Art + Design

From the Design Desk: A Visit to the Tipoteca Italiana Fondazione

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There is a place in northern Italy where typography reigns supreme: Tipoteca Italiana fondazione. I was lucky to make a pilgrimage to the Tipoteca this summer and wanted to share some of the type marvels with you.

 

Located in the Veneto Region (Treviso Province) of Italy, the museum is housed in a deconsecrated church and connected via a graceful, sweeping ramp to a contemporary building that contains the printing presses, fonts, library and workshop. As you might expect -this being Italy, all is well and suitably designed. Just last week we wrote about high quality in Italian design and products.

Tipoteca Italiania is dedicated to the preservation of traditional wood and metal type (fonts) and the machinery with which to print them.

Founded by Silvio Antiga, who himself owns and operates a printery in Cornuda, where the Tipoteca is located, the foundation houses thousands of fonts, in both wood and metal, a museum of typographic ephemera and a library of typographic treasures, including original Giambattista Bodoni type specimen books (Manuale Tipgrafico).

 

My host and guide was Sandro Berra (below) whose acquaintance I had made when he visited the Codex International Book Fair in Berkeley in 2009. At the time, Sandro was showing a portfolio of prints made by a Japanese artist who printed a colorful array of small posters with Tipoteca’s large wood type.

 

Inside the understated glass entry that bridges the old and new architecture, one is struck by the bas relief wall of wood type and Sandro’s welcoming “buon giorno”.

Further inside an assembly of presses is on display in space not unlike the nave of a modern church, only this one is for worshippers of wood and metal and ink. The wall behind the ancient presses contain drawer after drawer of fonts organized and ready for use.

The medallions that identify the presses’ origins are works of metallic art in their own right.

 

Aside from the antiquities of Bodoni and Manutius, the library is the repository of printed proofs from the collection’s archives.

 

Folios of familiar and heretofore unknown (to me) fonts dazzled the eyes of this visitor as Sandro flipped through them. Some styles were identifiable as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Moderne or Victorian, but others defied classification or categorization but delighted me nonetheless.

 

Perhaps the most unexpected find was a music manuscript for “Il motore del 2000”, with printing plate and annotated print by the composer, Lucio Dalla.

While it would be easy to say visiting Tipoteca Italiana is like stepping back in time, in fact it isn’t. It’s true, the Tipoteca collects relics of the not too far distant world of ink-on-paper, however, it is also a living, working institution with classes, workshops, exhibitions and lectures.

To those weaned on computer fonts, some of those same fonts are born again for them in metal and wood impressing their messages onto paper with ink rather than photons and toner. In a sense, the old becomes new again.

Michael Carabetta
Creative Director

Michael Carabetta

Michael Carabetta

Creative Director
Michael Carabetta

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13 Comments

  • lotus shop September 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Can their poster work be purchased?

    Reply

  • Ceci September 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you!

    Reply

  • Sussi Cashmin September 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    How fortunate you are to have visited this NAVE. Beautiful photo's. So glad to know the type artisans are alive and well in Italy!

    Reply

  • Susan Filter September 8, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Sandro e grande e La Tipoteca fortissimo!

    Reply

  • Ina Saltz September 9, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Hello Michael,
    I feel sad…am missing seeing you this year at the Stanford Prof. Pub Course 🙁

    I am doing a reference book on typography and would love to have some of these photos for the book; are they yours? If not, do you have a contact name/email for the owner?

    Best,

    Ina Saltz
    ina@saltzdesign.com

    Reply

  • cjohnson September 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Oh my gosh!!! .. makes me think of Alfred Stieglitz and Camera Work.. .. !!

    Reply

  • Amos Kennedy September 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    yea, yea, yea,

    DEAD and boring!!!

    You wanna see REAL letterpress printing then go to Tipografia Sociale in Arezzo.

    Here the craft is alive and practiced EVERY day. Master printer Paolo Lazzarelli printed three 6meter x 9 meter bill boards. EVERY day he designs and prints posters for the people of Arezzo.

    Reply

    • Sandro September 10, 2010 at 2:01 am

      I'm Sandro, and I'm working full time in Tipoteca. We are conscious that the word “museum” itself has something to do with “dead” and “boring”, but it's exactly what we're trying to avoid… Probably, hosting every year 8,000 kids of any school-grade it's not enough to make Tipoteca a “real” place, but I don't feel it's very proper to compare a working printshop like Tipografia Sociale in Arezzo and a place like Tipoteca, which offers visitors a historical insight in the world of letterpress. I believe we are both – Tipografia Sociale and Tipoteca – trying to keep alive the passion and the “allure of handmade”.
      I know and appreciate your work. Here in Italy, my favourite printer is Alberto Casiraghy and his “pulcinoelefante” editions are true poetry and creativity. I think that exist many different ways that lead to the knowledge and the passion for letterpress. Very few people are remaining in this field, and I can only feel glad about the existence of Paolo in Arezzo.
      We will be very glad to have you in visit in Tipoteca, one day, whenever you have a chance to come back to Italy. Best.

      Reply

  • michael carabetta September 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    dear lotus shop,

    i’ve enquired on your behalf about sale of posters. i’ve not heard

    back yet, but when i do, i will let you know. thank you for your

    interest.

    all best,

    michael

    Reply

  • Leslie September 9, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Gorgeous — why not a Chronicle Books book about this place: Please! Leslie Carol Roberts, faculty, CCA, Graduate Program in Design

    Reply

  • SheilaM September 15, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    If you can't go to Italy, try the type museum in Two Rivers, WI on Lake Michigan. Some wonderful printing going on there as well. http://www.woodtype.org/

    Reply

  • Wendy October 14, 2011 at 11:51 am

    So interesting. Thank you.

    Reply

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