

In 2019, San Francisco paper artist Zai Divecha (she/her) created 36 letters and numbers for the 36 Days of Type challenge. Letterform Archive is proud to announce our acquisition of Quiet Type, which will be on permanent display in our new location. Collections Programming Manager sair goetz interviewed Zai.

Apr 22, 2021

A Letterform Archive Auction

Bring a rare piece of the Archive into your own home or office while supporting our mission: join our first-ever auction on May 12, 2021.

Letterform Archive has one of the world’s best collections of typographic history. We house over 60,000 objects aggregated from various sources and donors with overlapping interests. This often yields multiple copies of a book or print, and there are now hundreds of duplicates to be deaccessioned. Over the last five years we held several small sales, particularly of reference books and type foundry ephemera, but we reserved the rarest gems for a moment when we could offer them all together in a globally accessible auction.

Mar 6, 2021

From the Collection: A Cuneiform Tablet

Posted In: Collections

At 4,000 years old, our cuneiform tablet is the collection’s oldest object. Now we know more about the messages it contains.

Front and back sides of the cuneiform tablet in the Letterform Archive collection

We like to change things up when setting tables for introductory visits, but most tours begin with an unassuming object that’s by far the Archive’s most ancient. Created in Mesopotamia around the second millennium BCE, our cuneiform tablet looks like a rough lump of hard clay, just big enough to rest in your palm. Closer inspection reveals a surface covered with sharp impressions — marks of what many consider the world’s first full writing system.

Feb 23, 2021

Now Online: Landmarks of Early Western Typography

From Gutenberg to Granjon, new additions to the Online Archive represent major developments in letterpress printing.

Christophe Plantin, Senatus Populique Genvensis…, 1579

In her recent update, librarian Kate Long mentioned the ways we use the Archive as a teaching tool, especially in our Survey of Type History for the MFA Design program at the California College of the Arts. Now in its third year, the course tells the story of design firsthand through a curated selection of artifacts from our collection. This year, of course, the pandemic is forcing us to meet remotely, which means we’re prioritizing key historical objects for digitization and virtual presentation. The beauty of this pivot is that everyone benefits – even those who aren’t master’s students – because the Online Archive is open to all. As a taste, here are a few recent additions to the site that represent typographic milestones over the first 150 years of letterpress printing.

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