Since moving to Chicago in 1994, I've been captivated by both the ornate and the everyday architectural ornament of the city and how both are at home together, as if they recognize their disparate elements and accept that it takes all types to build a city.
I've used all types of metal ornament to create structures that represent various aspects of Chicago, the city I love, warts and all. 'Mom, why are you taking pictures of that again?!' has given way to 'Mom did you get a picture of this ornament here?'
Not exactly at a loss for metal type to create buildings in the studio, I still itched to try my hand at designing ornaments entirely specific to Chicago and based on my photos. Thankfully the technology to create the matrices needed and the craft of casting are accessible today.
Jessie Reich, First Lady Typecaster in Space
I met Jessie in the Fall of 2014 and ever since then we've attempted to find the perfect collaborative project. At last, it's here! Jessie is full of firsts, from being the first graduate of the Book Arts Concentration at Wells College to being the first woman to attend and graduate from Skyline Type Foundry's Thompson Tech. She Really. Likes. Typecasting. In her words:
I love the grittiness and the glitz; amidst the grease and kerosene and smoke, from the freshly cast type to the mats to the machines, there is endless beauty within a working type foundry. It’s a great feeling to begin a day with an empty galley, a box of mats, a pair of tweezers, and a trusty casting machine, and end it with a sense of accomplishment supported by the production of beautiful new type, soon to be shipped off to continue the life and legacy of letterpress printing. It’s both highly satisfying and empowering work.
Whenever she has a free moment, you can find Jessie at the Bixler Letterfoundry in Skaneateles, New York. These are a few of her gorgeous photos that show exactly what she mentions above.
Luck brought us Ed Rayher at Swamp Press to create the precious matrices. Working to develop exactly what will provide the best result is currently where we're at with the production. Learning the nuances of a new-to-me material is a challenge I love; after sketching and re-sketching a few dozen ornaments, we've whittled it down to the top contenders.
Quickly drafting these in Illustrator lost something in translation, so I've been revisiting the designs to add warmth and imperfections, the characteristics that brought me to this project in the first place. And so I am redrawing the best of the bunch to see which feel right and represent what I find to be missing from my own collection and often those of shops I've visited across the country.
When the correct number of ornaments is established (between 4-6), then we will work with Ed on the specifics of creating the 24-point mats for Jessie to cast. We have already begun to develop our packaging ideas and usage information, as well as deadline schedules, and will announce pre-orders on sets as soon as we are confident that all systems are go. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can grab one of these sweet postcards from Jessie at the American Typecasting Fellowship conference this coming weekend (August 11-14th) or request one from Starshaped.
I agree with Jessie when she states 'anyone involved in contemporary letterpress printing can see that its Renaissance is in full swing; with new wood and metal type still being made, new typefaces and ornaments being designed, artists making ground-breaking work that is completely innovative yet pays homage to the tradition, and an entire community built on the grounds of a like passion and the drive to move it forward.' It's a thrill to work with another lady as enthusiastic as myself about ornament and pushing the craft of letterpress. Even if the process is centuries old, adding our stamp on it and challenging other printers to create exciting work is a worthwhile endeavor.