MCBA Acquires Wood Type for Printing in Other Languages

Left: Beautiful new Hebrew type. Right: Glyphs can be used with our existing Latin alphabets to print in Spanish and Swedish.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts becomes first public center in US to offer multilingual alphabets

Minnesota Center for Book Arts is proud to announce the acquisition of beautiful new wood type in Hebrew and Arabic, plus Spanish and Swedish glyphs. With this movement beyond English wood type, MCBA hopes to expand potential audiences and practitioners of letterpress printing.

Funded by a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in 2019, the wood type was manufactured at Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin this year. Skilled second and third generation type cutters used a pantograph machine to fashion the letters from blocks of maple. This will be the first time in Hamilton’s history that the type cutters tackle Arabic type.

For its Arabic typeface, MCBA chose to license a font called Kafa. Designed by Lebanese type designer Nadine Chahine in 2018 as a response to increased political divisiveness, racism, and xenophobia, Kafa means “Enough.” The font’s bold swashes express Nadine’s anger and dissent, and carry more power, she says, in her native language.

Designed by Ray Shehadeh using Kafa, this digital print translates to, “Together, we rise.”

Letterpress printing has long been an important tool for communicating, from 16th-century broadsides to 1960s-era protest posters. Larger than much of the metal type in MCBA’s type library, wood type is especially suited to poster printing. With this new collection, MCBA plans to offer workshops, residencies, and field trips that engage letterpress printers in the Twin Cities community while inspiring multidisciplinary artists and writers to tell new stories using this old art form. In 2022, MCBA plans to host a panel of artists who use Hebrew and Yiddish in their work, as well as a storytelling session that examines Jewish history, text, and language.

The wood type acquisition is one step toward building inclusivity in the book arts; another recent step in that direction has been the purchase of two Provisional Presses. These 12-pound tabletop presses can be transported easily from place to place, making them an ideal way to bring book arts to those who may not be able to travel to MCBA.