The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin contains over 1.5 million pieces, and is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. That in itself is pretty cool, but there is something even more amazing about this particular museum: a visitor can actually feel, hold, and USE most of the historic collection!

Typeface, a documentary by filmmaker Justine Nagan, takes the viewer into the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and shows the difficulties surrounding the need of preserving tools that are both part of a dying craft and an increasingly popular artform, as well as the hardships facing museums and similar institutions in the current economic climate. This film really shines when it shows the relationships between the volunteers who are mostly divided into two categories: townsfolk retired from the former Hamilton factory and artists visiting from the big Midwestern cities. The artists are all eager students attempting to learn the endangered-of-being-lost skills of cutting wood type and maintaining letterpress machines, while also trying to use their time to produce pieces of art with the largest collection of wood type they may ever have access to. My absolute favorite part of the film is when one of the elderly, former Hamilton employees displays the artwork given to him over the years by the artists he has helped. Although he seems rather bewildered by the art at first, his brief descriptions of the pieces begin to reveal an increased understanding of the artist’s intentions. Typeface frequently aims to blur the lines between artists and craftsmen, while still highlighting the expertise they provide for the museum.

Unfortunately, the movie ends on a bit of a downer, but a quick visit to the website for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum shows that things must be looking sunnier (for example, maybe you’ve see the new clothing line at Target made using Hamilton wood type). I know that, thanks to Typeface, I sure am planning a visit!