Between Writing & Type: the Stencil Letter is an exhibition of stencil letters from the 18th century to the present day. Assembled by Eric KINDEL and Fred SMEIJERS, the exhibition will feature a rich selection of stencil letters in the context of artefacts, documents and ephemera, including stencil plates and stencilling devices, specimens and catalogues, patent inventions and much more. A highlight of the exhibition will be a series of new stencil fonts designed by Maurice GÖLDNER, Pierre PANÉ-FARRÉ and Fred SMEIJERS.
Lettering disk, 1868 The catalogue for Between Writing & Type: The Stencil Letter explains the breadth of the exhibition:
Letters used for stencilling have been around more than five centuries, and perhaps far longer. While stencilling letters is self-evidently neither writing nor typography, the work often reaches in these directions. A spectrum described by writing at one end and typography at the other provides the title for this exhibition. Across this spectrum the exhibition samples a rich variety of stencil letters that may tend towards writing or typography, but may as often be located anywhere in between.
An old stencil (1700s?) from Eric Kindel's collection. Photo by Dan Reynolds Gerrit Noordzij defines typography as “writing with prefabricated letters”. So what is stencil lettering? In some respect the characters are prefabricated: their shapes are defined by pre-existent stencils. Yet the action necessary to produce stencil lettering is undeniably writing, as each individual letter needs to be drawn by hand, and is created on the spot by the letterer. Furthermore the letter forms are broken up in separate shape elements. The bridges between those elements improve the sturdiness of the stencils and connect form to counterform. Their position impacts on the letter forms, giving them their defining character. Both these aspects make this discipline a fascinating field of study.
Stencil letters used in the former German Democratic Republic for technical drawings. Photo by Ralf Hermann More than just looking at the stencil alphabets themselves, the exhibition broadens its field of vision by examining the tools and methods used to produce stencils as well. The different ways of producing stencil letters have an influence on the letter forms, sometimes with intriguing results. Although the history of stencil starts with sparse examples prior to this point, stencil lettering has been continuously in use from the mid seventeenth century on, with intermittent periods of increased popularity. The complete history of stencil alphabets is touched upon in the exhibition, from their purely utilitarian beginnings to their use as an aesthetic statement, even in modern art – Georges Braque first employed typical French stencil letters for word fragments in the Cubist painting Le Portugais (1911/12).
Reese adjustable stencil letters, c. 1880.
Stencil plate, c. 1910 Proof for the use of stencil letter forms as an aesthetic statement can also be found in the release in 1880 of Stencil Gothic, issued by MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, Philadelphia. Indeed there is no rational justification for the emergence of stencil alphabets in letterpress beyond artistic considerations. The first true wave of stencil fonts started with Futura Black, issued in c. 1928/29 by the Bauer’sche Giesserei, Frankfurt a.M., credited to Paul Renner. Similar typefaces designed around the same time include Europa (Walter Cyliax), Transito (Jan Tschichold, who also designed Iwan Stencil) and Braggadocio (W.A. Woolley). In 1937 two different typefaces based on typical North American stencil letters were issued under the eponimous name Stencil; one by American Type Founders (Gerry Powell) and one by Ludlow Typograph (R.H. Middleton).
Cover for Stencil type specimen, American Type Founders, 1937.
Although stencil alphabets were originally designed to produce actual stencils, more often than not they are selected for their unique aesthetic nowadays. It is fascinating to see how separate “floating” fragments combine to form recognizable letter forms. The way those letters are cut up gives a stencil design its specific character. This is why contemporary type designers continue to produce exciting digital stencil faces. To accompany the exhibition Between Writing & Type: the Stencil Letter,OurType will release a series of new stencil fonts. The series will include seven different designs inspired by or echoing the influences that have shaped stencil letters over the centuries. Individual fonts will be released between April and the end of 2012, and will be available from OurType. As a collection they will provide a unique demonstration of stencil letter design in the typographic domain.
‘Waterloo’, Willem Sandberg. Subway station Waterlooplein, Amsterdam, 1976 Besides the historical material the general public will discover these seven new OurType designs for the very first time.
Bery roman & Bery script (Fred Smeijers) derive from the work of the Paris stencil maker Jean Gabriel Bery. Bery’s work provides an excellent illustration of stencil letter design in France around 1780. Bery’s confident sense of design and the superb quality of his stencils rank him among the best stencil makers of any period. His work is mainly known from the stencil set he made and supplied to Benjamin Franklin in 1781, now at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
Brisk shapes, sharp corners, and abrupt angles and curves are common among letters cut with chisels and knives. In skilful hands these tools generate letter shapes that are dynamic, spirited and direct in their making. Berthold Wolpe’s Albertus typeface is the exemplar of letter-shaping in this way, with its origins in chisel-cut bronze. Couteau (Pierre Pané-Farré) demonstrates how similar shapes can occur in stencil letters when cut with a knife. The letters of Greco stencil (Fred Smeijers & Pierre Pané-Farré), by contrast, are nearly generic – straight edges even replace the curves. However the design’s diagonal breaks give it an eye-catching dynamism. Sans serif typefaces of this kind were easy to make and use for general purpose lettering.
Bery tuscan (Fred Smeijers, assisted by Pierre Pané-Farré) is derived from the work of the Paris stencil maker Jean Gabriel Bery. The design, one of two tuscans purchased by Benjamin Franklin, illustrates Bery’s inventiveness in adapting this style of letter to stencils. Standing type (Maurice Göldner) is based on the strokes and lifts of humanist minuscules written with a broad-edged pen. The lifts provide a pattern of near-breaks that bring them close to the stencil idiom and give them a modest decorative effect. Typefaces such as Allegro (Hans Bohn, 1936) also exploit this strategy.
Punching letters from metal plates to create stencils is forceful work for which simple sturdy letter shapes are best. Puncho (Fred Smeijers) is based on stencil letter punches made by S. M. Spencer of Boston. The capital height of Spencer’s original letter was 1/8 inch (3 mm). Design limitations at this small size, together with the mechanical methods used to manufacture such punches, are the source of Puncho’s unusual shapes. Orly stencil (Pierre Pané-Farré) is a contemporary rendering of simple stencil letters whose design produces word shapes that are full of interest.
P R A C T I C A L I N F O R M A T I O N
The exhibition opens on Thursday, April 19 at 8 pm. There will be refreshments aplenty. We hope you will join us. Please notify us if you’re coming.
Doing stencil types is so much fun! Together with Pieter van Rosmalen I have been doing stencil type design workshops. On my Flickr page you can find some photos of the three years we did this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31109704@N00/sets/
Hope you enjoy these.
20.04.2012 - 00.36.43
Posted by Diederik Corvers
wow, do like de letter from the protest stencil toolkit is this letter it in the fontshop collection?
20.04.2012 - 06.11.08
Posted by carien
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