PICTURE: These Hebrew letters of the tree type write the word “tree”. The letters are part of a rare collection of 30 different Hebrew tree-type alphabets housed in Cary Graphics Arts … see more
Credit: RIT Cary Graphic Art Collection
The Rochester Institute of Technology preserves a rare collection of Hebrew wood species used by the Jewish-American press at the turn of the 20th and 20th centuries. The collection will be available to students and scientists online prior to the publication of the digital and printed publication.
The RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection will print, digitize and publish its collection of 30 different types of wood of the Hebrew alphabet, with the support of the Rochester Area Community Foundation Foundation for the Protection, Restoration and Literature. The Foundation supports the initial preparatory work required to create a digital and printed monograph of Hebrew tree species, including lettering, printing, cataloging, and digitizing the collection. Work on the project begins in December.
“This collection is one of the most extensive private non-Latin wood collections in the United States (outside the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum), and its significance transcends graphic art teaching because the species represents the development of immigrant printing in the United States,” said Amelia Hugill-Fontanel , assistant curator at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection housed in RIT libraries.
European Jewish refugees arrived in the United States in the late 19th / early 20th century and created a successful Judeo-American press in major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The Hebrew tree species in the Cary Collection include sets of one of the longest-running Yiddish daily newspapers still in publication, The Forward.
“One of the missions of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection is to tell the history of the American press through artifacts, typographies and printers, but the story would not be complete without reference to other languages and scripts,” Shani Avni, Ismar David Visiting Assistant Curator at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection. “The settlers who came here spoke different languages and they are an integral part of the story.”
Letterpress fell into disfavor in the mid-20th century with the advent of lithographic printing and alphabets with wood species were discarded. The method of practical printing has gained new interest among production cultures, Fontanel said, and has spawned “informal blogs and printing communities; foundries for reviving digital fonts; institutional collections; and working printing collections in private printing presses, book art centers and universities across the country.” .
Over the past six years, Cary Graphic Art Collection staff and members of RIT’s “Adopt-Font” student program have cleaned and restored thousands of characters in the Hebrew collection of tree species, using archival preservation practices. Now the Rochester Area Community Foundation is helping the project enter the next phase.
Hugill-Fontanel and Avni will lead a team of student technicians from RIT and a research and design associate student engaged for the project. Hugill-Fontanel, who is also the main printer, will type and print alphabets using printers in the Cary collection, and Avni, a Hebrew design expert, will analyze and catalog print patterns. RIT student technicians will digitize samples of the Hebrew alphabet and publish digital-type images online in the RIT library’s digital collections repository, making them freely available to the public. The student research and design assistant will digitally track several drafts of Hebrew alphabets for use in desktop publishing applications and archive wooden fonts.
Avni will share his research on the Hebrew Wood Type project at a joint conference of the American Press History Association and the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, AWAYzgoose, Nov. 5-8, online. She will present “Back to Shtetl: Prospects for the Hebrew Tree Type”.
The Cary Graphic Arts Collection is one of the leading national libraries of the history and practice of graphic communication. In addition to archives on paper, Cary maintains a unique technology collection consisting of a functional printing workshop with 30 presses and all-paper printing equipment, including metal and wood. This work archive is used to teach the process of reproducing graphics and typography, improving curricula for history, art, design, and print students.
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