I sold my letterpress to the International Printing Museum because we were moving to the Bay Area. The museum director suggested I visit the Letterform Archive in San Francisco after we settle. I was aware of the Letterform Archive. I follow its Instagram feed. Once settled in our digs I surfed over to the LA’s website for museum hours and scheduled a tour.
I’m a lettering guy who likes to doodle and sketch letters and interview lettering artists and calligraphers. I’m interested in an artist’s process, skill and aesthetics. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the Letterform Archive. I’m not going to lie, I was bit intimidated. The collection’s name and the collection of lettering and type books, magazines, catalogs, and so much more smacked of research, academia and erudition.
Letterform Archive is a library, storehouse, salon, repository, studio, shrine, and sanctuary. Holy moley this place left me speechless.
You know what? The tour was all that, and aesthetics, and process, and more importantly, a welcoming home for letter, type and calligraphy nerds. OMG, this place was filled to the ceiling, literally to the ceiling, with all manner of printed material related to letters and type. Letterform Archive is a library, storehouse, salon, repository, studio, shrine, and sanctuary. Holy moley this place left me speechless.
The tour wasn’t a walkabout sort of thing. How can you walk past a shelf of books without looking at a page or two? You can’t. After we signed in and washed our hands we gathered around a very large and solid table. The tour guide, associate curator Kate Robinson, displayed a collection of old and contemporary books and materials on that table. We, the tourists, picked a piece and the tour guide gave us a history of it. If the piece was small we passed the book around the table. If the piece was large we gathered around it or Kate held it for all to see. Without fail each piece we touched and witnessed was made by hand. No computers, no digital manipulation. Only craftsmanship, skill and a dedication to the work. The works were remarkable! They are truly timeless pieces created by design visionaries and influencers. I was gobsmacked.
We barely scratched the surface of the collection. So many things to see like rows and rows and rows of type specimen catalogs. The Letterform Archive is open for tours, visits and research. If you just want to geek out it’s open for that too. I included pics of the few pieces I saw during the tour. After you visit you might consider a tour as a volunteer. Check out the Letterform Archive’s website for details. I can’t wait to go back to see more and perhaps to volunteer.
Alex Savakis/All photos