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A Winter at Letterform Archive

Carlos Rodriguez reflects on his time as our winter intern.

Photo by Elise Carlton.

Carlos Rodriguez studied printmaking at Osaka University of Arts in Japan and San Francisco Art Institute, and then sought experience in library and museum services. From December 2017 to April 2018 he contributed significantly to collections projects at the Archive. Now that Carlos has relocated to New York, we will all miss the unassuming, industrious way he went about his day, punctuated by unexpected moments of deadpan humor. We also don’t know what to do with our nights now that he’s not playing trumpet in Almas Fronterizas.

The first time I came to Letterform Archive, with a class focused on zinemaking, it was somewhat of an impulse trip. I had graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and was enjoying some savored “job search” time. I continued to use the Institute’s printmaking studios, and as I hung around one day, a professor and friend of mine, Asuka Ohsawa, invited me on a class field trip to the Archive. And I, in the midst of my free-flowing unemployed lifestyle, went along with the current.

Jack Stauffacher, San Francisco, undated. Carlos was instrumental in processing, cataloging, and conserving a collection of Stauffacher’s experimental wood type prints.

What I found when I arrived was a treasure trove of amazing objects. A huge table packed edge to edge with rare artist books, experiments in letter- and bookmaking which I had hungered for in my search for new fronts of artistic practice. Not only this, but the crème de la crème of lettering and bookmaking mastery was well present and accounted for. I pored over centuries-old type specimens and held in my hands master craftsmanship I had only seen through a computer screen until then. There I sat, salivating and silenced by their beauty. Of course, I left the first visit hungry for more.

Martin Venezky, collage of photocopied patterns on cut paper, applied with transparent tape, undated.

I quickly signed up to volunteer weekly, straightening and re-shelving sections of the collection, bookplating new acquisitions, and assisting a move to the Archive’s new space. Every day I’d show up hungry, and the Archive didn’t disappoint. Each day I would stumble on a new specimen or book that reflected my own aesthetics and furthered my personal realm of visual possibility. Meanwhile, the staff, always perfectly accommodating, would read past my quiet and — at times — guarded demeanor, and began directing my volunteer work toward my specific interests and my affinity for collections work. The librarians were supportive of my passions and endeavors, and were always willing to share their knowledge.

After about a year and some change of volunteer work, I saw an opportunity for the winter internship, and miraculously, through my sweaty-palmed application process, was brought on as a Winter Collections Intern. The Archive welcomed me with open arms, allowing me abundant and invaluable breathing room, to shape and mold my internship to my own interests and strengths. I immersed myself in the organization, acquisition, and preservation of the Archive’s collection. The entire team was extremely helpful and treated me as a peer, constantly checking in to ensure the work I was doing was holding my interest and in line with my goals. But lack of interest was never an issue at the Archive.

Working constantly in the stacks, I had the opportunity to spend intimate time with an endless parade of objects, inspecting and reflecting them as they passed through my workspace. From the dissections and meditations on wooden type from legendary San Francisco printer Jack Stauffacher, and the meticulous and wildly experimental collages of graphic designer Martin Venezky, to the beautifully obsessive sketches and process work of designer Michael Doret, the Archive offered an abundance of inspiration.

I also marveled at the Archive’s various efforts to make the collection more diverse and accessible. The Archive offers various workshops and classes through Type@Cooper West, and I had the opportunity to be a teacher’s assistant for Grendl Löfkvist’s course on the social history of typography. The class covered power structures throughout type history and provided me with valuable context on the range of objects that surrounded me in the Archive’s collection. It was the sort of course that would normally be available only through a graphic design degree program. The TA experience was another example of the Archive’s effort to distribute their resources and materials to all those who seek it out.

Atelier Populaire, Paris, 1968. This protest poster is a Carlos favorite.

Through each salon, blog post, tour, and event, the team was constantly vocal about their intentions to increase their inclusiveness, to constantly strive for the most enriching expansion of its collection. As I move on to do whatever it is I’ll do, I feel excited about the bright future of this young institution.

I leave the Archive with immense gratitude and a rich body of newfound knowledge, a vital tool with which I can create and engage with the world. Much love!

— Carlos Rodriguez