A Summer at Letterform Archive – Letterform Archive


Nov 14, 2017

A Summer at Letterform Archive

Florence Fu reflects on her time as our summer intern.

If you’re as big of a type nerd as I am, Letterform Archive is the place to be. And if you thought you were a big type nerd, prepare to be out-nerded by the folks at the Archive.

Of the many reasons why the Archive is so special, the people come to mind first. I’ve never met individuals who are so passionate about what they do and eager to share that passion with others. Everyone is also very kind and intelligent, each bringing something unique to the Archive with different areas of expertise and interests — from medieval manuscripts and type design history, to concrete poetry and the book arts.

While type was what pulled me in, the range of knowledge represented in both the staff and collection attest to the idea that there is something there for everyone, and the Archive can help you go beyond your existing interests and discover new ones.

It’s important to note that my love for type happened outside of the classroom, which is part of how I got here. Being at a university without a formal design program or opportunities to talk about things as niche as typography and the letter arts, I’ve often felt quite lonely. I had so many questions, and wanted to learn and see more.

Luckily, I found a place that could answer those questions. My relationship to the Archive began as a visitor on a tour a couple of months before I interned. Though brief, it was this first encounter that made me want to be a part of the organization. In fact, I even made a second trip back with my class visiting from Illinois.

Throughout my internship, I discovered and learned something new every day – during my collections shifts rummaging through type ephemera, to attending staff salons where I learned about things like poster stamps, the history of Western calligraphy, and master drawings of typefaces that were almost lost to history. Knowing that my stay was temporary, I definitely tried my best to cover as much ground as I could.

Bifur specimen
A. M. Cassandre, Bifur typeface specimen, Deberny & Peignot, 1929.

My favorite things to explore were rare books on type design, type specimens and ephemera, and the growing collection of concrete poetry. Some noteworthy favorites are Letters of Credit by Walter Tracy, the Bifur typeface specimen by A. M. Cassandre, and openingnisolc by Hans-Jörg Mayer. By the time I left I also had new things to nerd out about, such as the avant-garde zine Rhinozeros and mid-century modern infographics by Ladislav Sutnar.

As a hybrid archive, library, and gallery, there are so many opportunities to learn just by being present. No matter where you look, you can see and feel that education is a core part of the Archive’s mission, and one of the things I valued most about being there. Within the organization, there’s also a spirit of using the collection to immerse yourself in something you’re curious about. Out of all of the projects I’ve worked on, taking the initiative to give a practice presentation about a few objects from the collection was the most rewarding. This was initially for staff members to practice giving tours, but I saw this as an opportunity to grow. I felt supported and treated as a colleague and peer, rather than an intern.

During my stay, I also met so many interesting and talented people through shadowing tours and talking to volunteers and esteemed guests who visited from all over the world. The team is relatively small, with fewer than ten people on staff, but the Archive community extends way beyond that.

Ladislav Sutnar catalog
Ladislav Sutnar, Essential Product Information, Sweets Catalog Service, ca. 1955.

After what was one of the best internships and summers of my life, I left the Archive feeling both rejuvenated and a little bit anxious. I’m anxious about returning to school and leaving a place where for once, I truly felt like I belonged. I’m incredibly grateful to have been part of an organization that took care of me, a place where the things I cared about mattered, and people wanted me to succeed.

Thank you, Letterform Archive, for everything!

Florence Fu is a student at Northwestern University studying journalism and art history. From August to September 2017 she contributed significantly to collections and editorial projects as our summer intern. She impressed us daily with her wide-ranging skill set, individual style, and generous spirit. We deeply miss her presence on the team. If you’re looking for an experience like hers, the Archive is currently seeking a winter intern. — Stephen Coles