Director Justine Nagan visits for a screening of her 2009 documentary on the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers. Info
UW-Madison alum Justine Nagan’s 2009 documentary Typeface takes us into the world of 21st-century wood type. A locus of this community in the Midwest is the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which claims to have the world’s largest collection of individual pieces of type, which are wood blocks cut into the shape of letters, used to press ink onto anything from advertisements to leaflets. This technology was a major communication tool for hundreds of years, though its dominance was undone even before the advent of computers. Despite this obsolescence, wood type went through something of a resurgence, as artists, artisans, and craftspeople began to desire an authenticity and texture in their design works that they couldn’t get elsewhere.
The Two Rivers residents who make this kind of aesthetic preservation possible provide a level of suspense in Typeface, as they hold information, knowledge, and techniques that could leave the world with them if they don’t have a chance to pass it down. While the documentary itself defines a craft in a place and time, it is also a work of its own time, as the Great Recession looms, threatening the tourism the museum depends on. A gloomy fog sets in over Two Rivers as the museum director wonders aloud how the place could possibly stay open. Indeed, a few years after the documentary, the museum's landlord forced it out of its historic building. Thankfully, after a call for donations and volunteers, the Hamilton Wood Type Museum successfully re-opened in 2013. In addition to the screening, Nagan will be be on hand to discuss Typeface, which she directed while serving as executive director for the Chicago non-profit Kartemquin Films. —Reid Kurkerewicz